As with all animal cruelty and neglect, whatever the location or part of the world, it is the same, the suffering is the same, the pain is the same but the conditions are far more horrific in some countries as is the scale of neglect and abuse and the sheer numbers and rescue is far less likely and far more difficult for those brave angels that work on the frontline. Romania is one of these places.
Our Beautiful Brave Roms...
Four years ago after witnessing the continual suffering of the street dogs we felt compelled to step up and to help but decided to do it in a unique way. As a sanctuary we have a certain amount of autonomy and are able to help in ways that have no negative impact or effect on the UK pound and rescue system. So we decided to help where we were needed most by selecting the most affected at risk dogs from Romania who were traumatised, shut down, fear reactive, disabled etc and blend them into packs who would live and thrive together in relative freedom, allowing them to live the life that they needed to...together. Dogs like Billy, just 3 years old, hit by a car, used for fighting and attacked by other dogs. Shut down and traumatised by a life in and out of the mayors pound and yet somehow still willing to love and trust and live given the chance. We fund-raised pack house by pack house in order to take the most damaged and effected dogs from Romania enabling the Romanian rescuers who work determinedly in horrific conditions to help more dogs and working alongside Michelle Holmes our first 'packs' arrived 3 years ago. This was a long and difficult rescue project and we worked carefully for two years matching and blending packs, bringing them to the UK to live out their days in the comfort and safety of the sanctuary.
So many times, with the invaluable help of Michelle, we trundled up to the collection point in our hired Luton van, armed with crates and treats. I will never forget that first night and don't think I have ever been so daunted and if I'm honest frightened by the enormity of what I had taken on when I saw those dogs. Some of the souls that I collected did not even seem like dogs, dead inside with dead eyes that literally broke my heart. I admit I doubted myself as I drove my precious cargo the four hours home, wondering what the hell I had got myself into and asking myself again and again how I could ever have thought I could help these deeply damaged animals.
We unloaded them crate by crate directly into their new runs...now their forever homes and later when the yard had quietened down I went into one of the pack houses and saw those terrified souls I had 'rescued' sat like statues in their beds and I had never felt such sadness, such fear so intensified; they just sat there, not even daring to tremble, waiting for whatever pain would come to them next. I sat down on my little stool in the midst of them, clutching a bag of winalot shapes like a lifeline and I'm not ashamed to say I cried, for them and for me. But the minutes or hours I sat there cemented my feelings and I knew I had been right and knew that I would use whatever resources I needed to help them. I spent the next few weeks and months doing snack times, chatting and reading to them and just 'being' with them, learning who they were and what they needed until they eventually began to relax and realise that they were safe and that they were home. All now live happily in thier packs having responded well to rehabilitation and made progress in varying degrees and in fact some of them grew into the most balanced dogs we have here at the sanctuary, so much so that those frightened hopeless souls are now the calm, loving, joyful dogs that our volunteers start with when they join us.
Those very same street dogs also taught me the foundations of all we do today with the SOS Havens, our very human and dog reactive UK sanctuary dogs. In the street dogs we saved I found just about every issue there is whether that be human or dog reactions, fear, aggression, guarding, difficulties evolving into a domestic environment, hand and touch shy...you name it and one of them will have it but boy what an amazing journey we have travelled together and today when I go out to those very same packs they still have the power to reduce me to tears but they are happy tears because I am so very proud of the dogs they were able to become and I accept and love them as they are, wholeheartedly.
So that is how my work for Euro street dogs started. I always pledged that I would never impact the UK system but at the same time promised myself if reactive or fearful rommies started bouncing with other UK rescues we would do all we could to help. So with the packs we rescued and the ones I picked up from other rescues due to be put to sleep through no fault of thier own, we now have 65 rommies on site which is just over half the permanent residents we have. And still to this day we support rescues throughout the UK where we can and now many European as well as UK dogs come through the havens. Rescue is rescue the world over when done properly and that's the key message; save them properly, don't just change their geography...that's not a dog saved it's simply a dog at risk in another location if lifetime rescue backup is not the ethos of rescue.
I am so very proud of and grateful to those original dogs who taught me so much, probably more than I ever taught them and of my dear friend Michelle who like me always lived by the motto 'One By One'....
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