Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Therapy for Baby

Well, the last time I wrote I was about to go back to Sibiu, that pretty town in Transylvania that we held some clinics in. I meant to actually see some of it this time as well as help the "Animal Life" volunteers at their shelter and maybe help an abused dog recover emotionally. I jumped on a train and left the traffic and noise of Bucharest and headed for greener parts of Romania.

The train passed the "Transylvanian Alps", those huge mountains with snow still on them that branch out from the Carpathians. Otilia, one of the animal rescue girls, and her friend Gabi kindly picked me up that evening at the train station and brought me to Andreea's (who was out of town) grandmother's house where I stayed. It's a nice little place not too far from the town center, a bit old but equipped with all the comforts, including 14-foot ceilings, rock-solid interior walls and doors, and neighborhood roosters that crow at odd hours of the night and day. It even has the traditional "eye" window in the roof, unique to the Sibiu area. And notice no front door? For privacy, I guess.
We were greeted by "Grandma", a sweet little lady who kinda reminds me of Mom, and an Irish Setter being fostered there. I was shown into a little parlor with a day-bed where I would sleep. The dog that was beaten and is unapproachable is kept in back, where a fenced courtyard adjoins some neighbors' gardens. Though it was dark I wanted to see her; she was locked in what used to be a chicken coop-- basically a shed with fencing on the front. Unfortunately it was necessary for the meanwhile, but I knew that the first thing I wanted to do the next day was get her out of the damned thing.
Before we were even in sight I could hear her barkng at our voices. Inside the coop was a little black dog of uncertain ancestry, possibly of corgi-shepherd origins; she has funny short legs like my dog Henny had, and a cute shepherd face. They told me she had been beaten so badly she wouldn't look up at anyone and bit one Andreea. She barked nonstop at us while we were there, and as it was getting late "Otie" and Gabi took me out to dinner at Gabi's restaurant, a nice little place in town with outdoor seating (a good thing for me as lots of people smoke here!)
That night they dropped me off at the house and the Irish Setter forced her way out of the garage to greet me, and of course wanted to follow me inside. I hated to leave her out in the courtyard but didn't want to take liberties at the lady's house the first night. But the dog sat outside on the doorstep whining in a very human-like way, so I soon gave in and snuck her into my room, where we shared the day-bed for the night! Early the next morning I slipped her outside again.
Then I went to see the black dog, and of course she started barking at me. The first photo clearly shows the fear in her eyes. I could go into a long explanation of how I befriended her, but to make a long story short by the end of the day she was snoozing happily in the sun outside her coop. At midday Grandma called me in to lunch ("Kommen Sie"-- she speaks German as well as Romanian, so we could do some basic communication). She treated me to some very good home-made soup and a sort of spinach-and-cream on potatoes--delicious! After lavishly praising it in what little German I could remember ("Wunderbar!") I asked to take a little of it out to the dog. Baby wasn't too interested in it, but I noticed something else: she never barked this time as I approached, and in fact seemed much more calm.
I got permission to keep the Setter in my room that night, thanks to Sanda, another volunteer who dropped by and helped me ask grandma to let the dog in. It turned out the Setter is another stray that they're keeping at her house. The poor thing is just starving for love and the joy she shows at being allowed to stay in my little room is amazing.
The next day I helped the volunteers put in some fence posts at the shelter all day, so I only saw the dogs first thing in the morning and late that night. The Animal Life shelter is a temporary sanctuary for about 60 dogs that the group has rescued; it has no running water or power, but built completely by volunteers, and provides a safe haven for many of Sibiu's street dogs, as well as a nice little cat area too. They took what was a field and turned it into a green sanctuary for abandoned animals. The amazing thing is that the volunteers have all done it with absolutely no town or county government support, they just do it because, as Otie says with a shrug, "Somebody has to." I think that says it all. These people are my heroes!
We sectioned off some new enclosures so they could separate the rest of dogs that now roam free in the main enclosure. This should help prevent the spread of infection and make for easier management and less fights. It was hot, tiring work but it felt good to get it done. That night the Setter (I've taken to calling her Lady Rosta [pronounced "Roshta"], Romanian for red) was positively ecstatic to get out of the garage and into my room. Baby barked at me, but more of an excited, "Where the heck have you been all day?" kind of bark.
Over the next days we fell into a routine: in the morning I would let them out and feed them, and have my breakfast out on the patio, usually juice, fruit, and honey and a white cheese (like feta, only not salty) on some wonderful local bread. I always made sure to give some to the dogs; Baby loved it and I hope it helps the Setter's flaky coat. Baby was still cautious of me but got a little better day by day. She even seemed a bit playful when I let her out. She really is a feisty little thing. I got her a stuffed animal from Andreea as a toy which she sleeps with.
I spent the next two days working at the Animal Life shelter, building a doghouse and doing misc. work like grooming a dog that had incredibly thick, long hair and bad skin. It's getting treated by one of the vets we worked with, the one who in fact owns the land lent for the shelter. That night I met Anka, another volunteer, and her friends at a nice piano bar in town. One of her friends is an emergency room physician and it was interesting to hear about how he works alongside American doctors who teach them the latest ER techniques. Then Sanda showed me around the town of Subiu for my last few days, visiting churches, back streets, and even a half-day at a great open-air collection of traditional Romanian houses. I was also lucky because it was International Arts Festival week in Sibiu and there were all kinds of interesting (and often unusual) free shows on the town square.

I continued to spend mornings on the patio with the dogs, making sure to give Baby some special treats (eggs or cheese, mosty). The neighbors have some chickens and brought over some fresh eggs that were wonderful hard-boiled. They even own a cow and bring Grandma farm-fresh milk in those old-style milk bottles, but it tasted too grassy for me.
The last few mornings Baby really started getting friendly, running around happily and waiting for me to feed her. She's still too cautious of me to let me touch her, though. I would have liked to pet her just once, but I've done all I can for now. I also took Rosta for a long walk into town the last day, making sure to stop and pet her whenever there were kids around, encouraging the local kids to do the same. They were mostly curious about her, but infortunately I couldn't answer their questions in Romanian! But I think it's important to teach them that animals, especially dogs, are not dangerous and should be treated kindly. I also picked up trash in the local park while the residents watched me. Some mothers were smiling at me by the time I left and one thanked me; I hoped to "lead by example"-- and I hope they didn't just think I was some weird American tourist!
When I finally had to leave that morning it was hard to say goodbye to them. It was very hard to lock them back up before I left. I know they'll get taken care of, but I hope Baby continues to get her "therapy", and Rosta finds a good home. (Note: dogs can be sent to the U.S. fairly easily and cheaply; please leave a note for me if you're interested in adopting either one. )
Next: On to Budapest!

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