dog at large kennel
Had a bad start to an interesting project. After hours on the bus to Galati, we were dropped off in a big city, at the side of the road, next to a restaurant. I tried to ask Romanians where the bus station was, but all they said was the general direction and take a taxi. We walked about half an hour in freezing cold to the end of the road which only went to right or left. We called Dana to come pick us up and after a 20 minute delay, we were told to wait another 20 minutes... 45 minutes later, Dana showed up to collect us. We were standing outside of a large electronic clock that also tells the temperature, which was -9C! It was so cold and the wind didn't help, so we were so glad when Dana showed up. She took us to the smaller shelter, which is where we would be sleeping. We met one of the workers, Flori, a very shy woman who is too ashamed of her English to speak, but when she did she was actually quite fluent. She was very nice and made sure we were set and ready with the house
the calmest dogs at the sanctuary
before she would leave.
The house was freezing as well, only two electric heaters to 'heat' the downstairs and one put in one of the two bedrooms. They kept asking if it was okay or if we needed anything, and were shocked when we said this is actually better accommodation than some other centres we've stayed at, even if it was freezing cold and the water turned to ice in the pipes at night. They said we can get up whenever we want and can help do whatever we want, if we just want to help wash food bowls that is okay. I think they are either not used to having volunteers or don't have ones that are used to less-pleasant conditions...
Waking up in the mornings is extremely cold, even with the heater right by the bed. I did look forward to radiator pants! We have to keep moving to keep from shivering and make toast on the oven for breakfast. We help Flori with the dog kennels, scooping up poop then washing the floors, wipe the water off, then feed and water the dogs. We have to start with hot water for cleaning to avoid instant
watching the other dogs play outside
freezing to the tiled floors. It is almost comical trying to get from cage to cage in the dog kennel. The kennel contains several cages along a narrow tiled hallway, each cage containing 1-3 dogs. The water freezes instantly on the tile and it is impossible to walk along the hallway or in the cages. We had to use the walls or the cage doors as leverage to pull ourselves along the ice-sheet floor. Some dogs ignored us or just stand in the way. Some will jump on us or bark until we pay them attention. A few are very terrified of us and hide in the corner. We have to scoop up all the solid stuff, use soap and water then try to squeegy-brush it off before it freezes. Even the dogs had difficulty standing.
The dogs usually get time to run outside, but since it is cruelly cold out, they had to stay in the cages a few days, mainly because we couldn't get the cages cleaned in enough time to give them a chance to play, and it was too painful for us to stand outside and round them up when it was time to go
He was one of my favourite dogs!
inside. There are a dozen 'stray' cats, most Flori has been feeding but a few are neighbour cats that show up to take food. Flori would make us lunch every day, Romanian foods such as soups, sausages, bread, pickles or peppers, eggs, and mamaliga (corn meal mush). In the evenings we would make ourselves noodles or rice usually, and dancing to South American music to keep warm. We got homemade hot wine during the days to warm up as well. The first few days, my fingers and toes would be so cold they were painful and i could hardly walk, even with 3 pairs of socks on!
But getting into the flow of work was pretty easy, just a task to glide from cage to cage and remembering to use hot water for everything since it instantly freezes! The bathroom pipe froze and water flooded onto the floor. The second night we were there, Flori brought in a puppy who she thought was sick. He had a hunched back, very shaky and skinny and looked a bit sick. She asked if we could look after him for the night, so we let him stay in the house, giving him
He was on his way to being adopted when we left the sanctuary
dog food which he ate very quickly. Since he was weak and tired, i made him a bed near the heater, taking him out occasionally to go potty, but he never had to go and was more interested trying to get in the outside box the cats slept in. When I went to bed, i made the puppy an area to sleep in to keep him warm. He started breathing funny and lacked any energy to even stand on his own. In the middle of the night he began making weird whimpering noises and when i went to comfort him, he took his last puppy breath and died. Not a very pleasant way to start a volunteer project... but he looked as if he had internal organ failures or a spinal injury from the beginning. I don't know exactly, but he wouldn't have made it very long without surgeries. There was nothing we could have done anyway.
