Monday, November 28, 2011

Whitey- And the need of funds for dogs in need

How do you establish the fine equilibrium between quantity and quality? How do you tackle the desire to help the largest number of dogs possible, with the necessity to provide special costly care to certain absolutely wonderful individuals in great need? With limited funds, it's always a very difficult task to accomplish.

Spaying and neutering surely is the best way to help the largest number of dogs possible- by preventing unwanted litters- literally turning off the source of stray dogs that otherwise would have been born to a life of misery in the streets. But what of the dogs already born, already suffering? What of the animals injured, ill and victims of abuse? Hit by cars, with broken bones, sick with distemper, or severely malnourished?

Whitey used to be just one of these dogs. He was involved in a car accident last year, suffering a broken front leg- a broken leg that, without the proper necessary veterinary care at the right time, healed in a wrong way. One year later, and Whitey is still limping and avoiding using that paw. To make things worse, when I returned home to Ploiesti I've also found Whitey with a bulge the size of a tennis ball under his chin. The wonderful lady in Whitey's neighborhood who last year would bandage his broken leg, this year was trying to treat his bulge as well. But best intentions backed up with modest financial possibilities can only reach that far... Luckily, Romania Animal Rescue (RAR) and their veterinarian Dr A offered to help Whitey. RAR covered the costs of the medical visit, and Dr A saw and treated Whitey recently. Whitey's bulge turned out to be full of blood and puss that Dr A removed during the vet visit. Now Whitey is on antibiotics so that the bulge disappears completely, and we hope that soon, Dr A will be able to work wonders for Whitey's previously injured leg as well.

 The images show Whitey's formerly injured front leg, as well as the bulge under his chin

Whitey on his first car ride ever on the way to Bucharest to get seen and treated by Dr A, courtesy of RAR!

Whitey not too thrilled to be at the vet practice, but being a super good boy nonetheless, and getting much needed vet care

To make things even better, a few days ago I have found out that Whitey will go in foster care soon, with another dog from his pack, at a most wonderful lady from Holland. Now the two dogs are off the streets and in foster care in Ploiesti, getting ready for their departure, and eagerly awaiting their first Christmas in a warm, loving place called home.

 Whitey tonight, in foster care at a wonderful local animal rescuer and waiting for his first Christmas in a nice, warm home

Ironically, soon after I took Whitey to Dr A, I went on a spree to check on all dogs in my neighborhood... Only to find another dog I've known for years now with sure signs of urinating with blood. As an animal rescuer, I know caring for animals is a never ending story. There will always be animals needing help, animals you cannot just not help. Up to this point, I have only used my personal savings and never asked for financial help for rescuing animals. This time, it was surely great to be able to take Whitey for free vet care provided by RAR and Dr A - since a recent graduate with no job yet can only afford to do that much.

I am extremely grateful to RAR for committing to help Whitey. And I can only wish people will continue to give for such wonderful dogs, dogs that did not ask to be born but were born anyway, dogs that endure a tough life in the streets that all too often inflicts injuries and pain on them. And yet, despite all this, dogs that can still be extremely good and loving like Whitey is.

Thank you, RAR, for helping Whitey!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving weekend and a great reason for Ploiesti strays to give their deepest thanks

Despite the newly voted legislation legalizing mass dog euthanasia in Romania, strangely enough, the Ploiesti stray animals do have a reason to be extremely grateful this Thanksgiving. This month, 100 animals were spayed/neutered for free in Ploiesti with the help of truly beautiful people whose dedication and generosity shown in helping Romanian strays is absolutely humbling.  US-based Romania Animal Rescue (RAR) and Prahova County-based Foundation for the Protection of Stray Dogs (locally known as "FPCC") joined hands to make this sorely needed campaign possible:

Sponsored by RAR, carried out by the local FPCC team, this campaign helped stray animals from each and every area of Ploiesti. 97 dogs and 3 cats, almost all females, many of them already pregnant, were gently caught by hand, transported to the FPCC clinic, neutered, provided care for 2 days post surgery and long-release antibiotics, and then returned in their territory. The operations were of very good quality, as you can see below:

Notice the tiny cut of this recently spayed female dog in this s/n campaign in Ploiesti.

