May 20, 2020
Interviews & Inspiration | Lauranne Heres
For our second instalment of Planet Dog, we’re looking at rescuers in the UK who are fighting tooth and nail to give dogs from abroad a better life here.
Priya Sen runs Oochie Coochie Pooches Dog Walking Services since 2006. She has also been rescuing and fostering dogs from Romania, where over 600, 000 dogs live on the streets. Most of them die on the streets, starving and freezing; others are killed by dogcatchers or brought to overflowing shelters where there isn’t enough food for them all.
When did you start fostering dogs?
I adopted Gypsy in March 2012 through a rescue called K9-Angels. She came from a Romanian shelter. I now have seven dogs. Two too many. I initially wanted five, but sometimes adoptions fall through.
After Gypsy, what made you start to rescue? What was your motivation?
I was already doing it in India back in the 90s. There’s appalling cruelty there. Then an organisation was set up by a British woman in Bangalore called CUPA - Compassion Unlimited Plus Action. I would rescue stray dogs and send them there. I have had plenty of verbal arguments and near physical fights to stop people being cruel to animals.
We had family dogs and I came to the UK in 2003 and then finally moved here in 2005. Felt a huge void without animals. My ex-husband was not much of a dog person. I was desperate and started dog walking in 2006 and was interested in volunteering in a rescue here. But the big rescues are nightmares. I wasn't comfortable with their methods, it was too much bureaucracy for my liking. I didn’t feel comfortable being there.
Then a friend mentioned Romanian dogs needing help and put me in touch with K9-Angels. From then on, it’s been non-stop rescue and adoptions and my life going to the dogs in the best possible way!
I have actually been “social distancing” for five years since leaving my ex. (Never felt entirely happy with people. So, at this very difficult time, I feel so happy not having to interact or come across folk who don’t like dogs.)
Can you talk me through a typical Romanian rescue?
The country is full of over-crowded shelters full of dogs that don’t belong there. Initially it was people dumping dogs because they didn’t have the room for them anymore (this goes back to former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the 80s). Then the Romanian President wanted all dogs off the street. No strays. He ordered a cull.
Initially it was horrific and heart-breaking. No welfare or care in shelters. No food. It was dog morgues rather than shelters. The dog catchers catch the dogs in terrible ways. Then they bring them to the shelter. Some are broken, some are okay.
Eventually, rescues and rescuers sprouted up everywhere. Pulling out dogs in small numbers. They were the lucky ones.
The UK, Germany, Holland and Belgium do give a lot of support now but it’s not enough.
I have had a few broken dogs here. Adopted two males completely fearful of people.
I rescue from Radauti. There are 300-350 dogs there to be neutered, vaccinated and hopefully – rehomed. The shelter is made for 150 dogs maximum. It’s a bloody cruel world.
How do the shelters get the money to feed/cover vet bills?
They rely entirely on donations. It’s never enough. The corrupt government pockets the allocated money for anything good. It’s the same in many other countries.
So how does a dog from Radauti end up in the UK? How many fosters are there that can take them?
Transporters bring them by road. About 30 dogs in a van. Crossing four to five countries with checks at every border. There are about two to three rescues that bring dogs out. Some independently like me. Germany takes the most out.
What do people need to know about adopting a rescue dog?
They have all had a rough start and may be permanently scarred and will need a lot of love and TLC.
Just because people adopt them, the dogs don’t immediately reset their brain and change into lovely friendly family dogs overnight. It takes a lot of dedication, patience and work from adopters. And the results once the dogs begin to trust and bond is priceless. Trust is the most important thing.
I know you have had issues with runaways. Does that happen a lot?
Yes, because street dogs don’t like being hemmed in. Their world was the streets, villages. So when they’re out on a walk they switch to roaming mode and disappear.
But then there are the traumatised one who switch to flight mode upon arrival in a new home which is why we insist on keeping the dog on a slip lead in a new environment and holding on to that lead securely every time the dog has to go out until they bond with the new family.
Cicci, my latest addition is fairly feral. Coming from a village and having the run of the countryside, she refuses to be hemmed in. Twice bolted from two different adopters in Derby and London. Had to be trapped the first time by professional trappers in Derby. She was having a whale of a time running around in a strange city.
How did she run away each time?
The adopter in Derby didn’t listen to the adoption rules of keeping the lead on and leaving her in the kitchen as agreed when she went out. She was unfortunately an alcoholic. She came home drunk one night and Cicci ran out past her.
After the second time she ran away I’ve started using those modern tracking collars, and that’s made life a little easier. I ended up keeping her because she feels safe with me and my dogs.
If you would like to help the shelter in Radauti, you can do so by joining the Teaming group here, and you could give £1 a month to help pay for food and veterinary bills. If you’d like to look into adopting or fostering a dog from Romania, feel free to check out organisations such as Safe Rescue For Dogs, Leash of Life and Wild at Heart Foundation.