It’s 1030 at night, you’re standing outside your house waiting for a delivery. Finally a van shows up having driven all the way from Romania and two non-english speaking delivery men get out and unload a dog you’ve never seen in the flesh until now.
That was Sophie Smith’s story of how she was introduced to the newest member of her family; ‘Minty’.
Sophie, a student in Dundee, rescued a dog from Romania through one of the many charities that are working to stop the mass cull of stray dogs in the Romanian capital of Bucharest and across the country.
Sophie saved Minty, breed unknown, through dog rehome organisation Small Dogs Rescue Scotland and says she’s delighted with the newest member of her household.
Sophie said of Minty: “She doesn’t trust people yet, but she’s a complete sweetheart. She’s jumpy but we’re working on it and she is getting better everyday.”
Sophie found Small Dog Rescue through Facebook and desired a canine companion in part to help recover from PTSD.
She felt confident to put down a £100 deposit on Minty even though she’d never seen her before and wouldn’t see the dog until it arrived at her house after being delivered from Romania by van.
Sophie said: “At first I thought you always hear about people running scams online. So I wasn’t just going to go in and be like, I’ll take the first thing that comes up. I contacted them (Small Dog Rescue) and left it for a month and did a bit of digging. I’d heard so many people say so many positive things about the charity. We saw Minty and we just fell in love with her, and we decided to take the chance.”
When the process of rescuing goes wrong
“It is bizarre how all of a sudden everyone thinks it is the right time for them to have a dog. When people go back to normal life I’m sure many of these dogs will be abandoned again“
So far things have gone well with Minty, but ordering rescue dogs via the internet doesn’t always have a happy ending.
A former owner of a rescue, who purchased the dog in the same manner as Sophie and who wishes to remain unnamed after being forced to put the animal down, said she didn’t realise what she was getting into.
The owner said: “I wanted a puppy and thought it would be easier because I was getting more of a blank slate.”
When the dog arrived the owner said she was surprised by the size of it and found it very difficult to control.
The owner explained; “Their background is different. Their whole genetics is different. I didn’t realise that genetically the dog was already pre-programmed to defend for itself. It was very difficult to train.”
The owner said they would not go through the process of adopting a dog from abroad again.
“The charity I got the dog from didn’t give me enough support. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for and most of the other people I know who have had dogs from Romania have had the same problems.”
Alan Milne, a trustee at North East rehoming charity DAWGS, and who has owned both a rescue from the UK and the continent, says rescuing from abroad can work if you’re willing to put the time in.
Mr Milne said: “It’s very easy to get done (rescuing a dog from abroad). You pay your money and all the vet clearances and inoculations are arranged. The thing is you don’t actually see the dog before she arrives. So when our dog arrived on the driveway, that was the first time we had ever seen her.”
Mr Milne, who rescued a dog from Spain, said it was a “traumatic three months” getting it to settle in.
Mr Milne said: “You have to ask yourself can you afford to give a dog the amount of time and attention they need because they are basically another person in the family. It’s not just another ornament to be stuck in the corner of the room.”
The British Veterinary Association has weighed in on the debate about adopting animals from abroad. In October last year the BVA raised concerns about foreign animals bringing diseases into the country.
President of the BVA Daniella Dos Santos released a statement steering people away from the practice of adopting abroad.
Miss Dos Santos said: “Adverts for organisations that rehome European dogs are often only a couple of clicks away, but in reality these ‘Trojan’ dogs often have unknown health histories and may pose a risk to the native pet population and even humans in some cases if they bring in diseases which are either new to the UK or have been previously eradicated.
“We would always advise people to look at rehoming dogs who are already in the country.”
Help at home before looking abroad?
Romania has an exploding dog population due to strays breeding uncontrollably in the streets.
This issue came to a head in 2013 when a four-year-old boy was killed by a pack of strays while playing in a park in Bucharest with his brother.
After that the government called for the mass culling of stray dogs across the country, urging the public to help.
Since then there has been reports of cruelty towards dogs including being rounded up and having their legs hacked off.
Emma Aubrey who runs the Scottish branch of Small Dog Rescue and who rehomed Minty to Sophie says efforts in adoption are focused on Romania because conditions for stray dogs are so much worse out there than they are in the UK.