I believe with all my heart that this campaign has been extremely beneficial on many levels:
  • First off, many litters were prevented this winter alone, not to mention the exponential number of animals that would have been born on the long run to the breeding females and their offspring. I would say that this winter alone, a few hundred puppies will not be born anymore in freezing temperatures and at risk of being killed due to the new legislation. A few hundred puppies will not not be born to suffer and die anymore. Prevention of their suffering is priceless. 
  • I truly hope and believe that the stray animals neutered in this campaign will be spared from the mass dog cull and left to live in their territories, cared for and protected by local rescuers. All neutered animals received orange ear tags with a unique code as well as the "FPCC" inscription on, as proof that they are neutered and thus not contribute anymore to the stray animal multiplication problem; also being registered in the FPCC database.

 A female dog being returned spayed to the block of flats where she is loved and protected by several kind-hearted residents

  • Several of the dogs neutered in this campaign are now happily owned dogs. For a few dogs, there were already locals wanting to adopt them, but only on condition that they be neutered first. Given that the prices charged by local vet practices can be as high as half the monthly pension of a retired person, many people simply cannot afford to spay/neuter an animal they would really like to adopt. So because of this RAR s/n campaign in Ploiesti, now a few more strays are off the streets, safe, and happily owned locally. YES, a neutered stray is far more adoptable locally than an entire one, particularly if the dog happens to be a female. People avoid adopting even the cutest female puppy because of the unwanted puppies that come along later from an entire female dog. The least likely to be adopted from the streets are entire females. Spaying them most certainly increases their chances to find a home locally.
 Meet Raluca, one of the females spayed in this RAR s/n campaign in Ploiesti. A local wanted to adopt her but on condition that she be spayed first. Raluca says: "Dear RAR, I want YOU to receive my deepest thanks for coming to Ploiesti to spay me and help ensure a good future and an owner for me this way!"

  • I have also managed to meet as part of this campaign many local rescuers who care for the strays from their neighborhoods, people I could not have met otherwise. It was a great way to strengthen and enlarge the network of rescuers from all neighborhoods of Ploiesti. I feel confident to say that this town has many people who care about stray animals and want to help; people who will continue to care for these animals; fight for them; and go to great lengths to keep them safe and away from a cruel death.
 Residents and recently neutered stray dogs from their neighborhoods being happily reunited. This dog is "hugging" the arm of the person who cares for him
  • I've managed to take pictures and promote several strays I got to meet during this campaign. Now some of them are wanted for adoption or fostering by wonderful families abroad. The lives of some of these dogs are now forever changed for the better. 
  • I think this campaign also helped make a change in community's attitude towards strays. I do believe many more people now think of these strays as more valuable than before, if an American organization cared so much about them as so organize this s/n campaign. I do believe more locals will think twice now about the value of a stray and how it should be treated.
  • This campaign, together with other such s/n campaigns, could potentially persuade the local administration towards s/n as the most effective means to control animal overpopulation. With other such campaigns, this s/n campaign could literally help save the lives of the Ploiesti dogs.
  • And as last thought, I think this campaign also showed that the RAR-FPCC collaboration is very efficient. It would be beyond amazing for such a collaboration to continue in the future and other such s/n events to take place. While a great deal has been achieved with this campaign, each subsequent campaign would truly help make a difference.
  While this s/n campaign helped animals from all over Ploiesti, more such campaigns would help make a substantial difference in the reduction of stray animal numbers in humane manner. The many puppies we have seen, many of them too young to be neutered quite yet, demonstrated the importance of regularly conducting s/n events to contain the stray animal overpopulation. I truly wish that RAR and FPCC will keep the Ploiesti strays on their radars and hopefully return soon!

