Well, by now Dr. Rick and Nancy are home the 'Frisco Bay area, Cristina's back in Buzau with her mom; I'm the only one left of the "Romaniacs" here in Bucharest. Sorry I haven't written lately, but I've had literally no time, what with getting up early for a day of travel or spaying and going out to dinner afterwards to unwind and drink a well-earned beer or two. We all left for Sibiu, the walled town I spoke of last time, after a long day of driving in the van which held us and our supplies & luggage (luckily Nancy and Cristina arranged for a driver, a Bucharest taxi driver named Dan who spoke a little English and smoked too much! His motto: "Don't worry, be happy.). We had to pass over the Carpathian mountains and through part of Transylvania, so you can imagine some of the views were quite awesome! There are still lots of horse-drawn carts to be seen in the fields and along the highways; perhaps the last generation to use them. I tried to get some pictures, but didn't get much with my camera which only seems to focus when it's in the mood (I just bought a new one, so the next batch should be fine). Anyway, that evening we strolled the main pedestrianized avenue in the Old Town, a street that has been beautifully restored ever since the communists did their best to make everything ugly. For instance, Rick and I both noticed that some places that must have once been pretty riverside villages now had hulking abandoned factories straddling the streams. (They seem to have taken the "Saruman" approach to modernizing the country.)
But inside the walls, the town hasn't lost its Transylvanian charm, and for a few precious evenings we were able to roam the streets and stop by little wine bars and such inside old fortress-like buildings, or relax at tables outside the many cafes along the street or the expansive main square, the Piata (plaza) Mare. My photos probably don't do it justice.
It wasn't all fun and drinks, though. For three solid days we held spay clinics (dogs only-- cats are not really a problem here) to both teach local vets the new techniques and to spay as many dogs as possible. The local animal rescue people were the best we've met. A group of young twenty-something people (mostly girls) in the area have banded together to try to fix Sibiu's street dog problem by both founding their own shelter (very rudimentary now, but the best they can do on their own funds), and trying to change the outmoded animal welfare laws. One of them, Sanda, sued the local government when they tried to use barbaric killing methods on the dogs, and actually won! The rest were also fantastic, especially their young "leaders" Adreea Roseti (a distant relative, perhaps?) and Otilia Pana, who used their vacation days to take off work to bring the dogs to us and help in their preparation and recovery (even our driver Dan helped). They also made sure we were well taken care of too, by bringing food & drink to the clinics and taking us out afterwards. Of course, Nancy & Cristina, our sponsors, refused to let them pay for dinners, but you gotta give them credit for trying! The even sweetly gave Rick & I traditional wooden flasks full of a strong traditional drink reminiscent of moonshine as souvenirs.
We stayed in a cute little pensiunea (a sort of cross between bed & breakfast and little hotel) with a house "Mama" who let us use her washing machine for our laundry, hanging them up in the huge attic to dry. The rooms were nice and the staff friendly. We also visited a local shelter which was one of the best around, but still left a bit to be desired, as the photo may show.
The clinics were interesting, to say the least. I learned some new things, like how to shave the dog's tummies with an old razor blade until Cristina came back with some electric clippers she bought (we donated them to the rescue people when we left). I also got pretty good at sedating dogs with xylazine and ketamine (older drugs in the U.S.), and figuring out doses myself by weight-- we managed to keep them asleep just long enough for the surgeries without the need for anesthetic gas, something nonexistant in vet clinics here. Other things they do without: autoclaves (they sterilize their instruments in solutions; we used a pressure cooker ingeniously adapted by Dr. Rick), X-ray machines (never mind ultrasound machines), or just about any modern diagnostic piece of equipment.taken for granted in the west. Surgery tables were sometimes made of glass (probably adapted kitchen tables) and usually stashed in the backs of tiny rooms with minimal lighting. Rick's surgical head lamp often came in handy! Even instrument tables had to usually be rigged from other things, and once the dogs had to be recovered outside-- until it started raining-- then they were crowded in the waiting room, which made things even more cozy!
I was so impressed with the Sibiu rescue people that I plan to go back there soon and do some training and help them in any way I can with their shelter. I'd also like to work with a dog I heard about that was beaten so badly by its previous owner it can't be approached now. One of the girl's grandmothers has it now, where I've been told I could stay for free while there; I'd like to see if I can tame it.
But first I'd like to see some more of Romania while I'm here. On the way back to Bucharest we bought some farm cheeses from the locals on the roadside, and stopped by one of the Royal castles in a beautiful mountain setting reminiscent of Neushwanstein. (Too bad all the photos of the actual palace turned out blurry, but I got some great pics of some statues!) Unfortunately we arrived too late to go inside, but got a fast tour of the courtyard and outside of it, thanks to Cristina. She also arranged for all of us to get professional massages our last day in Sibiu, a nice reward after three days of hard work. I've been resting in a litle apartment arranged for us by Livia, another Romanian animal supporter, but I've also been doing some touring around town, including the huge Parliamentary Palace, the second largest building in the world (second to the Pentagon). Tomorrow I hope to head back to Sibiu, and when not working there I plan to use it as a base to check out some other places in the area. There's also another vet who I haven't met yet who wants me to work with him, and I have to be in London by mid-June to meet another friend. I also promised Nancy to write the text for a children's book about a Romanian street dog, and I've got to help Livia with editing some campaign letters and such. Rick has also promised me a job in the San Francisco area whenever I get back. So I've still got some things to do. I'd better get started!
A Few Notes on Romania: The language sounds like a cross between Italian, Russian and a little Greek. For instance, "yes" is the Russian "da", but other words come directly from latin or Greek. It's a fascinating language I wish I had time to learn.
Transylvania is not the exotic, dark, scary place they picture it to be in the movies. It's simply the pretty heart of Romania, with wooded mountains, streams and villages, some little changed since medieval times. Horses often work beside tractors in the fields.
And in spite of what the local politicians may say, street dogs ARE a problem; you see them roaming in public from Bucharest to the smallest village, and along every highway in between. They are usually friendly, sometimes shy, and almost always eager for affection even more than for food. It's sad to see them sleeping on sidewalks and limping across the streets, some with injuries or birth defects, drinking from puddles and begging for food. One wonders how they manage to survive. They've probably been such a common sight for so long the Romanians hardly notice them anymore. But if Nancy and the rest have anything to say about it, they will hopefully eventually be safe in homes or shelters and off the streets for good.