Ms Aubrey said: “A lot of people are of the opinion why are we pulling dogs into the country when we have plenty of strays of our own, but in actual fact we don’t have many. Yes we’ve got dogs in Dogs Trust and SPCA and smaller rescues but the conditions stray dogs are kept in in the UK are much better. They’re in warm kennels with people feeding them everyday. Dogs in Romania are literally in concentration camps for dogs.”
In Romania stray dogs are rounded up and put in what are known as ‘kill centres’. Here they are held for 14 days and if not claimed are put down, sometimes by inhumane means.
Ms Aubrey continued: “It’s no where near as bad in the UK as it is in Romania, which is why we’re focussing our efforts out there.”
How do you know ordering online is safe and you’re not a victim of ‘Dogfishing’?
“We would always advise people to look at rehoming dogs who are already in the country.“
With everyone stuck at home due to lockdown and continued social distancing measures, the demand to own a dog has skyrocketed. Pre-lockdown puppies were going for just under a thousand pounds, but now some reports suggest popular breeds such as cockapoos are fetching three grand each.
In July Dogs Trust warned of a scam known as ‘Dogfishing’ where scrupulous breeders use false advertising to sell puppies, posting photos of one type of pup and then selling a different type.
Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust’s Veterinary Director, advised people to see the puppy they are considering to buy and if there are any suspicions, report the breeder.
Ms Boyden said:”We would advise you to always see a puppy interacting with their mum and go and see it more than once. Ask lots of questions, and ask to see vital paperwork, such as a puppy contract. If you have any doubts or it feels too good to be true, as hard as it may be, walk away and report the seller.”
Ms Aubrey, who supplied Minty to Sophie, said that the legitimacy of her online operation comes through her lack of desperation to sell.
Ms Aubrey explained: “I ask potential owners for the deposit and they’re like ‘oh but we haven’t even met the dog yet and you’re asking me to direct bank transfer a hundred pounds to hold this dog for me’. Some people are very sceptical but we don’t put any pressure on them. We say it’s up to you. We’re not desperate for your money and if you don’t adopt it someone else will.”
Alison Standbridge who runs Paws2Rescue; a charity based down South that supplies adoptions across the UK, says while her team have been inundated with requests to adopt a dog during lockdown, it is very difficult to acquire a dog through her charity.
Ms Standbridge said: “We were getting a minimum of hundred enquiries a day – it could go up to four hundred enquiries a day. There’s three volunteers in our adoption team.”
Ms Stanbridge questions the sudden rise in demand for dogs and says it’s harder to be accepted for adoption than rejected.
“If you come to us and wanted to buy a dog we’d probably turn you away. We don’t home puppies to families with children under-7 and you have to confirm that you’ve read what a rescue dog means before we let you have it.
“It is bizarre how all of a sudden everyone thinks it is the right time for them to have a dog because to be honest it is not the right time. When people go back to work and go back to a normal life I’m sure many of these dogs will be abandoned again.”
Educating to solve the problem
Ms Standbridge, the founder of Paws2Rescue which includes comedian Ricky Gervais as a patron, is heavily involved in neutering campaigns in Romania. She has been to Brussels where she spoke on behalf of UK Romanian rescues about the breaches of EU Articles governing stray animal controls, and has appeared on Romanian television multiple times in debates over the issue.
Ms Standbridge is currently building a spay clinic in Romania and says the real keys to the stray pandemic and solving the issue of saving rescues is educating the future generation to respect animals and raising awareness of neuter campaigns which go right to the heart of the problem.
Ms Standbridge said: “Our education programme in Romania is so important.
“We’ve been going to schools in Romania and educating on animal care for three years now.
“We’re out there every month in orphanages and kindergartens, and we go to communities with the local mayor to raise awareness of the issue.”
Ms Standbridge makes the point that as much as adoption and rescue are a means with good intentions, to truly solve the problem of cruelty and abandonment there is still a long way to go in teaching man to live in harmony alongside animals.
Ms Standbridge finishes our call by saying: “Work in the community is so important because we have to help the future generation and teach them to care about animals and not abuse them.”