Since the K-9 Angels very first began, the disgrace of Romania’s street dog situation has always been one of their top priorities. If you are unfamiliar with this particular stain on the conscience of the European community, then let me give you some background information.
During the 1980s Romania’s last Communist President, Nicolae Ceausescu, had visions of turning Romania into an industrial epicentre. Factories sprang up all over the cities and houses were destroyed to make way for high rise apartment blocks. Country folk were under increasing pressure to abandon their farms and rural homes to take up employment in the cities in order to feed themselves and their families. It is during this frenzied attempt at industrialisation that Romania’s dog problem really began. With families now cooped up in tiny Soviet style housing blocks, the family dogs found themselves ‘released’ out onto the streets to fend for themselves. At first the owners tried to continue feeding them, but inevitably the dogs soon learned to survive on the streets alone, and it wasn’t long before their population swelled. Without ever being spayed and neutered in the first place, what we see now on the streets of Romania is the result of that short-sighted idea that these pets would just somehow disappear. And what we see on the streets of Romania today, yes today – as in 2012 – is truly shocking.
An estimated five hundred thousand dogs live on Romanian streets. They are everywhere. They can be seen in packs in the parks, snoozing on every pavement, under every parked car, gathered around restaurants and rubbish bins. Finding an injured dog dragging itself around following a collision with a car, or displaying terrible wounds from a fight, is actually alarmingly common. Many locals are sympathetic towards them, but without a proper understanding of their real obligation and responsibility for these dogs, their sympathy is about as helpful as the Government’s method of ‘dealing’ them is. State appointed ‘dog catchers’ have for years rounded up these dogs and taken them to municipal holding areas. In theory, terminating the lives of these dogs has been illegal since 2008, yet seeing a dog catcher beating a dog to death, setting one on fire, or distributing poisoned food around streets and parks is actually not a rare sight at all. And these State ‘holding areas’ are a shameful excuse for a shelter. Far from being a haven from which these dogs can be processed for re-homing or re-release, they are in fact squalid, over-crowded death camps. Filthy dirty, short on food, disgustingly light on actual veterinary care and in truth just a place to dump these dogs so they die away from the public. The funds allocated by the government towards such shelters certainly doesn’t reach their bellies; starving dogs often feed on the dead bodies of their fellow cell mates. Many of them suffer from acute cases of mange, or have been maimed and untreated following the numerous fights which inevitably erupt when hundreds of dogs are imprisoned together in a stressful environment, where food, water and space are commodities to be fought for. And yet, despite the abuse they suffer at human hands, they still vie for the attention of any volunteer who should come to their enclosure to try, against the overwhelming odds, to care for them.
And then the situation got worse, because on 22nd November 2011 the indiscriminate killing of all stray dogs throughout Romania became completely legal. The Democratic Liberal Party succeeded in lifting the 2008 ban on euthanasia and passed a devastating bill, which, if you care to conduct some simple internet searches will quash any ideas you may have that things got more humane with the mention of euthanasia.
Far from staying true to the actual meaning of the word ‘euthanasia’ which is from ancient Greek meaning ‘good death’, euthanasia here appears to mean culling by any means. Cremating a dog alive, poisoning with an injection of petrol to the heart (or some other fatal toxin), or simply clubbing a dog to death; this legislation essentially made these methods completely exempt from punishment or repercussion (not that it ever wasn’t).
These are highly likely to continue to be the preferred methods of terminating a dog because smashing a dog’s skull is cheaper than administering the costly euthanasia intravenously. It is anticipated by corruption whistle blowers that the service will be invoiced for, but the service will not actually take place. The funds allocated for humane euthanasia will likely be redirected at State level, turning the stray dog ‘problem’ into a ‘problem’ worth keeping. Claiming costs for euthanasia and shelter at around 50 Euros per dog makes their ever growing populations very good for business. So, under the guise of ‘controlling’ the problem, behind closed doors a dog catcher’s boot will still hold a puppy in place while a needle of who-knows-what chemical is aimed at it’s heart. If you think I am being dramatic then search for the footage online and see and hear for yourself the reality I am merely describing. I think everyone should hear the heart-piercing yelps of a petrified animal as it simultaneously begs for mercy and screams in helpless, hopeless terror.
One particularly dark night in May 2012, the state run shelter in Botosani, Romania carried out an act of genocide. Secret footage showed the world the disgraceful, savage and uncivilised practice of hacking dogs to death in their hundreds. The tragic scenes following the night of terror show dogs bundled into plastic bags with blood residue visible throughout the shelter. Euthanizing hundreds of healthy dogs in one night via lethal injection would have been savage enough, but men butchering animals like a group of modern day Neanderthals was just too much. It shocked the world and greatly embarrassed Romania, and the legislation was once again thrown out. The political instability surrounding the street dogs of Romania causes this constant back and forth between doing nothing followed by a mass killing spree.
And all of this is under the pretence that euthanasia actually works in reducing the number of strays. According to the Report of W.H.O. Consultation on Dog Ecology Studies related to Rabies Control, ‘In none of the study areas did the elimination of dogs by any method (catching, shooting or other) have any significant long-term effect on dog population size’. While there are fertile dogs wandering around at large, regardless of how reduced their numbers may be, within one cycle they will have easily quadrupled. Staggeringly, just one female and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in just six years, so it is easy to see how quickly the streets will fill back up. But it is not just the street dogs that need spaying and neutering: Romania has very outdated ideas regarding sterilization and is in desperate need of modernizing. Most pets are unaltered and many of these pets are then let out by their owners to roam the streets each day, despite the fact that the dog catchers can, and do, capture them. So, re-population is unavoidable unless Romania embraces the spay/neuter/return strategy both on the streets and in their homes.
The way to truly tackle this situation is neither simple to draw up nor easy to implement. However, it is beyond doubt that we need a systematic neuter and spay program, we need to squeeze the Romanian government to align its policies with Western Europe so that sanitary, safe and regulated shelters are implemented, and we need to educate the Romanian community until they realise that they are part of the problem. A country that enforces no punishment for animal abandonment and sets no standard for responsible pet ownership will see its citizens abuse that freedom. Also, as we can clearly see, it creates a community that considers the existence of half a million uncared for dogs, as acceptable.
Here in Britain we know it is not acceptable. And in all honesty there are plenty of Romanians who know it is not acceptable. The task now is to lobby for change the way any self-respecting democratic society should; through education and persuasion. Through leading by example. Through dogged (pardon the unintentional pun) and unshakable determination to say enough is enough, things have to change. Meet three women who are doing just that…