Lost dogs of Romania
By Bogdan Cristel
I love dogs. I grew up with them around me all the time and I remember always having one with me when I played in my grandpa’s yard as a child.
Our dogs, just like thousands of others in Bucharest, were kept in the family garden. But everything changed in the city after former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu began a project to erase old houses with backyards and replace them with huge high-rise blocks.
As a result of the mass demolitions, many dogs were turned out on the streets and the number of strays increased year after year. Some 60,000 dogs roam the capital according to local authorities.
Thousands of people are victim to their bites and when in September 2013 a child was mauled to death, Romania’s government went into action. Parliament overwhelmingly backed a new law allowing local authorities to euthanize dogs caught in public spaces if a home could not be found for them within two weeks.
When I decided to cover this story, I tried to show both sides. That meant joining both the dogcatchers’ teams as they went about their work, and also documenting the efforts of various NGOs as they tried to save the animals.
The NGOs and the dogcatchers actually have a few things in common – both actively encourage the sterilization and adoption of dogs, and both have seen their shelters overwhelmed by the animals.
Although thousands of dogs have been adopted, it is becoming more and more difficult to find them a home, despite the support of celebrities like U.S. actor Steven Seagal who set an example by taking in a stray from a shelter near Bucharest.
But as I researched this story, I came across a child who is trying to change that.
Thirteen-year-old Ana-Maria Ciulcu isn’t linked to any animal rights organizations, but she loves dogs and is trying to save Bucharest’s strays by using social media to find families for them around Europe.
She has turned her Facebook page into an adoption centre, and a very successful one at that. Through Ana-Maria, some 150 dogs have been sent abroad to animal lovers mainly from Germany and Austria.
The thirteen-year-old is putting a lot of effort and resources into her project and she does everything by the book. She finds temporary homes for dogs from her neighborhood (sometimes keeping them in her own backyard) and takes them to the vet so they can be given vaccines, proper identification tags and papers.
Then she takes pictures of them for her Facebook page and waits until somebody shows interest in adopting them. Usually, she doesn’t have to wait long…