Over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge rise in the number of Romanian rescue dogs being re-homed in the UK, alongside an increase of awareness in the general public about the plight of dogs in the country.
Romania’s stray dog problem is highly complex and became much worse in the 1970s, when the country-wide move towards urbanisation resulted in many people moving into small apartments and no longer being able to keep their pet dogs. This led to a rise in pet abandonment and over the years, the number of stray dogs increased as these abandoned pets began breeding freely, until their population became out of control. Attempts to reduce the stray dog numbers through the introduction of controversial dog culls in the early 2000s led to an increase in private shelters and sanctuaries taking in dogs to protect them. Later, changes in legislation prohibited the return of stray dogs to the streets after capture, even if they had been neutered. The result is the current situation, where a large number of dogs are housed long-term in often overcrowded, under-resourced shelters without enough homes for them all to go to, and those still on the streets are un-neutered and at constant risk of disease, injury, capture and euthanasia.
Figures from the Animal and Plant Health Agency show that in 2019 a total of 44,563 dogs were legally brought into the UK from overseas, of which 19,487 or 44% came from Romania. In 2020 a total of 67,552 dogs were legally brought into the UK from overseas; 32,525 or 48% came from Romania. To put this into perspective, in 2019 the second largest number of commercially imported dogs was 7,368 from Ireland and the third was 4,891 from Spain. Although it’s impossible to know how many of these dogs coming over are rescue dogs, as commercial import statistics cover all dogs legally imported without owners, it is widely reported that welfare organisations, vets and behaviourists across the UK are seeing a large increase of Romanian rescue dogs in their clinics.
Considering the increased publicity of the daily struggles of stray and feral Romanian dogs, the increase in dogs being rehomed abroad and the increase in resources being funnelled towards helping alleviate the issues, you’d expect to see a decrease in the number of dogs in Romania needing the assistance of charitable organisations like ourselves. Unfortunately, the reverse is true.
This is why as an organisation we feel it is so important for us to continue expanding our work in Romania using our holistic focused approach that is the core of all the work we do. This approach covers the following seven components:
- Establishing a local entity, IAPWA Romania, to work alongside our UK team to develop this programme: Having a local entity is not just important from a legal perspective but also allows us to empower a local team that live and breathe the issues we will be facing on a daily basis. This is vital as there are so many wonderful, dedicated animal rescuers in Romania that need our help and there is nothing more valuable than a local team that is hungry for change and empowered with the tools to achieve it.
Providing veterinary services through our custom-built Mobile Veterinary Clinic: Romania is a vast country with many rural areas that do not have a local veterinary clinic, so our mobile clinic does a great job of filling this void and enables us to treat thousands of dogs and cats each year who would otherwise have had limited or no access to treatment.
- Dog and Cat population management: It costs £20 for us to neuter one dog in Romania and we believe that having a clear focus on running numerous targeted neutering schemes will help us leave a lasting impact on population numbers. Last year we were able to neuter 1,000 dogs and cats and this year we’re on track to neuter 3,000. Our neutering campaigns will be run in tandem with our Neutering Campaign Training Programme so our team can impart valuable experience and knowledge to those already involved or wanting to become involved in this type of work. The final piece of the dog and cat population management programme is assisting the local authorities to move away from inhumane population management methods towards humane population control programmes that drastically improve animal welfare.
- Supporting the local animal welfare community through our Sanctuary Support Programme: Collaboration is key to the work that we do at IAPWA, and creating tangible change is a journey that we must take the local welfare community with us on for it to be effective and long lasting. We will do this by creating an extensive sanctuary support programme to improve facilities at local shelters while creating educational opportunities for local rescuers and welfare advocates.
- Developing local Adoption & Foster Care solutions: To truly change the long-term welfare prospects of dogs and cats in Romania it’s vital that we build on existing in-country foster care and adoption networks while also creating new ones. It’s clear from our work both in Penang Island and Borneo how important these local networks are, both for getting dogs into the community where they are more likely to be re-homed and the knock-on effect that having dogs in homes in the community has on people’s perceptions of street dogs, that are all too often overlooked for their pedigree counterparts from pet shops.
- Delivering a range of education and community engagement initiatives: As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world!” – and at IAPWA we truly believe this to be the case. We hope that through our education initiatives within the local community we are able to help change perceptions around the best ways to care for animals, and that this creates a tidal wave of compassion that will not only impact current generations but also those that follow.
- Addressing legislative needs to improve animal welfare: We will work with our local team as well as our wider network within the local animal welfare community to assess and address necessary legislative changes to improve animal welfare. We aim to achieve change through supporting local grassroots campaigners to lobby for legislative changes in-country, while our UK team simultaneously meets with Romanian representatives in the United Kingdom to assist with pushing forward these necessary changes.
We believe that to create lasting change, all of these various factors need to be addressed together to provide a range of solutions for the many issues present. Alongside our UK and Romanian partners, we’re committed to creating a positive impact in the long term whilst also tackling immediate welfare needs. This will be delivered one region at a time through our comprehensive holistic programme, so that we can create the necessary sound foundations to achieve lasting change. We’d like to acknowledge how grateful we are for all the support Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have provided to IAPWA for this project, and look forward to continuing to work with them in 2022. We thank both our partners in Romania and the UK, as well as our wonderful supporters, for enabling us to do the work that we do. We look forward to you all joining us on this epic and essential journey to improve the lives of animals in Romania.