It has been an honor to help coordinate this s/n campaign in Ploiesti. I am extremely grateful to RAR and their donors for the positive difference they have made this November in the lives of my dear local strays; and to FPCC for the good work they have performed throughout this campaign. The local rescuers and animal carers, the animals helped, and I have a big THANK YOU to give this Thanksgiving for this campaign.

 Me with a young female stray dog that benefited from the RAR-FPCC s/n campaign in Ploiesti in November 2011

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    An extremely compelling letter

    Dear all,

    I have read many reactions about the mass dog culling law in Romania during the last 24 hours. One letter, however, conveyed so much truth and reality, dignity and strength, that I really felt I had to put it on this blog as well. My Facebook friend and fellow Romanian rescuer, Mada Spataru, explains the current situation and the impact of the new mass dog culling law extremely well:

    "To Whom It May Concern:
    I apologize for the disturbance, but as of Tuesday, November 22, 2011, the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) has succeeded to pass an extremely controversial piece of legislation (bill 912/2007 to modify and amend Emergency Government Ordinance no. 155/2001) in the Romanian Parliament that allows for the indiscriminate killing of all stray dogs throughout Romania. While on a moral level I am outraged that this bill will allow for the reinstatement of barbaric conduct previously demonstrated by local authorities, going against all animal welfare requirements and against the recommendations of the EU (including Written Declaration 26/2011), my letter to you is motivated by factual issues:

    1. This legislation, once put into practice (although it is widely in use already in mayoralties such as Tulcea, Botosani or Ramnicu Valcea, where dogs are cremated alive, brutally killed with clubs or poisoned with glass shards or even rat poison), will offer impunity to municipalities where such practices have continued despite a 7 year period where spay-neuter-return was the official policy.
    2. This legislation, once adopted by President Basescu, will allow for the illicit raising of campaign funds for the PDL election campaigns of next year. Their pecuniary interests were revealed by major journals here, with major actors such as Elena Udrea (Minister of Tourism and Development) being personally involved in the fund collection process.
    3. This legislation allows for the funneling of funds and money laundering. While the officials declare euthanasia costs of up to 275 euro/dog (as opposed to 15 euro, the cost of spay/neuter/return), to which cremation costs are added based on exaggerated weight assessments, the reality of the years in which euthanasia was the general practice have shown that dogs are usually starved to death and the remaining ones are killed without any cost whatsoever (translation: clubbed to death). This in turn adds to the engrossed funds raised through such barbaric practices additional sums allotted to feeding the dogs, in the tune of thousands of euro/month. The above mentioned facts are proven through statements, transcripts, recordings and testimonies that further underline the fact that no medical care whatsoever is offered to the dogs in the shelter, despite the fact that tens of thousands of euro are invoiced every month by designated vets (i.e. the shelter in Botosani).
    4. This legislation does not actually solve the stray problem in Romania, a fact which is desired by most pet owners. While euthanasia has exorbitant costs, it is estimated that only 1 in 10 dogs that are able to reproduce are actually euthanized by local authorities, allowing for a seasonal surplus of approximately 50 dogs (over 100 dogs per year, for every dog euthanized by local authorities).
    5. This legislation does not effectively discourage animal abandon. Each year, approximately 50% of pet owners in peri-urban areas abandon excess dogs (i.e. female cats and dogs) in urban and adjacent areas such as roads and industrial sites, leading to a renewal of the total population of strays, facts also demonstrated through interviews, statistic data and testimonies.
    6. This legislation does not lead to the elimination of aggressive strays, as statistical data has shown that dog catchers predominantly collect tame strays that socialize with residents and puppies.
    7. This legislation does not support in any way the efforts of the pejoratively called "animal lovers" or animal rescuers, who are currently facing an unprecedented overflow of injured and abandoned pets. The economic crisis has lead to an increased number of abandoned pets and a diminished interest in adoptions, leaving the few people actually doing spay/neuter&adoption over-agglomerated and without sources of funding their activities (no public funds are allotted whatsoever to these activities). As such, many private shelters and refuges are now faced with no resources, no volunteers and no funds to support their rescues.

