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Sunday, January 31, 2016

From Suffering to Saving; Romania Animal Rescue makes a difference for strays

“Neuter or Spay, No More Strays”

Photo by Diana Topan
Nancy Janes of California took a hiking tour of the Carpathian Mountains of Romania with some friends in 2001. She was intrigued by this area of Eastern Europe after reading Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan. What was supposed to be a trip of eye-opening natural beauty and Old World culture turned into an unexpectedly sad experience. Instead she witnessed the suffering of Romania’s stray animals; dogs and cats that roamed the countryside fighting for food, ravaged with parasites and hit by cars. She learned from locals that the situation was so bad mass poisoning were conducted to curb the incredible population growth. Instead of enjoying the trip, Janes and her companions spent most of their time providing food and medical care to the animals they found.
Photo by Diana Topan

After seeing such suffering, she vowed to get international charities involved. She thought once animal welfare people heard about the suffering, help would follow. When those organizations said no, she took matters into her own hands. In 2003 she created Romania Animal Rescue (RAR), a non-profit dedicated to improving the welfare of Romania’s companion animals.

Cat awaiting surgery.
Photo by Diana Topan
Janes original intent was to set up a rescue shelter in Romania, however, she quickly discovered that when one animal was adopted, 10 more were brought in. Because of a lack of funds, education, resources and quality vet care, pets in Romania simply weren’t spayed or neutered and the population spiraled out of control. Janes needed to change her focus.

Romania has had a stray animal issue since Communism. Janes learned when Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu came to power in the 1980s, he forced people to migrate from farms and villages to industrial cities, sometimes even destroying farms and ranches in the process. Several generations of families lived in tiny apartments with no room for pets so people left them behind. When people returned to their lands after Ceausescu was toppled, they discovered areas overrun with packs of stray dogs.

Dr. A,
Photo by Diana Topan
So Janes changed her focus from rescuing to neutering. Things were slow at first because Janes had to coordinate volunteers to fly into the country. Only one or two cities a year were helped and remote villages that needed the most services were difficult to get equipment to. Then in 2008, Janes met a Romanian veterinary named Dr. Aurelian Stefan who had been trained in the US with the latest surgical procedures. With a common goal and a local ally, Dr. A, as Janes calls him, joined the organization and now heads a team of doctors and technicians who perform surgeries all over the country.

RAR has grown over the last decade. The organization started providing “Spayathons,” when a group of vets, techs and volunteers would go to a town and perform as many surgeries in one day as they could, sometimes even catching stray animals themselves. As word of their work and an awareness of neutering’s importance grew, cities and towns began to ask for their own Spayathons. Then in 2015, the organization was able to raise funds to purchase a mobile veterinary vehicle that they could drive around the country and reach even more areas. Since its founding, RAR has performed 41,235 spay and neuter surgeries in Romania, enough to make a real difference.
Photo by RAR

RAR continues to grow by building a new permanent facility near the capital city of Bucharest, the Homeless Animal Hospital and Veterinary Training and Education Center. According to Janes, the Center will be home base for the mobile clinic, now called the HOPE Mobile, and will help animals brought to the center and within a 100 km radius of the Bucharest area.

According to Janes, the Center will provide “free and subsidized spay and neuter services, free and subsidized veterinary treatments and it will be the home of the Veterinary Training Camp, which trains vets from Romania as well as from Europe, the USA, and the UK and will hold education for young people with forums and invite schools to bring students.”
Homeless Animal Hospital under construction.
Photo by RAR

The Center will fulfill all of RAR’s programs. Along with neutering services and animal health care, the center will provide training in the latest spay surgery techniques. These techniques are keyhole incisions and flank spays, which are less invasive and allow for quicker recovery with less discomfort.

Janes says the Center is the middle of the construction process. Dr. Stefan and his brother Dr. Petrisor Stefan, also a vet, are overseeing the construction and architectural plans and providing updates to Janes and the RAR Board. The expected opening date is October 2016.

Like all of RAR programs, the building is entirely funded by donations. To raise money for the Center, RAR is selling “bricks” on Facebook. Janes hopes to sell 5000 bricks at 20 Euros each. RAR is half way to achieving this goal. Those interested can also donate on the RAR website. Donations are tax deductible in the US. RAR accepts currency from several countries through PayPal including US, Canadian and Australian Dollars, British Pounds and Euros.
Photo by RAR

Dr. A says the first floor is already constructed and they will pour concrete for the second floor ceiling and begin construction of the roof as the weather improves. He already looks forward to the opening of the center.

“[Homeless] animals treated by us will no longer live on the streets as we will strive to find fosters or shelters to take them once they are healthy again. Definitely a unique project in Eastern Europe and the biggest vet center outside of Bucharest.”

Says Janes, “This is the first of its kind in Romania, a center dedicated to helping the poor animals as well as the animals of the poor.”