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My response to the Guardian’s article “They look cute, but should we rescue Romania’s street dogs?”

Dear Sam,

I would like to respond to a few points you made in your piece “They look cute but should we rescue Romania’s street dogs?” – in particular, Dogs Trust’s health and behaviour criticisms, and explain why Romanian dogs are rightfully “a thing”.

First of all, Dogs Trust is naturally biased against other rescues – they want us to adopt from them. Adopters become donors, donors bring money. The UK’s first £100m charity knows that. Dogs Trust initially objected to the introduction of Lucy’s Law (the ban on third-party puppy sales to curb puppy farming), as exposed by vet and campaigner Marc Abraham. In the dog world, it is clear why: a rescue van outside a busted puppy mill is great publicity. The rescued pups get rehomed quickly, bringing in new revenue streams.

Bad behaviour

In your piece, Dogs Trust veterinary director Paula Boyden says Romanian dogs can have behaviour problems. This is curious because Dogs Trust prides itself in its rehabilitation programmes. Dedicated trainers and behaviourists work with homeless dogs to get them to an adoptable stage. These are British dogs. So, a charity spending extensive resources on working on behaviour problems of British dogs dismisses foreign dogs… for having behaviour problems?

Surely, it is right for any animal-loving organisation to help a dog in need. And when the animal comes from a country where barbaric cruelty against dogs is rife, a genuinely compassionate organisation should double down on efforts to give at least some of these dogs a chance of a happy home life.

Goldie and me on a training walk (this photo and the above: George Baxter)

Health cheque

The health issue raised by Dogs Trust is another argument built on very thin ice. My Romanian rescue dog was 4Dx snap tested for tick-borne diseases, heartworm, lyme, Ehrlichia canis (the bacterium that can cause leishmaniasis), the similar Ehrlichia ewingii, Anaplasma phagocytophilum (which can cause tick-borne fever) and Anaplasma platys before she was issued her pet passport. All these tests were included in my adoption fee of £275, which also included my dog being vaccinated, spayed, micro-chipped and transported from Romania to the UK.

When I registered my dog with a vet in London, I got a similar frosty reception to the one Dogs Trust would give owners of Romanian rescue dogs. My vet (part of a large chain) lectured me on the apparent risks of importing dogs and recommended more blood tests. While I was clearly had for £220, I did hand over my credit card after having been brow-beaten with the imported-disease argument. All my dog’s tests were fine, and I have since changed to an independent vet. I cannot help but fear this argument is part of the dog industry, to peddle unnecessary tests.

I ask Dogs Trust: what if a British dog travelled to the continent and brought back one of the diseases mentioned in your piece? Is that OK then, because the dog is British? Leishmaniasis is transmitted by sand-flies and more common on the Iberian Peninsula than in Romania; dirofilarial immitis is transmitted via mosquitos, so it could reasonably be transferred to any travelling dog. How can you be sure these diseases come in from Romanian dogs and not from British “tourist-dogs”? My Rommie has been tested. I am not aware of returning pets getting tested for all these things.

15,000 times “no”

As you mention in your piece, Sam, it is ridiculously hard to adopt from a large British charity. I work from home and have previous rescue-dog experience, time and space. I run an online dog magazine dedicated to rescue dogs – and yet, out of over a dozen enquiries I sent off to different charities when looking for my new dog, only two came back to me, both dealing with dogs from south-east Europe. One charity wasn’t reading my emails properly and came back with nonsensical replies, and the other was Romanian Rescue Appeal (RRA), the charity I adopted my dog from. For all the deafening silence from the others, including Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, RRA made up for it by responding quickly and kindly, reading my correspondence of experience and requirements, and ultimately making sensible decisions about which of my shortlisted dogs would be suitable.

When you adopt, it matters how a charity approaches the adopter. Not replying or dismissing potential adopters outright just means we will go elsewhere. If some 15,000 dogs were adopted from Romania last year, some 15,000 people had bad experiences with charities closer to home. I doubt a “no” from a charity has ever stopped anyone from getting a dog. And why should it? As you say in your piece, it is harder to adopt a homeless dog than getting a child into some expensive private school.

