In defiance of city and, more recently, even national policy changes, one shelter in Romania does everything it can to avoid euthanizing stray dogs. Instead, it has come up with an incredible solution to give disabled dogs a second chance at a happy life.
In the city of Bucharest people getting bitten by stray dogs is a serious problem. So in 2001 Traian Băsescu, then mayor, ordered animal shelters to stop sterilizing and sending unadopted dogs back onto the street. Instead, the shelters were ordered to capture and ultimately euthanize the strays. However, the Hope Foundation has been fighting these euthanasia policies for the past 15 years.
Nevertheless, the mass-killing was implemented after a only temporary delay, despite public outcry from animal activists such as 1950s French film star Brigitte Bardot. One of the public shelters tasked with the order of euthanizing the animals was in the city’s Berceni district. So on March 19, 2001, 300 of its dogs, including the sterilized ones, were killed in the street.
In 2004, though, the law was repealed, and shelters once again returned strays to the streets after sterilization, if they were not otherwise adopted. By 2006, the Berceni shelter was shut-down, and its dogs relocated to a new shelter – one named Speranta, which means “hope” in Romanian. Speranta is across the Dâmbovița River in Ilfov county, and it received the dogs with the help of the Brigitte Bardot and Speranta Foundations.
“At Speranta, we insist not to leave any dog behind,” a shelter representative said on Facebook. “Beside the worst of cases, when putting a dog to sleep can save him from a life of torment and pain, we absolutely refuse to end a life that, with proper care, can be a happy one.”
In 2013, however, a national law was passed by parliament giving strays in shelters only 14 days to get adopted before they are supposed to be euthanized. For some, this was a death sentence. But Speranta, it seems, is bucking the order and has been giving dogs sanctuary for many years. It is also giving its handicapped strays something extraordinarily precious.
Cleo here, for example, was abandoned in 2008 at only four weeks old because she couldn’t move her hind legs. At any other shelter in Bucharest, she would have been put down. But, six years on, she was still wheeling around Speranta with a new lease on life.
And she’s not alone. After all, when Florina Tomescu, president of the Speranta Foundation that funds the shelter, found Cleo abandoned outside her home, a vet diagnosed the pup as having permanent paralysis.
But it was a diagnosis that Tomescu challenged. She then brought Cleo to the Speranta shelter, and each day staff tried to rehabilitate Cleo’s hind legs with physical therapy. When the exercises didn’t work, though, the staff at the shelter got creative.
With the help of a veterinarian named Dragos Mihai Dinca, and funding from a Mr. Costel Cascaval, a grocery cart was ingeniously converted into a doggy wheelchair. Then, with some training, Cleo learned to run around and play.
In fact, the wheelchair changed Cleo’s life more than anyone ever expected. She was scared at first, but quickly learned that, with her new cart, she could go wherever she wanted, play with the other dogs and have some fun. The shelter even reported that she she ran and turned “almost like a professional driver.”
In recent years, the Speranta shelter has been able to expand too. This meant that more and more dogs have been equipped with special mobility devices, which the shelter customizes for each dog’s size and physical needs. The shelter has also expanded to increase its kennel size to over 600 dogs and has built a new ambulatory care center for dogs with special needs.
Of course, the dogs love their mobility devices beyond words could describe. Speranta has reported that “they run (they’re the only ones who roam free in every corner of the shelter), they enjoy the sun and the grass, sometimes they even race, with their funny wheels.”
From grocery carts, the doggy mobility devices are custom-made with small wheels and a piping frame. Some of the dogs only need stability and support, while others have baskets or platforms to hold their hindquarters – giving them a proper doggy wheelchair.
The Speranta shelter not only stands up to the government to save these poor dogs from euthanasia, but it also makes every effort to give these dogs mobility. In this way, then, its dogs with special needs have the chance to live the joyous, playful lives.
But help is needed. “Unfortunately, puppies grow and trolleys get damaged,” a Speranta post on Facebook read. “Now, we urgently need to purchase 11 other carts, so that future ‘drivers’ can move again.”
Unlike other shelters, Speranta is in fact a sanctuary for the dogs under its care. “All the dogs stay with us for their whole lives,” Tomescu has said. Adoptions can be made symbolically, so patrons’ donations go to the care of a specific pup, or to the foundation as a whole.
“Any donation, no matter how small, is a real life jacket for our canine friends,” the Speranta post urged. Indeed, the foundation is supported completely by donations, and the wheelchairs aren’t free.
And as mobility-assisted pups grow at Speranta, they need to move from training wheels to bigger, sturdier wheels that can match their speed. Then they can really run some laps and settle who is top dog, once and for all.
By visiting the Speranta shelter on Facebook, you can keep up to date on the roller-puppies of Bucharest. You can also make a donation on the Fundatia Speranta website and “make a haunted soul to feel joy again.”