Hey, Hey We’re the Doggies!

I’ve been writing a long series on the different kinds of people you will meet here in Romania. While dogs may or may not be considered “people”, you will definitely meet some of them while you are here.

As has been mentioned several times, I do live with several cats, which might make you inclined to believe I am a “cat person”, which is true. My parents have several dogs though and I grew up with dogs and I like dogs – heck I’ve even been offered a few dogs to adopt but had to decline due to the fact that my apartment is crowded enough already. If anyone wants to buy me a house, I promise to adopt a dog forthwith :D

Nonetheless, there are dogs absolutely everywhere in this country, including in the streets (even in big cities) and they will be a part of your daily life.

The situation in Romania today is drastically different than it was just a few short years ago, so my first piece of advice to you is that unless you are pathologically afraid of dogs, you should be okay.

The current president, Traian Basescu, cut his teeth politically back when he was the mayor of Bucharest by wiping out most of the feral (wild) dog population in the capital. As an animal lover myself, I cringe at the memory of what went on but in terms of political astuteness, Basescu made the right decision. Quite simply put, the dog situation in Romania was quite out of control for many years.

Things came to a head in 2006 when a Japanese businessman in Bucharest was attacked and killed by a wild dog, unleashing a firestorm of controversy because a significant portion of the population sided with the dog in question, partly because Romanians are a very passionate about canines and partly because of racism.

I myself have been bitten (nothing serious, thank goodness) by two different dogs at two separate times in public when I was doing absolutely nothing but walking down an ordinary sidewalk minding my own business.

Again, let me stress, these incidents happened years ago and the situation is much better than it was.

Today, everywhere you go, there will be loose dogs wandering around the streets (and countryside) and these fall into roughly four categories:

House Dog on Patrol – Lives somewhere close by and has a proper home and “owner”, this dog will be patrolling his/her territory and will let you know if you get too close. There isn’t too much to worry about though as public sidewalks and streets are far too heavily traveled for the dog to actively defend.

That being said, watch out for the dog behind a fence who will charge you from out of nowhere, snapping and growling, scaring the shit out of you but luckily unable to hurt you because he is thankfully behind the fence.

Note: any owned dog will always have a collar, always. Romanians are obsessed with demonstrating that their owned dog is not a boschetar or “vagabond” or homeless animal.

Fed Regularly But Not Owned – A great number of Romanians enjoy putting food out for dogs but not actually taking them in and properly caring for them. So the dogs in question circle around the area where they are fed, sometimes being quite defensive and territorial.

I live near a government-owned weather station and the workers there feed a German shepherd dog, who roams freely about the compound and nearby streets, quite territorial and a little intimidating, although he’s never attacked anyone (that I know of). Nonetheless he’s quite a fearsome looking dog.

One place to be especially vigilant is around dumpsters or where trash cans (rubbish bins) are stored as often people feed dogs there (in combination with scavenged food from the trash itself) and so the dogs in question start to “defend” this area.

Pure Homeless Dog – Sad, miserable, suffering, ill, mangy, covered in fleas, often times injured, hobbling and otherwise heart-wrenchingly pitiful, these dogs roam around looking for any scrap of food or kindness from humans.

Because they’ve been so miserably abused, these dogs are usually the least dangerous (in terms of spontaneous attacks) but they will break your heart just seeing them.

Romanian Shepherd Dog – There are actually several breeds of domestic sheep dogs in this country and I can tell you from experience they are extremely aggressive when defending their territory or homes or people or wards (sheep, etc).

These dogs are most dangerous when found in the countryside, as I found out myself once (luckily I was not bitten). Once these dogs get it into their head that you’re encroaching on their territory, the best choice you have is to back up and head another way.

I am on very good terms with my veterinarians and often hang out at their office for hours, talking to them and other customers so I can definitely report that there are enthusiastic, caring and kind people in this country who treat dogs (and cats and other animals) very well.

That being said, I’ve seen a plethora of animal cruelty, most often against dogs. I once saw a dog run over by a car, the said car not even stopping, which left the dog whimpering awfully and shaking on the sidewalk, clearly unable to move. An unrelated passer-by walked past it and unceremoniously lifted it up and threw it back in the street because it was blocking the sidewalk. Just hideous.

Sadly, most street dogs (today) are not a threat precisely because other people have been cruel and vicious with it long before you came across its path. A good friend of mine told me a spine-chilling tale of a group of teenagers who tormented and nearly killed a homeless puppy behind her bloc. The good news is that my friend called the police and the laws against animal cruelty were actually enforced this time.

There’s also a lot of the kind of “ownership” of dogs that involve staking or chaining the dog permanently in the back yard, regardless of weather or miserable living conditions, just because you can do that. There’s a guy living in my neighborhood with such a dog and I can only assume the reason he keeps the poor creature out there in his miserable patch of bare dirt is to “guard” the house.

Also spaying or neutering animals is still considered offensive to a lot of people here (or too expensive to be worth doing). The good news is that this year I saw there were a couple of free clinics for castrating dogs, although that’s still a pretty new thing.

Likewise, due to expense and general Romanian hyper-zealous “thriftiness”, even a lot of otherwise well-treated pets are never brought in for shots, general medical care or given proper diets and attention. Some of the pet food sold in stores here is execrable, brightly-dyed crap manufactured in Poland or Ukraine at rock-bottom prices.

Sadly, there is often little one can do about the general plight and suffering of animals here as shelters are rare to non-existant. A friend of mine got involved with a local shelter in Bistrita after visiting and finding out that the animals there were so miserable and ill-treated that they would’ve been better off living in the streets.

Between the bitterly cold winters, the deliberate policies of exterminating feral packs, the increase in owned pets (which drive off strays) and general human cruelty, the “good news” is that walking around this country is a much safer enterprise than it was just a few, short years ago.

That being said, yes about once a week I cross the street to avoid a dog and yes sometimes it can be a little intimidating or scary to walk past certain areas where dogs are sleeping but in general, things are pretty safe. It still breaks my heart though to see any animal suffering though.

True story:

A couple of years ago I was in downtown Bucharest quite late, looking for a particular club where I was supposed to meet someone for a blind date. I got stopped by a nice-looking couple in their 30’s, who were German but spoke excellent English. Although it was almost midnight they were out looking for a pet store to buy some food to feed a pack of wild dogs they had seen in a nearby park.

Folks, don’t do that! Please, I am begging you, both for your own safety as well as out of concerns for the animals themselves.

ATTENTION ROMANIANS: I am quite aware that animal cruelty happens everywhere from Nepal to the United States and isn’t specific or unique to this country. I am only writing about Romania specifically because this is where I live and I am preparing a guide for the visitor or newcomer to this country.

And on a final note, I do see plenty of cats wandering around from well-fed pets to canny street animals. The only real difference is that cats never attack people so it’s not much of an issue (in terms of safety) to the visitor.

I wish with all of my heart that I could adopt and take care of all these animals but I can’t. My one consolation is that the two cats living with me are treated very well and are neutered, vaccinated and completely healthy (and both were rescued from a life on the streets). I wish I had the money (and space) to do more but I can’t.

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