Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Romania Revisited

I know what you're thinking: "Dave, you had three weeks left to go anywhere in Europe, and you went to Romania?" I know, I know. I could have seen Provence again, or Venice, or gone down to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. (Hey, I could have seen Capri; why didn't I think of that?) But I've spent a lifetime visiting those kind of places, the ones with the marble palaces, the stunning vistas, the pretty seaside villages; this trip was about seeing the real Europe for once, the places not just for tourists. Anyway, I just had to go back and see everyone I had made friends with (human and otherwise). There's something special about Romania, in spite of its faults. It beckoned to me, and I had to answer. (And it could be argued that a certain Romanian girl named Sanda may have had something to do with it as well.)
And what a busy 10 days it was! We started out checking on some small groups of street dogs that she regularly fed; some had been spayed and re-released and she wanted to make sure they were doing ok. They live behind businesses and places where it's fairly safe from cars. At one site some poor people lived in an old, unused industrial building and (I think) helped feed the dogs. One posed for a photo with Sanda; an interesting-looking fellow, indubitably. I'm not sure I agree with his wardrobe tastes, but perhaps he doesn't have much choice there. Anyway he seemed like a nice guy, which is what really matters, right?
On the way back home we visited my favorite Romanian dog, the famous "Baby". She was still at Grandma's house where I stayed in May; she looked great and pranced around like a puppy, but frustratingly, still won't let me or anyone else pet her. I really wanted to make that my final accomplishment before I left. I was also sad to see Baby still living in the same former chicken coop, and only let out by visitors; they don't want her wandering in the common area shared by Grandma's neighbors, and Granny's too old to watch her.
The next day was spent meeting other old acquaintances; we hooked up with Andrea and Otilia, the two lead volunteers of Animal Friends and brought some puppies out to the shelter and vaccinated them. I found another challenge there: to "tame" four 3-month old feral pups brought in recently. I was told they were so fearful they would vomit and defecate if anyone even went into the cage. It turned out one was already pettable the first day, as it had spent some time in a foster home; the rest were skittish and hiding from me, but came out for treats and ate out of my hand. Clearly they had made progress at the shelter already. I spent an hour in their pen letting them get used to me, but by the end still could not touch the others. They were one of my projects, but I only got to visit the shelter two more times. The second day I got another one calmed enough to pet, and day three saw a third puppy giving in to my caresses. I never could get that fourth one to surrender, darn it. But they'll all make wonderful pets for someone; they sure are cute enough, and still young enough to tame fairly easily.
We dropped by Grandma's again for another session of letting Baby out of her coop (and feeding her treats). She seems happy enough with people but it would be difficult to get her adopted by any but the most dedicated of guardians; not many would take a dog home that they couldn't even pet! I'm sure she will warm up to whoever takes her, she just needs a person with patience and a loving home.
That night we all went out for a drink in one of Sibiu's wonderful squares. I love how they're filled with tables for hanging out on the warm summer nights, and judging by the crowds, it seems that the locals would agree.
Day three was spent helping at a puppy adoption fair in a town park, where I met two girls from Finland (photo) who were there to evaluate some of the dogs for possible adoption back home. They work with other Romanian rescue organizations and were meeting the Sibiu folks for the first time (I was told that my blog helped them decide to come here!) The puppy fair was a success not in that very many dogs were adopted, but they got great coverage from the press. I haven't heard details, but Andreea got interviewed on national television, and I was apparently seen walking some of the dogs! I would love to get a tape of the news broadcast; anyway every little bit of coverage helps and hopefully the Animal Friends group got some good publicity out of it.
I won't bore you with an itinerary of every day, but (along with Sanda) I finally got to see some museums in town-- a nice little one on natural history and a pharmacy museum that packs more antique medicinal items into three rooms than I've ever seen in my life. We also spent a day in Sighishoara (kinda rhymes with stegosaurus), another historic Transylvania town full of towers, cathedrals and colorful cobbled lanes. While there we noticed posters for the "Circo" and I just had to check it out; it turned out to be about like the Circus Roma in Spain, with one lonely elephant hanging out in the hot sun (while we visited, anyway) and a motley assortment of monkeys, parrots, a tiger, even a crocodile and a giant tortoise; some of the animals were obviously just used as a kind of traveling menagerie. At least they had a bit more room in their cages than at Circus Roma, but it still seemed a pretty pathetic exhibition. We talked with the owner's wife who invited us into her little trailer while her kids played in the dirt outside. It's a pity that these kind of people can't find a better profession. Anyway we made a point of tearing as many posters as we could, sometimes having to watch out for policemen. It was our own little form of protest.

An odd coincidence occured the last few days: while leaving Grandma's one evening we heard a kitten crying in a tree. I climbed up to get her and she turned out to be a sweet, purring bundle of joy. We took her home until we could get her to the shelter. And on my last day there, at almost the exact same spot, I spotted a cute little month-old puppy that had also apparently been abandoned. He was certainly not feral as he came right to me and happily fell asleep in my arms. We checked the neighbors but no one seemed to recognize him, so we brought him to the second puppy fair the volunteers were holding, and as fate would have it, a nice young couple saw him and it was love at first sight! After holding him for a few minutes they declared they would take him home. (The volunteers assured me they would do a home check and make sure he was ok.) It was probably the fasted adoption on record in Sibiu.
But it was certainly strange that two well-fed, socialized animals suddenly appeared on the same street with apparently no owners around; Sanda was sure they were both dumped there, so it would seem it was a popular site for that. Since there is no public animal shelter except what the volunteers built themselves (and is now full), I suppose people believe they have no other choice, and apparently can't be bothered with trying to find homes for them themselves. I wonder how many children are heartbroken in town because Daddy or Mommy decided "that animal has to go". The kitten, that I named "Putsina" for "Little One", is at the shelter and hopefully will find a home one day. We certainly fell in love with her the two days she was at Sanda's place, but unfortunately neither of us could keep her.

So after many goodbyes at the puppy fair, I had to leave for the long train trip back to London and Bicester.
Final note: I was never supposed to be around to find that puppy; I was actually on a train leaving town the night before when I noticed my ticket was dated incorrectly and it was too late night to fix it that night. I had to return and leave again the next night. So maybe things happen for a reason. I guess that pup will never know, but fate sure worked out well for him.
P.S. Oh, and I never really got to pet Baby; the only thing I could do was lightly brush her cheek as she took food from my hand (see video soon). The darn girl was still just too skittish, but hopefully Sanda and the rest will be able to work with her and get her placed. I'd love to come back next year and visit her in some happy home. Well, at least I got a bit of video of her to remember her by.

Next: the final journey home.

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