We did manage to save a puppy though. A small fur-ball puppy was found on the side of the road someone brought in. She came in very tired and no desire to walk, so we gave her food, kept her by the
giving the dogs time outside to run and frolick
radiator and the following day she was hopping around and playing with our feet or with the cats. We called her ‘Puppy Monster’ and she stayed indoors while we cleaned, and sometimes the cats would come in for food and snuggle by the radiator with the puppy. As she got stronger, she got more playful and we began to teach her to go potty outside. Luckily, someone from America came and decided to adopt her! It’s great she got a chance at a good home without ever knowing what life in the kennels was like. But i feel bad for the dogs who would make great companions and pets, but now going to live the rest of their lives in that kennel, because very few will be adopted, and a puppy is much more desirable than an old stray dog who can’t play properly.
Everyday was a challenge to not fall in the kennel from the frozen floor, we had to break the ice up from the day before and cut down on the water we used to prevent ice accumulating. The dog's water would freeze by the morning. I got to know many of the dogs in
from kennel to the fenced in yard
the few weeks there, know which ones i like in the cage and which ones are very annoying to clean if they are in the cage too. Some dogs listen to me when they are outside but some Flori had to catch to put in cages since they only listen to her. It was sad to see that many of the dogs didn't know how to play or fetch. These had been stray dogs picked up from the streets, spayed or neutered, and put in a kennel to avoid being poisoned or beaten to death to control the population.
We spent the last few days at the bigger dog kennel, which i was a bit horrified about. I mean they truly are trying, their hearts are in the right places, and they are doing good. It’s just a matter of lack of supplies, of workers, of help, of knowledge, and money and it’s too bad because the dogs are suffering because of it. And it’s hard to say at what point the dogs are ‘better off’ in one situation or another; life in the streets where they may be killed by humans seeing them as pests or stuck in
giving the little ones much needed attention
a kennel. I thought of the big dog kennel as some sort of prison where the guards were trying, but didn’t know any better. There were over 500 dogs in the larger kennel, apparently adding some 3 dogs a week to the kennels. Rather than focus on bettering the lives of those currently in care, it seems their main focus is to save as MANY dogs as they can, which has it’s disadvantages. They don’t have much money, and although the dogs in the smaller kennel are very well cared for, lots of human interaction, and are fed dog food, the larger kennel can only give dog food every third day. The other two days, we helped workers unwrap hundreds of chocolate frosting-filled croissants for the dogs, cringing at the conditions of the kennels and dogs, and trying to make sure all dogs ate equal amounts. Of course some dogs were dominate and ate more than their share, and when this problem was brought up, it was dealt with rather lightly.
I know the sanctuary is desperate for good help and money, and having an uneducated staff who don’t care much for dogs isn’t
I'm so happy she was lucky enough to be adopted!
helping. Dana’s heart is in the right place, they are trying and moving forward, dogs are being adopted, but my concern is it’s not enough and not fast enough. But being there 2 short weeks is hardly enough time to make major changes or get to know the dogs or workers. I hope to return some day with more time to dedicate and more ideas for them to improve. Hopefully in the warmer months to come, there are more enclosures built, dogs can play outside, and kennels are properly cleaned. And I hope long term volunteers come in the meantime and help as well. There is still a major dog problem despite the dog sanctuaries in the country, but i think little by little this ‘pest control’ issue will be dealt with humanely to decrease the stray dog populations.
Our last few nights were freezing cold, strong winds blowing through the house, and to top it all off, i was so ill i couldn’t get out of bed except to the bathroom, which was always a quick sprint! We had to sleep on the couch-bed that slanted and dipped and
Flori prepares Ginger for her adoption
after our 2 weeks it was time to go, but not without difficulty! We were uncertain whether or not the buses or trains could travel, which roads were closed, or where we would have to stay. Eventually it all worked out- a worker drove us to the bus station, after a near fish-tail slide into a bridge cement wall, and we took a bus to Brasov.
I’m going to miss this place, the dogs, Flori... I always wonder what more i could have done, but instead i will try to focus on what i can do next time, whether it’s returning to this dog sanctuary or learning from this experience for the next sanctuary, whatever the animal or cause.
^Út Í Óvissuna^
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