Rescuing the Stray Cats and Dogs of Romania (and how you can help)
There's Something About Maria
I want to tell you a little bit about Maria. She lives in a major city in Romania and - yes - well may you wonder how I know her. That's the simple part. We 'met' online - via Facebook of all places. It's truly amazing what you can learn of the world on sites like Facebook.
I've known Maria for almost three years now, and she's always seemed to come across as unassuming, dedicated, passionate and pretty humble regarding what she's trying to do. There is sometimes a bit of a language barrier, and I've decided to put her quaint moments of apparent impatience and abruptness down to a mixture of that and the passion that fires her. All-in-all, she is a lady I've grown to respect very much. She keeps her focus on the animals and how best to help them; how best to ready them for adoption - for a better life than they'll ever have as a stray animal on the streets of Romania. Above all, I trust her completely and have personally adopted two cats from her (to date, though that could well change at any time!) and donate money to help her provide food, shelter and veterinary care for the many animals she has in her care at any one time.
You have to understand too, that she does this from her home and from her own money. Without the generosity of animal lovers across the world, she would only manage to help a fraction of them. I've seen the photos - massive play cages crammed with happy cats; cat beds in every available space; kitties piled on top of each other, snuggling in the warmth; vet bedding lain on every surface; boxes with numerous cats curled up inside. Crazy.
Or is it?
Maria - You've Gotta See Her!
You've gotta see what she does anyway. Who she has in her home, and where she brought them in from. If I was wearing a hat, I'd take it off to her. In fact, I wouldn't just take it off to her, I'd stuff it full of loads of money and give it to her. For her charges. For the lives she saves.
The Lives She Saves
To be honest, I've no real idea how many stray cats and dogs there are in countries like Romania. And, anyway, even if I did have a number to give you, it would be so large that my animal-loving-and-respecting brain wouldn't be able to accept or apply logic to it. I'm guessing that neither would yours.
But anyway, what follows is some background info that will help put things into more context.
Would you consider adopting a cat or dog from a different country?
Why Are There So Many Strays?
Twenty-five or so years ago, Nicolae Ceausescu - a former dictator of Romania - fancied the idea of his citizens living in small apartments instead of the houses with gardens that they had been accustomed to. Without the gardens and fences, they were more or less forced to keep their pet dogs (and I presume, cats) on the streets. From there, the unneutered animals continued to breed, helping to create the estimated 500,000 or so stray dogs – and who knows how many cats - of today.
In addition to having to keep their pets on the streets, some country folk were more or less forced to leave their farms and villages and move to the towns and cities for work, often having to leave the animals behind. It is my understanding that many families tried to continue feeding their pets once on the street, but I guess it was becoming increasingly difficult, financially and logistically.
I can’t imagine having a pet of mine on the street and trying to feed it out there; must it not be wondering why it can’t come back inside with its family? The animal lovers of Romania must have suffered the same anguish, but what choice did they have? In any event, I think a lot of these cats and dogs learned to fend for themselves, and likely became somewhat ‘feral’.
Some say it was horribly short-sighted and ignorant (perhaps, in some cases, even optimistic) to expect the strays to somehow disappear, when very few had actually been neutered. Obviously, the opposite was going to happen; they weren’t going to ‘go away’; they were going to multiply tenfold!
Today, the animals are everywhere. From a UK citizen’s point of view, it is extremely difficult to imagine that these cats and dogs lie under parked cars, can be found around every corner, every rubbish bin, in the parks and outside the cafés and restaurants. Injured animals are everywhere too. Again, I cannot imagine seeing a dog that has been hit by a car or battered by a local, or had a fight with another dog, drag its broken leg around town.
Naturally, I’d have to get hold of the dog and take it to the nearest vet. But I’d be doing that all day long.
And that’s a concept I find almost impossible to get my head around.
There has been much controversy lately, regarding the eradication of the strays by authorities, and public uproar from people all around the world. Of the Romanians that I know, they are most unhappy with how their leaders choose to deal with this issue, and believe there is very little structure in place to protect the animals. After all, let us not forget that the cats and dogs are only doing what is natural to them; they have not been neutered (seemingly, the obvious solution?) and therefore cannot be to blame for breeding and increasing the population.