    Moreover, the campaign to collect signatures for the euthanasia of stray dogs has brought forth internal PDL documents and campaign footage and materials that demonstrate its abusive and misleading character. PDL volunteers and high-ranking officials effectively manipulated the general public into believing they were signing to support spay/neuter/return. PDL members were faced with expulsion from the party upon failure to gather 2000 signatures/person and there is tangible evidence that professors, public servants and employees in the private sector were threatened with termination if they expressed opposition.

    As such, I would like to bring to your attention that we, the general public, alongside NGOs have proposed a number of measures that are cost and time effective and would limit the occurance of subsequent issues such as cat over-population. Among them, the following best represent my view on the potential solution:

    1. Census of dogs and cats with owners.
    2. Introduction of mandatory chip identification of pets.
    3. Introduction of national pet database, accessible over the internet to every vet (e-charts), allowing for the identification of owners and a more prompt treatment.
    4. Introduction of mandatory sterilization of pets without reproductive potential, thus limiting puppy mills and animal overpopulation. The owners who elect not to spay/neuter their pet will incur a yearly fee and mandatory bi-annual veterinary check-ups. Animal abandonment and animal cruelty should be harshly punished, and penalties should be reinforced in the new Penal Code, including the interdiction to own pets.
    5. Registration of all shelters and refuges, legal and privately owned (50+ animals), creating a national database that allows for redirection of the 2% annual tax refund. This measure would allow for animal rescuers with unofficial refuges and shelters to undergo audits bi-annually and to receive local funds and support from their respective municipalities.
    6. Reform of volunteering law that stipulates that all veterinary medicine students must perform a number of hours and procedures in public and private shelters and refuges, in order to support medical treatment, as well as stipulating a number of hours of supervision from veterinaries in local shelters (non-existent at the moment, the measure would increase quality of care and lower mortality). Moreover, introduction of stipulation that all NGOs active in animal protection (in this case, stray dogs) must pledge a number of hours in the local public shelters as a condition to maintain qualification.
    7. Reform of animal control law (repeal of current one, introduction of mandatory spay/neuter/return) that would lead to the creation of modern shelters that create jobs in local communities (educated, responsible and humane animal control employees, hygiene personnel, dog trainers and behavioral experts, medical personnel, etc.), that are primarily geared towards the treatment, spaying/neutering and socialization of strays (including training therapy dogs and cats as well as rescue and specialized dogs) in view of supporting the needs and interests of potential adopters. Modern shelters should allow for the creation of educational programmes in schools. Moreover, public shelters should be supported and even managed for periods of up to 6 months by qualified NGOs in the area, in order to support transparency and quality of care.

    I am a citizen of Romania, of the European Union, and I am also an "animal lover". I am a responsible pet owner, with 9 disabled cats and 4 dogs, all of which are spayed, micro-chipped and vaccinated and that have a more-than-adequate space to live their lives in safety. I am a responsible citizen of Romania - a professional in my line of work, a law-abiding tax payer, and I am doing my civil duty by helping people and animals in need alike. I am dismayed that my elected representatives have chosen to disregard cost-efficient measures that would effectively solve the stray problem in Romania within the next five to seven years, choosing instead to follow pecuniary interests that go against our dire needs. The measures proposed above are my own view of how the problem could be solved, and I hope that others will reach out to you suggesting many others.

