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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.