Those in Romania who care, are fighting to help bring about change, as they are disgusted by what they are seeing. It is bad for the animals, the people, the economy, tourism, and last - but by no means should be considered least - the children of Romania. They are the future, and what future will it be if they are led to believe that animal abuse and neglect is acceptable and justifiable? We are all human beings, and regardless of our nationality, religion, culture and upbringing, whether or not we would consider ourself to be an 'animal person', surely we'd like to consider ourself to be a humane person? Whether you particularly like animals or not, you wouldn't want to see harm come to them, right? Animal people do not belong to some exclusive 'Humane' club; compassion and understanding are qualities I wish I could see in all humanity and don't understand why I cannot.
The Public Shelters
Public shelters in Romania are funded by public money and each area - or region - of the country has a contract with companies who catch the dogs and take them to the shelters. You'd think that would be the end of the story; the dogs are off the streets and safe now, but unfortunately, you would be wrong. These companies employ the now infamous dog catchers who are paid for each animal they catch. According to campaigners 'on the front line', the money that is meant to go towards food, water, bedding, medication and neutering for these dogs, does not. I guess the photos below tell a story without words. Until I have the chance to visit Romania for myself, I will take what I've learnt so far on trust. And what I haven't learned so far? Well, I'll trust the photos below.
My friend Cami Serban on the public shelters in Romania:
"The public shelters are hell holes. I went there 2 weeks ago to take out a dog for my friend. There were 15 dogs (all big size) all in the same kennel, with pee and poo all over, and the food was thrown on the ground. No water. They don't have space to move, they are terrified by the dogs with which they share the same cage or by the dogcatchers. I think that it is better for them to be euthanised than to live like this! This is no life.
I saw a lot of people coming to take out dogs but they only take out small size dogs. I am not saying that this is not ok, but what about the others? My heart cries for all of them. When I went there, there was a dog howling so badly and I asked the dogcatchers what is the matter with him and they say that he does like this every time someone comes, in hope that someone will take him out. It is so, so sad.
I am not a human anymore, since I went in that shelter."
Alive and Dead Dogs in Public SheltersClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Private Shelters
At any given time, Maria can have several dozen cats in her home, being rehabilitated and readied for adoption to suitable homes. There will also be any cats and dogs who may be under veterinary supervision at the clinic. She also has dogs that are kept in private shelters, where she goes to help out and - of course - help pay for their care until they are lucky enough to be offered a home.
The private shelters are not as luxurious as the ones we know in the UK, but they are at least better than the public ones. Rescuers help to pay for the fostering and food for these dogs and advertise widely, via social media platforms, for homes for these souls. The rescuers - such as Maria - also help out physically, in-between their paid jobs and otherwise extremely busy lives, by cleaning the kennels, caring for the dogs and providing the physical contact that most dogs crave. I quote Cami again:
"It is prison too, a better prison than in public shelters, but still a prison."
Maria's Rescued Dogs in a Private Shelter, Awaiting a HomeClick thumbnail to view full-size
How You Can Help - Adoption
Tommy, Mika, Tuxy, Flavius, Clarice, PP, Indigo, Mura, Sollie, Sweetie, Olive, Kiara, Max, Hera, Cola, Turra, Shiva, Nanny, Taryn, Luke, Carly, Cassidy, Yolo, ET, Nayla - to name but a few. These are just some of the fortunate ones that Maria has rescued, brought to the veterinary clinic or straight to her home (depending on their needs) and provided food, water, comfort and attention for them until they are kindly offered a home.
If you are interested in adopting a cat or dog from Maria, she will carry out a home check - with the help of her friends and supporters around the world - before she can be sure that her beloved rescue animal will go to a caring and appropriate home. This is standard procedure, similar to rescue centres around the UK will do. All animals entering the UK, for example, will be fully vaccinated (including flea, tick and worm treatments and, of course, rabies). As far as possible, most of the animals will also be neutered. All are microchipped and will travel with their very own Pet Passport. Upon arrival in the UK, it is recommended that adopters register the microchip number and their own contact details with any of the lost and found databases, such as Petlog or Anibase. For other countries, I'm sure there are similar organisations, although i can only speak for the UK, so you would have to do a bit of research on that yourself.
Travel expenses to the destination of the adopter are paid by the adopter, and help with vaccination, etc. fees are often requested - note that these fees are a lot less expensive than in the UK. Those who struggle financially to raise enough money to pay the transport fees can be helped, although, obviously, the more they can contribute the better, as Maria has many, many animals in her care. And, unfortunately, that situation doesn't look like it will change any time soon.
But Maria fights on. And, by adopting one, you are creating one more space for the next poor little soul on the street.