    As a responsible citizen, I cannot support this recent legislation. As a responsible citizen, I feel it is my duty and my obligation to practice civil disobedience on moral and policy grounds, along the lines defined and discussed by the likes of Henry Thoreau, Gandhi and Ronald Dworkin. I admit my personal limitations in understanding the complexities of the definitions and interpretations that this concept has been given over the years. However, what I do know is that I am not a delinquent. I am a regular citizen that expects the state to represent my interests and reflect them through legislation. I believe that the recently-passed bill is immoral in the sense that it condones the inhumane treatment of animals, and I feel that this policy is wrong both in its assumption that it will solve the problem by delegating decision-making to the local level as well as through its hasty adoption in the months preceding an election year, likely to cloud better judgement and heighten financial interests.

    Until all municipalities in Romania have adopted the Spay/Neuter/Return policy and one or several of the measures proposed above, I believe it is my duty as a Romanian citizen to stop payment of any and all taxes. It is my personal opinion that revolutions do not necessarily have to take place in the street. I believe we, as Romanians, still have our own voice, and that we don't have to respond to violence with violence to be heard and understood.

    Thank you very much for your time.

    Sincerely yours,

    Mada Spataru"

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Urgent appeal for Ploiesti and Romania's dogs

    Dear all,

    Today the mass stray dog culling law passed in the Romanian Parliament. All animal rescuers are extremely worried about what is about to happen to the Romanian strays, and the kind of deaths they'll endure. Despite EU's recommendations for humane, educated ways to control the stray dog overpopulation problem (see the Written Declaration 26 on Dog Population Management in the EU), the leading Romanian PD-L party thought otherwise. To give you an example about what "euthanasia" means in Romania, please see:

    By the way, in the videos above you see Traian Basescu, back then the mayor of our capital, now the president of the country, and member of the leading PD-L party.

    If there is any way you could adopt or foster a Romanian stray dog soon, it would be beyond amazing. You would save it from a great deal of suffering and a most certain painful death. We're talking here even about the loveliest, friendliest puppies and easiest dogs to handle (for example, you can have a look here: LOCAL STRAY DOGS FOR ADOPTION)

    I will talk with more local rescuers and think of what else could be done, and how the larger international community could help the Romanian dogs, especially in these particularly worrying times. Thank you for reading this and for caring about these stray dogs with truly bleak prospects.

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Urgent appeal for a happy dog with a sad story

    I don't normally write appeals, as I believe I would have to write appeals for each and every dog out of the thousands roaming the streets of Ploiesti. But this one is truly a sad case, a dog my friend told me about. He is a one year old Schnauzer mix boy that was abandoned today by his owner. And thank God this happened, for his own sake. My friend's family (neighbors with the former owner) can only keep him temporarily in foster care, as my friend's dad suffers from asthma.

    This dog had anything but a happy life. His drunken owner would beat him repeatedly with his belt. Until today, he would often be left alone on the balcony of his former owner's apartment, in scorching summer temperatures or freezing winter nights. Also, fed sporadically, whenever the owner remembered about him, and not with proper nutritious food- today apparently he had cooked cabbage- human leftovers most likely. He would be taken out for a walk once every few days. I'd say, a very bad case of neglect and cruelty.

    Despite this, he still is a happy boy loving human company. Weirdly enough. Yes, he still trusts people, he's loving, friendly and full of life. Truly weird!!!

    And now looking for a new home. Ideally, the total opposite of what his first home was like.

    Today, just surrendered by his former owner and taken in temporarily by my friend's family

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    The ICAWC and learnings I brought back

    In October 2011 I attended the ICAWC (International Companion Animal Welfare Conference) in Riga, Latvia. Organized by Dogs Trust, the largest canine welfare charity in the UK, this conference has been a real eye opener, a great learning experience, and a terrific way to connect with other like-minded animal rescuers from around the world. I am extremely grateful to my Masters program in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare at the University of Edinburgh for helping me with the cost of attending this conference (my program helped each student in the course attend one conference- for me ICAWC was my definite choice).