When “no” is right

To be clear, a “no” from a charity can be a good thing – if it is for the good of the dog. In my experience, the bigger charities are liable to tick-box exercises and refuse without proper consideration. A professional dog-walker I know was rejected by Battersea for a Staffie that needed a lot of exercise, because she didn’t have a garden. (She adopted from smaller charity All Dogs Matter the next day.) A professional couple with two children, a house and garden were rejected by the large charities because they “only” had a live-in au pair to look after both dog and children during the day. They adopted a dog from Spain. I could list dozens of examples like these where a mere tick-box became the reason for outright dismissal.

A valid “no” would be if the dog is genuinely happy where it is. I had fallen for a young bitch in RRA’s care, Gretel, who had adopted a litter of puppies whose mother passed away (never mind that it was more an emotional “adoption” than physical need). Gretel was actually happy in the kennel. We decided to leave her there.

Why wouldn’t you adopt this dog?

Puppy Brexiters

The reactions we get in the park do have the occasional xenophobic undertone. I call them Puppy Brexiters: “Why didn’t you adopt a British dog?” I might print the arguments on a card and hand them out, so many times have I had that conversation.

Adopting a family member is never a light-hearted choice people make. It’s a commitment for 10 years or more. What matters is that we fall in love with our dog and that the process is positive. We fall in love with people from around the globe and make it work – so why should it be different with our furry family members?

My Romanian dog is beautiful and street-smart. People stop me in the street to tell me how gorgeous she is. Goldie is incredibly friendly and has her own little quirks, from hiding treats in my plant pots to licking the morning dew off a park bench, if she is thirsty. She is a dog-dog, as village dogs are, because their DNA stems from a time before humans invented modern breeds. Rommies are wonderful, healthy, intelligent creatures – that’s why they are “a thing”.

My advice to future dog adopters

If you are reading this because you are thinking of adopting a dog (from wherever), here is my advice:

  1. Find your charity first, then look for your dog.
    Most dog rescue charities specialise in a type – for example, Battersea has a lot of Staffies, Many Tears Rescue in Wales has a lot of ex-breeding dogs, and there even are a few breed-specific rescue organisations. Each charity will home-check you first to see whether you are a suitable adopter. Because home-checks take a while to organise, there is a good chance “your” dog is gone by the time you are approved. You could get stuck in the home-check loop for a while. That is why I suggest picking one charity that has the type of dog you like, get home-checked, get approved, get to know the people – and then start looking with them. Once you are approved and the charity staff know what you would like, there is a good chance they will offer you a dog that has never been advertised on its website.
  2. Foster first.
    Think of fostering as test-driving before you buy. Foster for a good two weeks before you commit and ask what happens if it doesn’t work out. Ethical charities will take dogs back or work with you on rehoming your dog.  
  3. Have a network in place.
    So many charities place emphasis on having a garden, which is a red herring. What use is a garden, if the dog has no one to play with? A dog stuck in a garden on its own will be just as miserable as a dog stuck indoors on its own. Dogs are pack animals, and company is far more important. A dog-walker for an hour is not enough if you work all day. Build a network of neighbours, friends and fellow dog-owners for regular play dates. Dogs are wonderful social glue, so you will get to know new people in no time, and many of them will line up to look after your dog for a few hours.

22 Comments

  1. Ruth Taylor

    We tried to adopt from a local kennels and were turned down, even though I am at home all day, simply because we told them we had a dog flap! They wouldn’t even consider coming to do a home check. We have a secure garden, woodland walks only 5 minutes walk from the house and a friendly, healthy older dog. In spite of everything in our favour, the dog flap was not acceptable.! We have since adopted a Romanian rescue dog who has no behaviour problems and who passed our vet’s health check with flying colours.

  2. Sally Baker

    I have 3 Romanian dogs in my group adopted separately over the years. My only comment is that I don’t think you should have brought Brexit into this even though it is for The Guardian. You alienated me immediately.

