Bleary eyed I navigated through customs into the swarm of tourists and locals in the arrivals hall where I could only think to myself, hallelujah for Uber! I had arranged to meet Alison Standbridge, the Founder of Paws 2 Rescue, in a village one hour outside of Bucharest called Belciugatele which would be the first location of the Neutering Campaign Wild at Heart Foundation are supporting. It was instantly noticeable that there is a vast problem with the stray dog population in Romania passing strays every corner we turned.First on the list was to visit the location the Neutering Campaign was to be held. Alison pre warned me before entering that it wasn’t in the best of conditions and would be sterilized with the work carried out over the rest of the weekend in time for the first session on Saturday 12th May.
Belciugatele, the first village we will be campaigning in is relatively dog friendly with the Mayor and Police strongly backing the first campaign. The Mayor will be joining forces with the police to enforce each dog owner to have their dog spay or neutered next weekend which isn’t the case in other villages. With threats of being fined if dog owners do not take their dog to be neutered we are hoping for at least 200-300 procedures to be carried out. Marius and Rudi will be microchipping all dogs brought in by their owners and clipping stray’s ears which will be brought in by dog catchers arranged by Marius. The dogs will also receive tick treatment and any other medical care needed whilst in the more than capable hands of our extremely devoted vets.
A break from neutering our next task was to visit a lady called Marda who Paws 2 Rescue had been in contact with and recently rehomed a magnificent search and rescue dog that had been in her care. Marda lives in a house with 30+ cats and over 15 dogs including puppies and dogs as old as 16. Navigating the roads and supermarkets to bulk buy cat and dog food we finally found ourselves around the kitchen table with Marda, 5 dogs, 6 cats a large goat and a ‘ginormous’ bunny rabbit an interesting afternoon to say the least! With every story of each animal she told I could feel myself understanding why she had such a full house, true love and care for dogs and cats with individual needs that most people won’t put up with which is why they end up on the streets in a worse off condition.
It’s been torrential rain for days here in Romania, it seems like I brought the English weather here for the weekend and sent the sunshine back to England! After a very late dinner, the first meal of the day for myself and Alison I headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. It’s now Saturday 8th May and this morning I headed to Pantelimon where Alison is staying with Marius’s lovely parents. Today was going to be a very busy day with our first stop at Cucuieti to visit Stefan and Irina who had set up a shelter with over 300+ dogs. We found Irina outside a gentleman’s shop where they had set up a small neuter campaign sponsored by two veterinary friends of theirs who had driven over from Germany.
We arrived at Stefan’s shelter where we were greeted by a tiny puppy only a few weeks’ old who had been dumped on the doorstep with his sibling- Stefan explained that the Mayor encourages the village people to drop the unwanted dogs at his shelter which is why his dog population increases so dramatically by day. Once inside it was like a high security prison, dogs in cages upon cages everywhere you looked and 20+ roaming in the courtyard covered in mud and excited for human contact which meant I was head to toe a walking target ready to be pounced on. 10 minutes later I was COVERED in mud, faeces and had been urinated on like a tree, I could only laugh at myself, these dogs know no better. It was clear to us that Stefan and Irina received support for the Shelter and were not so much in need of help like other people we had seen.
Kola Kariola, a shelter ran by Marius and Eleonore was our next stop in Belciugatele. On our way there I had a heart leap out of my chest moment where I saw a small dog run into the middle of the road and be nearly hit by a car. We stopped and I ran out to get him swooping him up and taking him with us, he shaked in my lap the rest of the journey petrified, covered in ticks but also licking my hands and arms, the most gorgeous pup. We arrive at Kola Kariola- the worst road conditions I have ever seen, a mud track swamped with rain water which was non driveable in Alison’s small hire care. We awaited pick up in Marius’s jeep which led us down the track avoiding not to throw up at any point! Passing Bertie (newly named and available for adoption!!) over to Laurent one of Marius’s amazing workers we clambered out of the car and changed into wellies which we were definitely going to need.
Dogs, dogs, dogs, everywhere we looked, this is where Alison has most of her dogs kept where she has rescued them in ways like I had on our journey here today. We went into a few enclosures to see how her dogs were getting on and photograph them so we could get them up onto the internet and ready for adoption.
I could see a tiny soul, bright red fur with her face pushed up against the metal bars of an enclosure, my heart melted. I entered and met ‘Red’ I instantly fell in love, she wouldn’t stop jumping up into my arms for cuddles and kisses and I broke down into a heap of tears, I was emotionally overwhelmed knowing I was walking away and there was nothing I could do, at least while I was here anyway. Words really cannot describe the feeling, I sat inside with Red for over an hour where she cried every time I tried to leave, it ate me up inside the whole journey back into Bucharest. I found it extremely difficult to sleep last night with a few tears before finally nodding off. Seeing these dogs in conditions unimaginable by the human eye is truly terrifying, I am so happy I came out to see what’s happening on the ground here because the fire in my belly is burning stronger than ever to help reduce the stray dog population.
This morning I headed to Maxi Pet to bulk buy dog food with Alison as we were off to meet the ‘supposed’ poorest lady in Giurana. After arriving half way down a non driveable road we met Maria who told our translator it was too unsafe to leave the car on its own and someone would have to stay in it whilst they hauled the dog food across the railway track to her house. Crossing the railway track to get into Maria’s house was like approaching the secret garden, a doorway amongst a wall of greenery but sadly that magical touch soon passed when the door was opened up into dirty old mattresses on the ground with dogs scattered covered in mud.
Maria welcomed us in to show us the conditions she was living in. Poverty stricken, a house/shack falling apart, no fridge or oven to cook or keep food, a mattress on the floor with animal faeces on, no place for anyone to live. It was clear Maria was in need of help and support and began to cry when Alison presented the food and some money to keep her and her dogs going for a little longer. Money is not something we tend to give to rescuers as we prefer to give food so we know where the money is going but Maria lives too far away from any shop to get these supplies and she must pay someone to do this route for her.
We said our goodbyes and were on our way, talking over the situation in the car Alison explained that Maria has been beaten up by her neighbours on multiple occasions for keeping dogs, there is a rule in Romania that you cannot report anyone to the police for abuse unless you have an eye witness- hard to come by here. My heart went out to her for all she was doing for her dogs and I was happy Alison had managed to secure her for a little longer.
Sadly, I was flying back to London that evening so was running out of time to visit one more rescuer that day so we headed back to Kola Kariola to take some photos of pups Alison wanted to get up onto her website for adoption. Marius and Eleonore were out at the vets which meant we were met by horse and cart for an eventful journey across the waterlogged track to the shelter. Photos taken and kisses and cuddles for me and Red I got to say my final tearful goodbyes and headed for the airport. I am so thankful I was able to spend 3 days in this corrupt, poverty stricken country to see this issues they are facing daily first hand. This won’t be my last trip and I’ll definitely pack waterproofs and gallons of anti-bacterial gel for my next trip!
Until next time.
Wild at Heart Foundation: We find and support animal welfare projects all over the world. In particular, we aim to reduce the world’s 600 million stray dog population. We do this by orgainsing and sponsoring rescue projects, neutering programmes, awareness campaigns and education initiatives. Click to donate.