    I thought of sharing some of the learnings I brought back with me from the conference. According to Dogs Trust, based on scientific research, we now know that:
    1. Dogs can help the development of children with learning and educational difficulties.
    2. Children that grow up with dogs are healthier and spend more time in school.
    3. Owning a dog helps reduce the risk of allergies in children, in particular asthma, wheezing and eczema.
    4. Dog owners make fewer visits to their GP (doctor) and spend less time in hospital.
    5. Dogs can reduce depression and improve mental well-being in humans.
    6. Dog ownership aids the recovery of post coronary patients.
    7. Owning a dog can help lower blood pressure in children and adults.
    8. Dogs can help the elderly by combating feelings of loneliness and isolation.
    9. Dog owning adults and children are more physically active and healthier than non-dog owners.
    10. Dogs can provide great emotional support for humans during periods of stress and anxiety.

    In fact, the evidence of dog benefits is so compelling that Dogs Trust and a hospital in the UK are teaming up, cardiac patients being encouraged to walk dogs from a nearby Dogs Trust shelter as part of the recovery process! A great way to exercise in the company of a dog.

    I have also been able to attend a lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Young, a world-renown vet who has spayed and neutered over 160,000 animals around the world; a huge proponent of spaying and neutering as means to control the animal overpopulation problem. If we're lucky, maybe Dr Young will visit Romania one day...

    Other speakers focused on the importance of international adoptions- from countries with stray animal overpopulation (such as Romania), to countries with no such problems, countries with incredibly high standards of animal welfare, where local shelters actually have few animals in their care. A great way to reduce the stray animal number in one country, sending the animals to great homes in countries with high animal welfare and few local dogs. By all means, a win-win situation.

    Romanian Raluca Simion from GIA also took the stage, giving her insights about the Romanian charter and the importance of spaying and neutering as means to contain the Romanian dog overpopulation problem. An intelligent, persuasive speech that would have made any Romanian rescuer proud.

    As part of the conference, I have also been able to see one local Latvian shelter, a shelter with high standards of animal welfare in my opinion. I can only wish that one day, Romanian shelters will also look and treat their dogs like this:

     Each dog is individually kenneled inside. Pictured is just half of the kennel, the other side being accessible through the small door in the wall. All dogs are extremely well socialized by very friendly and caring staff and volunteers.

    Here, dogs are left outside part of the day in order to get their daily dose of exercise and canine companionship

    For a population of 2.2 million people, Latvia has 25 shelters. Here are statistics for the way they manage the animal population:
    In Latvia, the emphasis is on adoption. Very few animals get euthanized, and only when nothing can be done for them anymore.

    Furthermore, I was very impressed to see in Riga a sort of culture for animals, the black cat being a prevalent symbol of the city:

    I would also like to add that I have not seen not even one stray dog in Riga... Because Latvians are responsible people who believe in spaying and neutering, and don't abandon their animals in the streets. While Latvia too had to endure Communism, I have huge respect for the way this country handled the stray animal population, through humane and responsible methods. Because they are such a great people, they NEVER had a stray dog overpopulation problem. Despite Communism and hardships, their humane,educated and responsible attitude made all the difference.

    I am aware that the stray animal overpopulation really is an international issue. As one speaker commented, 75% of world's dogs are free roaming animals... But some news give hope for this situation. At the conference, someone passed me a flier with amazing news: the possibility to end the stray dog overpopulation problem around the world with the use of pills that sterilize for life. More information here:

    Now that I am back from the conference, I still need to put order in my thoughts and sort through everything I have learned. I am more aware of the problems animals face around the world, aware of overpopulation issues and cultural mentalities. But the words of a speaker keep on ringing in my ears: "you can heal your corner of the world". And my corner of the world is Ploiesti, the town where I was born, a place with substantial stray animal overpopulation problems, extremely reduced animal welfare standards, and no real laws against animal cruelty- that is, laws actually enforced and not solely on paper. It is here where I'm trying to make a positive difference, first and foremost.