  3. Paula Ormond

    I too have a Romanian rescue from Pawprints to Freedom he is smart, funny, loving healthy and most of all worth his weight in gold. Thank you for the article on Romanian dogs it’s true to form all what you have mentioned. Most of the dogs in Romania shelters are not treated very well unlike our Uk dog shelters who don’t do too badly from donations and who are not threatened with being put to sleep if they are still in the shelter after a couple of weeks hence why there are a few charities rescuing Romanian dogs and bringing them to the Uk all I say is thank goodness these charities exist . I have in the past rescued from the 2 main dog shelters here and they too were wonderful dogs so anyone put off by the judgemental UK people on why not to get a Romanian rescue dog please have a look on these rescue sites have a good read and decide for yourself not by being put off just because .

  4. Gordon Wilkinson

    brilliant response, you hit the nail right on the head. Having been to Romania once with the PPTF I had the opportunity to see these dogs in so-called public shelters and I found it distressing and depressing to witness the conditions. I really do not know how this team ever can go back into them to rescue more, but they do for myself I could not go there again. I have fostered 3 so far that have gone on to their forever homes, all had their problems but no different to any other animal. Thankfully with time and understanding, they became the playful cuddly dogs that would grace any home. Thank you for your reply to this paper

    • Nina May

      Hi Gordon,
      thank you for your comment! I am also planning on going to Romania to see it for myself, although I dread it for the reasons you outlined. Fostering is such a great way to help – I’m sure none of “your” dogs will ever forget you.

  5. Anna Sloman-Gowr

    I have three rescues, one is from RRA. All three have had their issues but the Rommie has required far more time and hard work and has tested every inch of our ability and patience. We adore all three of our dogs and have had good support from Romanian RescueI found this response to the Guardian excellent, well balanced and informative. A fantastic response but please get someone to check it for you as there are a number of spelling mistakes and the people who read the Guardian are snobbish and will judge your article negatively for such a minor issue.

    • I agree. Please check spelling eg: Check not Cheque
      I do think that you should mention Brexit as many of the people who make comments about Rommie dogs are the same people who seem to dislike Eastern Europeans people!
      Many like the dogs until you say it is from Romania! That is my experience as a homechecker and a Mum to a lovely blind RRA dog.
      Another thing to mention about U.K. rescues is that they have age restrictions as well. Many older dogs could live happily with an older person.

      • Nina May

        Hi Adrianne,
        thank you for your comment! The “cheque” is intentional as it’s referring to the amount of money I had to fork out for my dog’s blood test.
        The age point is very important, and you are so right to point that out. I would love to see more older persons and older dogs “coupled” up and sharing a gentle stroll around the park.

  6. I now have 4 small romies and would not part with any of them. I was also ignored for a long time by British dog charities before I had my first one from Romania Rescue Appeal . I was disgusted at some of the excuses British charities came up with.

    My four romies come from different shelters in Romania but are now very happy together and I would not like to be without them. Thank you RRA from the bottom of my heart for giving me them and all the love they give me.

    British dog charities lost out and I would never go to them again in the future just to be ignored or receive comments without foundation. RRA take a lot of care to match a dog to a new owner, I have nothing but praise for them. When I tell people who stop me in the street where they are from, they say how well behaved they are and tell me stories of some British rescues which have not worked out.

    My advice is rescued Romies deserve as much love as we can give them.

    • Nina May

      Hi Maureen,
      that’s so wonderful to hear! RRA is indeed an amazing organisation, and I’m glad your dogs all get on well. I’m also jealous that you have four 🙂

  7. Sue Klosinski

    We have 4 rommies too…they are the most rewarding lovable souls ever. Each had their ‘issues’ but given what some of them went through it is hardly surprising

  8. I have been fostering dogs from Romania & Bulgaria for 4 yrs.now adopted 2 dogs 1 cat from there also adopted a dog from EMRC England & one from the gypsies I am still fostering to help people get a dog as they cannot get one from here.People get home checked forms to fill in & get the right dog for the right family brilliant.I tried to adopt a GSD from RSPCA fine in till I said I had cats they said no I have had GSD Staffys Bull terriers street dogs & still have my cats I love to see when they get a loving home & look so happy also they keep in touch well worth what we do.♥️

  9. i was refused a dog from my local rescue because my dog was “overweight”-(she came from the same rescue)-so I put her on a diet and she lost 8kgs but the rescue still would not let me adopt a dog from them so I looked elsewhere and came across a Romanian rescue and have had my beautiful girl just over two years.from the terrified little thing she was -she is now a fully confident dog with her “quirks”.would do the same again when the time comes.

