The stray dogs of the Red Panda shelter
Decades after the Communist regime has fallen, Romania is still fighting some of the consequences. One of them is the sheer number of stray dogs roaming the streets.
The problem of stray dogs appeared as a result of the systematization implemented during the early years of the regime. During this time, the number of urban settlements increased, with more and more people migrating here from the rural villages. As the new way of life in big, communal block buildings did not allow for pets, many dogs were left behind. And thus, over the years, it snowballed into the reality we are facing now.
The Government’s Response
The relationship between the Government and Animal Welfare in Romania has been neutral at best, as highlighted in our previous Libearty Bear Sanctuary article. The initial course of action involved the euthanasia of unclaimed stray dogs. This has been overturned in 2004 as a result of the push-back of the NGOs and Animal Rights groups. With no other programs in place, such as neutering or proper shelters, it had the opposite effect, and the number of stray dogs increased uncontrollably.
Come 2013, after a number of incidents involving stray dogs, and divided public opinion, the euthanasia law was back in place. The municipalities thus began rounding up the stray dogs and sending them in the high-kill, sub-par municipality shelters.
Stray dogs. The puppies are a result of lackluster spaying and neutering initiatives.
The Red Panda Shelter
The dire situation called for solutions. As such, a number of NGOs and humane shelters emerged, hoping to fight towards a better future for the strays. Red Panda was one of them. Founded in 2012 by six good-natured volunteers, the association dubs itself, “A Friend of Animals in Need.”
Choosing the endangered Red Panda as their symbol, they highlight the threat of reckless human actions. At the same time, they believe in human compassion as a way to build a better world. The shelter’s core mission is to educate the public and push for better conditions for all species.
Since they began their activity in 2012, they strived to raise public awareness towards animal welfare. Throughout the years they held numerous projects, mainly aimed at the children and youth. Most notably, Red Panda partnered with actors and production teams to create the “Confessions of a Dog” theater play. The play followed the journey of a stray dog, aiming to sensitize the audience.
Celebrating the dog – human relationship, Red Panda organises the yearly HamFest (WoofFest) festival. The two-day event calls for people and their fur friends to attend and have fun with a range of activities and contests. Charitable events also take place, as well as free check-ups for the less fortunate dogs.
Red Panda raising awareness at a book launch (left) and volunteers refreshing the shelter (right)
Rescue and Rehabilitation
The charity’s main activity is, of course, the rescue of stray animals. The shelter houses abandoned animals and, while the dogs are the main recipients, cats birds, or horses benefit as well. The animals that reach the shelter in poor conditions are being taken care of and rehabilitated. Over the years, the shelter has seen underfed animals, lasting injuries, and has partnered with vets to treat those in need. Once the animals have been nursed back to health, the process of finding them loving homes begins. This would, of course, not be possible without all the volunteers and foster parents. As a fun fact, the UTP team has fostered 10 dogs and 4 cats in the past before the pets found their forever homes.
To drive the adopting message home, the charity organises the Former Stray March. Owners of adopted dogs attend, protesting against the mass killings of strays, and calling for adopting practices. The march also aims to raise awareness towards the importance of spaying and neutering as a means to prevent the uncontrollable breeding of stray dogs. Red Panda itself offers free spaying and neutering for stray cats and dogs.
Besides dogs, Red Panda attempts to create better conditions for the working horses in Romania. With a lot of the population in villages still using horse and carts for transportation and working the land, the need for bettering the conditions the horses live in is greater than ever. As such, Red Panda provides free medical assistance and horse-shoeing to the disadvantaged families relying on horses.
Supporting Red Panda
As a voluntary-based project, Red Panda relies on donations and charity to continue to provide its services. If you want to be involved, there are a few ways in which you can do this:
Adopt a Dog… virtually: You can help take care of a dog by making a monthly donation of 50 RON (£10). Simply send an email over at firstname.lastname@example.org stating your intention to donate. You can even choose the dog you want to help here. Note that the page is in Romanian, but once you click on a dog’s picture, there will be an English version of their story as well.
Donate: You can support the association and all their efforts by donating a sum of your choosing. You can donate via PayPal: email@example.com. Alternatively, you can request Red Panda’s bank details via email.
Visit the shelter: All our Romania experiences have a night or two in Bucharest. As such, when all visiting’s done, you can spend a couple of hours with the dogs. They need all the love they can get! Your guide will be able to assist, so just let them know you’d like to visit. In the meantime, you can keep up with the dogs currently in Red Panda’s care on their Facebook page.
The story of stray dogs in Romania is a heartbreaking one, but with charities such as Red Panda and all the other NGOs, we are holding out hope that things will get better.
The Red Panda dogs: Jaime, the shelter’s oldest resident (left) and Linda (right)