History of strays in Romania

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A stray finds shelter under a car.

The problem of stray dogs in Romania is not an ancient one – in fact, it is only about one generation old. Before and even during the days of Communism, Romanians and dogs shared a strong relationship, with many people in the country regarding them as loyal work partners or guard dogs for their farms; and many in the city regarding them as beloved pets. However, in the late 1980s, former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu began demolishing residential houses in large areas of Bucharest in order to build communal apartment blocks, where no pets were allowed. Faced with no other choice, thousands were forced to abandon their pets, and so the massive street dog problem began.

1989 saw the fall of Communism, but throughout the 90s the problem with dogs only became worse. Multiplying rapidly and always searching for new sources of food and shelter, stray dogs soon grew to occupy all areas of Bucharest and indeed most of the country. Unsterilized, undomesticated, and living in constant fear and danger, these dogs stopped resembling the loving pets that Romanians were so fond of, and instead began to be seen as a nuisance and even a menace. People now saw them as making the city dirty and undesirable to tourism. The spread of disease became a concern. Incidents of dog bites numbered over 1000 per month, and the associated medical costs were a burden to the health care system. Many people just wanted them gone, at any cost.

Dogs being rounded up during the 2001-2004 killing campaign.

In 2001, Mr Traian Basescu was elected mayor of Bucharest, and he pledged to end the stay dog problem once and for all. His method was far from humane – he introduced a law promoting the capture and mass euthanasia of all the city’s dogs. Despite massive international and even domestic outcry, this law passed, and between 2001 to 2004, over 100,000 stray dogs were rounded up off the streets of Bucharest and killed, usually by being shot, or by being crammed together in a closed room with hundreds of other dogs till the spread of disease or hunger killed them off.

In 2004, Mr Basescu was elected President of Romania, and now with larger political motives in mind, the killing campaign was called off. The reduction in the number of stray dogs will never be known for sure, but up to 75% may have been brutally killed. However, the numbers did not stay down for long. Since Mr Basescu’s campaign put no emphasis whatsoever on sterilization, the remaining dogs now had a large surplus of area and food and, since a female dog can have up to 16 puppies a year, the population rebounded to near-peak levels in only 2 or 3 years. They remain at these levels today. Nothing was solved, and thousands died horrible deaths for essentially purely political reasons.

A street dog in Winter.

Something that isn’t inherently obvious to people who know of our shelter is that, just like Mr Basescu and millions of others in the country, we too want all the dogs off the streets. Their suffering is great, their threat to the public is real, and most of all, man’s best friend deserves better. Although the state-sponsored killing has stopped, every year thousands are still hit by cars, poisoned, or die from hunger, cold or disease. How we differ vastly from Mr Basescu, of course, is in our methods and our humanity. Rather than killing campaigns, which are both horribly cruel and – as was seen – ineffective, our solution is based on massive sterilization campaigns, coupled with properly funded, well-managed humane shelters / adoption centres. This problem needs a humane solution, and it is well within our grasp. To read more about why we think sterilization will succeed where euthanasia failed, click here to read “Our Solution”!