  10. Nikky Humphreys

    I have 2 Romanian rescue dogs. I got my fur babies from seven strays rescue. I hadn’t had a dog for 13 years while my children were still growing up and life was too hectic and when I decided I had time for another dog (only planned to have 1) I was told that there could be a 2 year wait through dogs trust if I wanted a puppy! My boys were 4 months and 11 months when I got them and they are amazing, I’ve not had any negative comments about them being from Romania or if I have I haven’t noticed because quite frankly I couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks. These boys have completed our family and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

  11. I too encountered problems when looking to rescue a dog in the Uk. Although I rescued mine from a rescue centre in Gran Canaria; many of the points you raised and those who have left replies struck home with me. The conditions the dogs are in over there are not like those here at home. Some people have made the same comments to me about re homing a dog from abroad and my replies have been similar. I just wanted to say although the article was referencing Romainian dogs; that it happens with dogs from other places abroad and that rescues here make perfectly acceptable people look elsewhere.

  12. Thanks for writing what I was thinking! I was so angry after reading the Guardian article- I too have adopted a beautiful rommy as well as a dog from Cyprus, they are both wonderful and much loved members of our family and I defy anyone to say that I should not have adopted them! They have needed time and patience AS EVERY RESCUE DOG NEEDS WHATEVER NATIONALITY THEY ARE but it has been worth every second

  13. Sue Mullins

    Your reply to The Guardian is spot on. I had a similar experience at my vet when registering my first Rommie. I was really scared until I checked with the rescue charity and they reassured me. Then I was angry that I’d been told off by the vet. She was a locum so not there next time I went otherwise I’d have had words with her. I took on a second Rommie last Oct, she is 18 months old and lived in a kennel since birth. I adore her although she has a lot of anxieties and fears. It’ll take time but she is worth the effort.

  14. Well said, I adopted two Romanian dogs and I’m fostering another and help Romanian Rescue with home checks for prospective adopters, they do wonderful work. And in the past I’ve adopted from British dog charities, I’ve been very lucky with positive responses when I’ve said they come from Romania and our vet practice has been great with them too.

  15. Same story with us, a lifetime of rescue dogs but we were deemed not fit to adopt from either dogs trust or rspca even though our vet gave us glowing references. So we went and rescued 1 from a house in Leeds, 2 from Serbia and are due to get anther from Serbia next month. All came with clearance of any disease, spayed,chipped and vaccinated. Each one has a different personality and they are all melded together with us as one family. Over the years we have always had rescue dogs 10 in all overlapping, 2 were 19 + 20 yrs old when they passed and our oldest now is 15+. Dogs trust said we couldn’t adopt but of course you can sponsor, says it all. And they say they will never put a healthy dog down but what about some of the others who could given a home, not everyone wants a perfect dog some of us are willing to take less lucky ones.

    • Nina May

      Hi there, thank you so much for your comment! How wonderful of you to have given so many homeless dog a great life. Serbian dogs are amazing and bright – I know a few.
      Out of interest, what reasons did Dogs Trust and the RSPCA give for rejecting your application? Was it a blanket “no” or just for the specific dog you were interested in?
      All the best,
      Nina

  16. I have three rescue dogs from Cyprus and get the same reaction from quite a few people. I went to see a dog at the Dogs Trust in Bridgend, there was a queue wanting him and they told people the 8 month old pup, who had been thrown out because the older dog wouldn’t play with him, couldn’t be rehomed with young children even if they visited. They wouldn’t explain why. When asked why they didn’t put that info on the website (I rang the day before and they couldn’t tell me anything except the first suitable applicant would get the dog so be there when they open) they said nobody would come, and asked me if I would consider one of the other dogs. As the only low shedding one had serious issues there were none suitable.

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