Stray animal populations are a huge animal welfare issue in Europe, and Romania, the second poorest country in the European Union, has one of the largest stray animal populations on the continent, with a rough estimate of up to 500,000 dogs and likely even more stray cats living in this country. While each day on the streets is a struggle to survive, the ever-growing population also cause the citizens significant issues: from the risk of dog bites to the transmission of zoonotic diseases, pollution, and noise, resulting in negative attitudes and behaviours towards stray animals.
While the municipalities are legally obliged to assign funds to stray animal management programmes, decision-makers often lack the expertise and will to set up these programmes effectively and efficiently. Sadly, the killing of strays is still legal and frequently practised to reduce overpopulation: without lasting results but with enormous suffering. Also, inhumane housing in public and private shelters is continuously employed as a quick fix to dealing with the issue. The unwanted dogs often end up in these places and either live out their lives in deplorable conditions with very little hope of ever being adopted or are euthanised.
Protection of strays since 1999
FOUR PAWS started its first veterinary activities for stray animals in Romania in 1999, with the very first mobile veterinary clinic – which is now a museum! – on the road in December of that year. Since 2017, we have worked together with our local partner Animal Society with the aim to improve the welfare of stray dogs and cats in Romania, ultimately reducing their numbers by helping local communities to manage their own stray animal population humanely, sustainably and efficiently, as well as improving the welfare and care of the existing stray animal population.
The current mobile clinic allows the local team to travel widely throughout the country and to help stray dogs and cats even in the most remote and rural areas.
How FOUR PAWS works
FOUR PAWS aims to deliver strategic and sustainable stray animal projects that are community-led, and this is why we focus on only a few municipalities simultaneously for a longer period of time. In these municipalities, we work with the following components:
- Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact, to understand dog population sizes and dynamics;
- Community Engagement, so the community has the knowledge, skills and expertise to develop a long-term stray animal programme;
- Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return, to reduce the stray populations and improve the life of animals living on the streets;
- Responsible Pet Ownership, because raising awareness amongst (future) pet owners is key;
- Shelter Adoption Programme, to improve the conditions in local shelters and promote local adoptions;
- Animal Assisted Interventions, to change attitudes and behaviour towards stray animals.
Where FOUR PAWS works
The municipalities where FOUR PAWS, together with local partner Animal Society, conducts impactful, humane stray animal projects.
Ilfov, 2022 – current
Ilfov is the county that surrounds Bucharest, the capital of Romania and consists of eight towns and 32 communes. With the county having the fastest demographic growth in Romania in the last decade, the issues with stray dogs and cats have also grown. FOUR PAWS is implementing its third large community-based stray animal care project here, in close collaboration with Ilfov County Council.
Constanta, 2021 – current
Constanta is one of the largest cities in Romania, as well as its most important port city near the Black Sea. After many years of practising catching, sheltering and killing stray dogs in the muncipality of Constanta, the new mayor, who was elected in September 2020, has stopped these practises and requested help in implementing a humane dog population management programme. Since January 2021, we have been active in this coastal city, assisting the community with putting in place a sustainable and humane approach to stray animal management. Find out more in this video.
Galati, 2019 – 2022
In the far east of Romania, close to the border with Moldova, there is the city of Galati where we conducted our very first Community Engagement pilot project in Romania. The pilot project was conceived to test a new Community Engagement approach to dog population management, where we worked with the community to come up with tailored solutions for creating a human and sustainable stray dog management programme. As part of this approach, we supported the community in a number of ways, for example by facilitating stakeholders workshops to come up with a stray animal management plan, carrying out stray dog/cat surveys to calculate the local stray animal population, implementing Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return projects to sterilise the stray animals living on the streets, setting up Responsible Pet Ownership education to address the causes of stray animals, offering Shelter Adoption training to support local shelters increase their local adoption rate and conducting evaluation surveys to ensure the programme is effective and has long-term impact. Furthermore, we also offered Animal Assisted Interventions where we go out into the community with our Animal Assisted dogs who were previously strays and demonstrate that stray dogs are of value to society.
Outcomes: The outcomes of this project have been significant and impactful. Through our representative household survey, the community reported a perceived reduction in the stray dog population, indicating the effectiveness of our initiatives. Additionally, legislative changes on municipal level were achieved, allowing dogs to accompany their owners on public transport and empowering the police to check dogs' health cards, ensuring their proper identification and sterilisation. These amendments contribute to improved animal welfare and responsible pet ownership. Alongside these achievements, our awareness campaigns on responsible pet ownership and promotion of dog adoption from shelters have helped foster a culture of compassion and adoption, leading to more dogs finding loving homes and reducing the number of stray animals in the community.
Additionally to our strategic community engagement-based projects, we occasionally visit remote communities for short-term projects to provide veterinary care.