07/03/2013 11:08 am ET Updated Sep 02, 2013

Dogs of Romania

While some dogs in the United States suffer in puppy mills and overcrowded shelters, that pales in comparison to Romania where literally millions of dogs live on the streets or are condemned to death in filthy pounds. Today, animal activists in Romania are pleading for help to save more than two and a half million stray dogs.

I have worked closely with one group, ROLDA Foundation -- Save Romania Strays (, which reports that in the capital of Bucharest, as well as most other Romanian major cities, dogs are dying in the streets or starving to death in horrible pounds. Romania is a member of the EU. Other EU countries need to band together and put pressure on Romania to help its canine population with a government-sponsored spay and neuter program and responsible, adequate care for the existing dogs. That would be the first step in controlling the nation's huge dog population as well as the humane thing to do.

How did this situation in Romania spiral out of control? The problem began in the 1960s when the communists decided that Romania needed to become industrialized. Thousands of people were forced to leave the countryside and move to the city. Crammed into small apartments, families had no choice but to abandon their dogs. These animals reproduced rapidly and roamed the streets in packs frightening residents and tourists alike.

The peak of the dogs' abandonment dates from Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime when a massive demolition program was initiated. People were forced to move into tiny apartments after seeing their private house destroyed by bulldozers.

Technically, many of these community dogs, as they are known, still have owners. Even though they live on the streets, residents feed and try to care for them. However, such dogs are prone to disease and often wind up fighting other dogs to establish territory. There are reports of local residents even stealing their food to sell on the black market.

After 20 years of democracy, blaming the old communism regime might seem questionable. The problems facing the dogs of Romania started during the communist era and continued immediately after its end. The corruption, absence of transparency, indifference, ignorance, barbarism, lack of education, and the poverty make any animal activist's frail attempts a hundred times more difficult. Thousands and thousands of stray dogs roaming around puts not only them in danger -- but also the well-being and health of pets and people who are part of the same "modern" community.

In an attempt to appease animal activists, Romania passed a law in 2008 stating that no healthy animal should be put to sleep. The result is a shelter system that is bursting at the seams. These shelters soon transformed into death camps for hundreds of dogs, who were starving, fighting each other and suffering from various diseases.

Liz Jones, a reporter with London's Daily Mail, actually visited these shelters and what she saw was horrific. Up to eight dogs are crammed into each cage; there is little food and no water. Dogs are spayed and neutered and then tossed back onto the street groggy and bleeding despite laws that stipulate that they should be kept for seven days to recover. The shelters are dark and cold and the stench is unbearable.

This is not how a civilized country should treat its animals. Regrettably, petitions addressed to corrupt or ignorant officials haven't made much difference over the years.

Arthur E. Benjamin, founder of American Dog Rescue Foundation, agrees and is pleased to join in this effort to save Romanian dogs by accepting donations toward the cause at

"American Dog Rescue Foundation works globally to help dogs where there is need. From Afghanistan to southeast Asia, and here throughout the U.S.A., whether it's national disaster or puppy mills, whether it's rehab or rescue, ADRF combines its resources with those we know best-equipped to deal with the problem first hand on the ground," Benjamin says. "In the shelters, in the field and at all legislative levels, we seek to change the world for the better for man's best friend. We are proud to stand with Cathy Kangas in support of ROLDA and our four-legged friends in Romania."

ROLDA's greatest needs are for a sterilization program as well as support for the habitat that ROLDA plans to open, in opposition with the prison pounds, to provide a "controlled" freedom for the un-adoptable dogs of Romania, with food stations and access to professional veterinary care.

Many individuals have spoken out on behalf of Romanian dogs including Beatrice Welles (daughter of Orson Welles) and actresses Monica Cruz, and Shannon McCabe.

The situation seems hopeless, but if we take the first steps toward helping these dogs, we will be able to alleviate some of their suffering. We simply cannot stand by and refuse to save these poor animals.