Humane Society International is partnering with local animal organizations to provide veterinary services to the most underserved communities across Romania. Our work in this country has always been important, but since war broke out in Ukraine, aid in this region has become especially essential as it has allowed us to partner with organizations to provide relief and supplies to families with animals who are trying to survive. In this guest blog, Andreea Roseti, Romania country director for Humane Society International, recounts a visit to an animal shelter in Ploiesti in December as part of our new mobile veterinary initiative, describing how the impacts of war and economic hardship have reverberated throughout the region.
As December begins in Romania, the temperature is near freezing. I’m leaving the capital city of Bucharest en route to the small town of Ploiesti. As we get farther from the city, the smooth asphalt road is replaced by a bumpy, muddy one. As the mud gets thicker and our vehicle starts to slow, I wonder what will await us.
We are making this arduous trek to help the animals at a struggling local shelter. The shelter is run by a woman named Mariana. We’ve been told that the shelter is home to about 100 dogs, all rescued from the areas that surround Bucharest. Our plan is to provide much-needed veterinary care for the animals to keep them healthy and strong throughout the winter, and to increase their chances of adoption. We come prepared to deliver the basics—deworming, flea and tick treatment, microchipping and vaccines, along with any additional treatment the animals might need.
I’m about 10 minutes away from the shelter when suddenly I have to slam on the brakes. There is a car in front of me, blocking the road. As I get closer, I realize it’s Dr. Valeria, the veterinarian we are meeting. She’s stuck in the mud, and now I am as well. We greet each other with a hug and laugh at the situation, finally deciding to walk the remaining distance to the shelter.
As we approach the gate we are welcomed by Mariana, two animal caretakers and the rest of the team. The shelter is like many in Romania, consisting of a large house completely surrounded by dog kennels. Every inch of the property has been repurposed for the animals. It is cold and muddy, but the dogs are curious to meet the visitors and eagerly wag their tails and sniff our pockets for treats. The dogs are so happy to see us, they seem to be totally unfazed by the weather.
We first have a hot coffee to discuss how we can help. Mariana shares her story; she used to be a legal consultant in Bucharest before setting up the shelter. She describes how hard it is to keep rescuing and rehoming dogs in a country where there is a homeless dog at every corner. As a Romanian working for Humane Society International, I know the situation well.
Inside and shielded from the cold, we draw up vaccines and prepare treatments. We then head outside, checking on the dogs that Mariana identified as needing help. To our surprise, the shelter we thought had around 100 dogs now has upward of 250. Mariana isn’t sure herself, anymore, as there is no software or data recording to help her keep track of the animals in her shelter. After only 10 minutes with the dogs, I am already in love. My work is becoming slower and slower because I keep getting distracted by the friendly pups demanding attention. These dogs are truly amazing, and every one of them would make a wonderful companion.
Yet, the sad reality is that the chances of these dogs finding homes with the current economic situation is slim. Across the country, shelters and small organizations dedicated to helping dogs and cats are struggling like never before. Since the beginning of the war in neighboring Ukraine, food, electricity and medical costs have soared, and the people who normally have an interest in helping these organizations, or adopting animals from these shelters, are preoccupied with other worries. We collaborated with the Red Cross in Romania in order to provide relief to Ukraine: This allowed us to send the first tons of pet food to Ukraine in the early stages of the war. It was the first time that the Red Cross carried pet supplies in its trucks, and the humanitarian convoys managed to make the deliveries safely in the communities that needed them so much.
We have also supported four local animal organizations in Romania to aid the war relief efforts. Our support to Save the Dogs helped send more than 400 tons of food (enough to fill 20 trucks) to prevent cats and dogs from starving in Ukraine; helped build 90 doghouses; and provided hundreds of dog jackets and blankets so cats and dogs in Kharkiv can survive the brutal Ukrainian winter. Our work with Red Panda, a charity based in Bucharest, has been supporting families with animals and those deciding to stay in parts of Ukraine, despite hardship and devastation. Save the Horses was involved in the first months of the war in bringing Ukrainians with horses to safety in Romania and helping them cope once here. Sus Inima has been running a house in Sibiu, Romania, dedicated to welcoming and offering lodging for refugees with pets either passing through Romania or looking to stay for longer periods of time.
Given the dire situation all over the region, as I stroke the heads of dozens of dogs at the shelter, I feel so happy that we can help make a difference for these animals. At the same time, it’s unavoidable to reflect on how unfair life has been for them. The dogs are named according to the place and situation where they were found: Many are mothers with litters of puppies dumped in boxes and bags in the vicinity of the shelter, for instance, “Mommy 1 Snagov.” Now they are safe and happy, and we are committed to helping them and so many more across the country. They are cared for and loved, and we hope that one day someone will see them for what they are: wonderful souls deserving of a forever home.
A few hours later we were cold, exhausted and covered in mud, but we pushed on. In total, we treated more than 100 animals for fleas and ticks, vaccinated and dewormed another 80. There were 30 puppies who were abandoned with the mothers and will have to be weaned and spayed/neutered during our next visit.
The gratitude of the shelter staff was overwhelming. The free veterinary services were a tremendous help for them. The shelter wouldn’t have been able to afford to take the dogs to a clinic for medical care. Thanks to our help, Mariana can now focus on the shelter’s adoption program to find these animals the loving homes they deserve. Before leaving, she proudly introduced the dogs who are now ready for adoption and will soon have a loving family.
Our new mobile veterinary initiative in Romania has already helped more than 500 dogs and cats by providing them lifesaving veterinary care, and we expect to continue reaching many more animals in need this winter. While shelters across Romania are struggling to give animals a better life every day, we will not give up, because the animals are counting on us—more so now than ever.