How You Can Help - Donating
Not everyone is able or willing to adopt a pet (or another pet) so what else can you do to help? The cold, hard facts are simple. Looking after all these animals uses up a lot of resources. All of these cats and dogs need veterinary attention of some sort, even if they don't have any injuries or illnesses, as many will not be vaccinated (unvaccinated kittens and puppies are at risk of horrendous illnesses - some of which, fatal), wormed, neutered or even have had a recent check-up. They all need food (and some require specialised diets - particularly if convalescing), bedding, bowls, and some require medication. Maria does all of this voluntarily, and although it is her dream to set up a formal charity, at the moment she relies on kind citizens to help her out. All the money received goes to very good use, and if you are interested in donating to a particular animal, that is great - Maria will see to it that their vet bills, or whatever is needed, are paid with your donation. You can also SPONSOR FROM A DISTANCE by donating to particular animal(s) on a regular basis, until they are offered a home.
One further option is FOSTERING, which means you can lighten the load for Maria by taking in as many animals that you feel able to and look after them until someone offers them permanent homes. Maria would help with the networking needed to seek homes. The value of fostering is often overlooked, but it is such a massive help to any animal rescue centre.
If you think you can offer any help - however small you may think it is, it is hugely appreciated, I can assure you - then you can contact Maria via her Facebook page at the links below, or you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also donate directly to Maria via Paypal at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
How You Can Help - Sharing
With social media, we have such a powerful tool at our fingertips. If it weren't for sites like Facebook, I would never have met the lovely two cats (and one dog from Cami Serban) that we have adopted from Romania. Don't get me wrong, we also have two rescue cats from Scotland, but since I have been educated on the plight of animals in countries less fortunate than ours in the UK, there has been no going back. I always remind myself that although there are plenty homeless animals in our own country, at least they have shelter - a warm bed, food, water, access to veterinary care when needed, cuddles, attention, interaction, stimulation and, perhaps ultimately the most important of all, they are somewhat protected by Animal Welfare Laws that are implemented when necessary. Abusers will be prosecuted and it is not ignored. Did you know that even charities equivalent to the SSPCA and RSPCA in Romania have very little - if any - power or funding to challenge current animal welfare laws?
To believe we should only care about the animals on 'our own doorstep', is like saying we should only care about the people or environment in our own country. And that, to me, is a very shortsighted and - quite frankly - dangerous attitude. These animals need the protection of the race that we call human. Whichever social media sites you are on, please feel free to share this Hub, share the information you have learned and - above all - keep talking about it until changes can be seen!
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke
Don't be that man who does nothing - and definitely don't be that woman!
What Have I Learned?
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I have a small pet portrait business called Benjammin and Beany and as well as pencil portraits and Pet Storybooks, I have recently started fun sketches of pets and Charity Sketches, of which there are samples to the right.
All of these Charity Sketches are of cats and dogs from around the world, awaiting a forever home. The idea is twofold: to raise awareness of animals needing homes (I intend to include homeless UK animals as well) and to raise funds for the rescuers. Prints are £9.99 each (plus postage) and ALL PROCEEDS GOT TO THE RESCUER/CHARITY ASSOCIATED WITH THE ANIMAL.
So, if you fancy a print of any of the adorable animals on your right (all are rescues of Maria's), please don't hesitate to contact me at the email below. Website continually updated with new sketches, so keep an eye out!
Has this article affected your views to the plight of stray animals in countries other than your own?
Resources and Links
See below for resources and useful links:
Benjammin and Beany
- Characterful pencil pet portraits and fun, colourful watercolour portraits for something a bit diffe
Characterful pet portraits in pencil, watercolour, charcoal or acrylic. Pet Storybooks tell the story of your choice in 10 beautiful pencil sketches. You will also find pet loss support, advice, links and information at Benjammin and Beany.
- Welcome to K-9 Angels
K-9 Angels is a UK based non profit organisation created to provide a link between dog rescuers all over the world and potential adopters.
A Final Word On This Hub
This article is more about the facts, as I know them, of what my friend and fellow animal-lover Maria Vasile does, than about the whys and wherefores of the Romanian Strays situation.
Having said that, I am more than happy for feedback and further educating myself on this issue. I am very interested to hear any thoughts and if any of the info I've posted is blatantly inaccurate (and you can verify that), then I am willing to edit it.
I hope you did find this Hub useful and educational, and here's hoping that, together as a race, we can put right some of the wrongs we inflict upon the other species' of this planet.
Thank you for reading!