As a side note, I do not mean to sound condescending or like an expert on the subject matter. I am not perfect either. However, I believe I have seen enough in Romania and in Romanian animal rescue, and have been educated enough, to be able to make some sound and pertinent judgements.
For a Westerner, Romania can be a shocking place in terms of stray animal overpopulation and the quality of life of these animals. What is common sense in countries like Holland with regard to animal treatment will often be almost impossible to apply in a country like Romania with estimates of up to 3 million stray dogs. The norm of acceptable animal welfare is suspended in Romania. If I may dare say, normality is all too often suspended in Romania.
Picture this: you walk down the street, you see dogs old and new, in every neighborhood, on almost every street. Some have been around for quite a few years and you know them well. Others have been recently abandoned, or just passing through the area looking for food or maybe a female in heat. Many are limping as result of recent injuries sustained in traffic; many are skinny; many are partly hairless because of mange. One dead animal on the street from a car accident. A skinny lactating street female dog feverishly chewing through a garbage bag to get to whatever little food she can find inside. And then, the ever-popular recently abandoned litter of pups crying from the dumpster. Going to the local city pound only provides more horrific images of more skinny animals having to fight for food. I would not call this normal by any means, yet this is the everyday reality in many parts of Romania.
With this image in mind, it's time to introduce the R's I have been thinking of. Animal rescue in Romania should involve, or have in focus:
- Responsibility. Responsibility really comes in many forms. First off, the rescuer must be an honest, reliable person, responsibly using the donations for the animals (unfortunately big names in Romanian animal rescue have been associated with massive embezzling of funds). A responsible rescuer also gets to know an animal really well before recommending it for adoption. The responsible rescuer knows temperament is the most crucial feature when deeming an animal good for adoption. After owners' initial excitement for the pretty looks, it's temperament that matters for the rest of an animal's life and really makes all the difference! And very importantly, the good rescuer must feel responsible to an animal for the rest of the animal's life. The good rescuer must always be willing to accept a dog back in case the adoption fails, or strive to rescue and re-home the animal if it ends up in a bad first home.
- Rationality, reason, the animal rescuer ought to be anchored in reality. By all means, the situation is too severe, the problem too deeply rooted, for the animal rescuer to mess things up even more. In my view, in a country with up to 3 million stray animals, to purposefully allow for more pups to be born to an uncertain future is a crime. Even if there are homes lined up for these new pups, you have to be aware that these purposefully born pups take away the chance to a good home of needy pups already born and already in desperate need of homes. The rational rescuer also knows adoptions are not the answer to solving the stray dog problem. There simply are too many good homeless dogs and not enough responsible, forever homes for them. And let's not forget about the continuous incoming waves of abandoned animals that continue to come and replenish the streets. The rational rescuer knows that on the long run, control of reproduction represents the only proven way to reduce stray animal numbers effectively (World Health Organisation Guidelines for Dog Population Management, Geneva 1990, page 72), and thus diminish the numbers of animals suffering in the streets. The rational rescuer is also aware that some dogs are simply not adoptable from a behavioral perspective. I also think, as harsh as it sounds, that it's not ideal to spend thousands of euros on saving one animal only, when that money could be used, for example, to sterilize all the female dogs from an entire village. In effect, focusing on one animal only, and totally shunning away the remaining 3 million needy strays, realistically does nothing for stray animals' cause. I strongly believe the stray dog overpopulation problem is so serious in Romania, that reason must by all means overtake emotion. Going further, I'd dare say that in this situation, reason equals emotion at a superior level. Emotion makes you tear for one animal; reason makes you do the right thing for a lot more animals. And whether we like it or not, when emotion really takes the lead and shuns away reason, animal rescue can take a very ugly turn. And when I say this, I am thinking of the hoarders I have met, with dozens of skeletal, underfed dogs they would keep in small cages all their lives. Or of a rescuer who did not want to hear of humane euthanasia for a dog in terrible physical condition, with no chance to a decent life with acceptable welfare, with horrendous wounds from dragging herself on the ground. The good, rational rescuer must know when to let go, for the animal's own good.
- Resources. We are always limited in our actions by resources. The good rescuer ought to make the most of whatever little resources she has. Picture this: you have 7 pregnant female dogs and only 140 euro in donations. Let's say it costs 20 euro to sterilize a dog. It also costs 100 euro to transport a dog to her fosterer in Germany, and let's say it costs 40 euro to prepare the dog for adoption. With the 140 euro you have, what do you do? Do you save one dog only and send her to a good life, and brace yourself for an invasion of puppies from the other dogs you've left unsterilized? On the long run, such decisions are disastrous. The good, responsible and rational rescuer ought to literally maximize the effect of the resources on the long run. Do a lot with very little!
- Reduction. The goal of every serious animal rescuer should be to humanely reduce stray animal numbers. Otherwise, the quality of life of the existing animals would simply never improve; they would continue to be born to never get owners, never get enough food, never get vet care. By reducing stray animal numbers, you really give a better chance to the remaining animals to find owners and have a better life. In effect, the good animal rescuer should do everything to run out of animals in need of help! Massive, sustained sterilization campaigns of homeless and owned animals, combined with educational campaigns about humane and responsible animal treatment, are the way to go.
- Results and receptivity. The good rescuer ought to regularly evaluate results and use them as feedback. A good rescuer learns from every past mistake, accepts constructive criticism, and always, always learns, self improves and heightens her standards.