Rescuing Romania's stray dogs

Romania has been through a lot of upheaval over the last two decades, and its homeless animals have suffered more than most. ROLDA brings hope to these needy dogs and cats.

The streets of Romania are tough on strays. People routinely hurt or kill them, and drivers often don’t even brake for a dog or cat in the road. Fortunately, this sad situation is being addressed by the Romanian League in Defense of Animals (rolda. org), which has been offering shelter and other assistance to the country’s strays since 2004.

The organization’s president, Dana Costin, estimates there are up to 18,000 stray dogs and cats in her home town of Galati, in the southeast of Romania. She was inspired to help them when her beloved German shepherd, Printz, died unexpectedly.

Dana decided to channel her grief into helping less fortunate animals who might otherwise never know the loving care Printz received during his life. Dana explains that Romania is behind many other countries in its handling of strays. She attributes this to its overall poverty and the fact that many residents don’t care about animal welfare or understand what it means to be a responsible animal guardian.

“The nation is split in two by the strays,” she says. “There are animal lovers and non-animal lovers.” The debate between the two groups is periodically ignited when a youngster is bitten by a stray dog or a news story breaks about abuse of pound animals. Unfortunately, the issues are never resolved and thousands of stray dogs and cats continue to live on the streets. Their breeding is unchecked, and they suffer from parasites and disease, including distemper and rabies.

The problem is compounded by Romanian culture, which does not place a priority on doing charitable work. “When people here are not directly affected by a problem, most want to avoid acting for others’ benefit,” Dana says. “If they do feel the effects, they want overnight results and radical measures.” Building up a solid animal welfare program takes time and effort, so it doesn’t fit into that belief system. Despite these challenges, Dana was determined to build a dog shelter that would spay, neuter and rehabilitate canines. She looked outside her country for help and inspiration, and learned about kennel design from contacts in the United Kingdom. Next, she began fundraising and was able to buy a parcel of land in 2003. Just one year later, she had ten functioning dog kennels. The fledgling shelter was named the best in Eastern Europe, according to the editor of the animal welfare newspaper Animal People. This recognition brought Dana and ROLDA more support, and soon she was able to institute a large-scale spay/neuter program for Galati’s stray dogs.

By 2005, Dana’s program had made a major impact, preventing the birth of countless puppies by spaying and neutering over 2,000 canines. But the stray dog population was still growing. By the following year, Dana realized a second shelter was sorely needed. Around that time, she was contacted by Mittal Galati, a steel company whose grounds had been overrun by stray dogs. Dana and her crew managed to catch many of the dogs so they could be spayed or neutered and given any necessary veterinary care. Some were returned to the grounds, while those with good temperaments were adopted out. The grateful steel company financed the building of a second shelter, with a 600-dog capacity, in 2007.

Ironically, feral cats began to flourish because there were fewer dogs to compete with for food, and because they are much craftier at avoiding capture. Dana knew these kitties needed help too, so her next project was a dedicated cat shelter. She is still raising funds for the building and in the meantime is rescuing, spaying and neutering as many cats as possible. ROLDA also plans to build a horse and donkey sanctuary, and a veterinary clinic to offer free spay/neuter surgeries and low cost veterinary services. In the meantime, the organization continues to give stray animals a chance at a better life. ROLDA also works to educate the Romanian public through programs like its No Chain Campaign, children’s drawing contests, and television spots on the importance of spaying and neutering.

ROLDA has also been enlisting celebrities to help with its publicity programs. In July of last year, it teamed up with Spanish actress and dancer Monica Cruz for its “Have a Heart for Romania Homeless Animals” crusade. Monica herself has six rescued animals, including a dog from the streets of Mexico. She has appeared on awareness-raising ROLDA billboards in Galati and several tourist areas in Romania. Since then, actress and writer Shannon McCabe, animal lifestyle expert Colleen Paige, and paranormal author Paul Dale have all joined the campaign.

ROLDA gets no government money. It is supported through fundraising events and donations from companies, humane organizations and concerned individuals in Romania and other countries. It has European affiliates and is registered as a non-profit organization in the United States, which means contributions made by Americans are tax deductible.

Dana and her crew have had their work cut out for them over the past six years, and there’s still lots more to do, but they’re making a big difference in the lives of thousands of strays. Perhaps most importantly, they’re helping to change public attitudes and educate people about the preciousness of animal lives.


Barb Nefer is an Orlando-based freelance writer specializing in travel, pets, and personal finance.