Supporting agility dogs with specialist lifetime cover


Our Romanian dog...


During the communist regime of Ceausescu (1967-1989) Romanian houses were levelled to make room for high rise apartment blocks. Owned dogs, banned from these new apartments, were left homeless, becoming stray dogs and very soon multiplying into packs of street dogs. Thousands were hunted, caught and killed. Many compassionate animal lovers have tried to save at least some of these dogs by taking them into shelters. GB Team Manager for IMCA/PAWC Richard Partridge explains why he and his wife Sheila decided to rehome a Romanian dog when there are so many in the UK desperate for new homes.

We are often asked why did we adopt a dog from Romania when there are dogs aplenty already in UK needing homes. Why indeed? Sadly the problem of dogs needing rescue is universal. There are simply too many dogs in the world and unfortunately many perverted people get their kicks from ill treating them.

Equally many dogs in more enlightened countries are thrown out for completely fatuous reasons. People just do not think it through properly when they get a dog or puppy and give up when they realise that they have made a lifestyle decision which they are not prepared to live with.

In our defence, over the last 45 years we have always had dogs, and they have always been rescues, mostly from England but we have two Irish Collies. I feel that in order to make a difference to the many a few must be spotlighted to raise public awareness and hopefully improve the conditions of many remaining behind which do not enjoy the benefits of those living in more enlightened countries. And in any case, the numbers of dogs involved is tiny compared with the total number of dogs in UK, or the number left in squalor.

Chapter 1
Happy to Meet You

Somewhere in Romania a stray bitch had puppies - nobody knows where, nobody knows when. All anyone knows know is that at least one of the puppies survived and grew into yet another street dog. Good luck was with her and by some happy chance she was caught by a kind lady who arranged for her to be transported the the UK and adopted. But why get a dog from abroad when we have plenty of our own dogs needing homes?

As the puppy grew, she learned all of the arts of survival. She discovered that it is best to live in a town near to people because they are a source of food. They leave scraps laying around, discarded take away leftovers, scraps in rubbish bags and so on. At the same time she knew it was best to be wary of people, they treated her as a pest and were at best indifferent to her, at worst cruel, she developed a wariness of sticks and thrown objects because she could easily be on the receiving end of these, often simply for the enjoyment of those bored and callous enough to find pleasure in treating her cruelly. Along with all of her other skills she learned how to find shelter, summers in Eastern Europe can be very hot, the winters achingly cold.

At some stage, she was captured and taken to a vet to be sterilised which is one official method of controlling the stray dog population thereabouts. To show that she was sterile, her ear was punched and a plastic tag inserted.

Although most of the residents of the city were indifferent to the street dogs, there are some who take pity on them and do their best to make life better for them. One of these ladies noticed our dog and started to give her food. The dog was wary, but the lady would go to the same place each day and the dog, knowing this, would turn up to accept the food. As the dog always seemed pleased to see her benefactor and wagged her tail, the lady called her Happy.

All was going well until it was decreed by the Mayor of the City that there were too many strays and they needed to be culled. The method adopted in Romania is brutal to say the least. The dogs are rounded up by 'catchers,' who are little more that legitimised thugs. They are caught by their necks using wire slip loops and thrown into the back of trucks - one on top of the other - until they are two or three deep, terrified, injured and fighting. If the dogs are unco-operative, they might be bludgeoned to death right there in the street in full view of passers-by.

The rest are driven away to be euthanized - by what means is anybody's guess - or taken to the Public Shelters which are simply fenced off areas away from the towns where the dogs are stored. These could be more accurately described as concentration camps. There is little or no shelter, no welfare, precious little food and the dogs are left to roam together, where desperation and hunger lead to fights, disease and so on. Happily, there are some caring local people who take it upon themselves to do whatever they can for these unfortunates, but it is always too little. Most of these dogs inevitably die - sadly, tragically and most often painfully. Ironically it is the docile, trusting dogs that are rounded up. The heroic catchers are too timid to tackle the large aggressive ones. These being the very ones which should be dealt with, but in a proper humane manner.

When news of the cull broke our contact, a lady called Mihaela, together with some of her like-minded friends, were horrified and set about finding suitable homes for some of the dogs in a more sympathetic environment. We were aware of these kindly folks and, when the plea went out, we noticed Happy and decided rescue her, if it was possible. 

Mihaela managed to capture Happy and take her into her home. Then began the process of getting the dog properly inoculated and documented for transfer to the UK. This took a number of weeks, during which time we were kept up to date through email and Facebook. Then finally all was in place, the passport was ready, the transport arranged and Happy was on her way.

A fraught welcome to the UK
Now, as we all know, nothing is ever quite straightforward. For various reasons, we could not collect our new dog as soon as she arrived in UK. Luckily the lady who brought her over was pleased to look after her for a few days, so eventually on the Sunday off we set with a song in our hearts and full of excitement to welcome Happy into the bosom of our family.

We arrived at the appointed place in Essex all smiles only to have our world set tumbling round our heads. Whilst being exercised just before we arrived, the dog slipped her lead and ran off. To make matters worse, the place where she had been kept was a stable yard and on this particular Sunday, was very busy, so it was unlikely that she would return that day. The hope was that she would hide up and come the following day looking for food.

She did not turn up on Monday nor Tuesday nor for the rest of the week, although she had been spotted in the area. We were distraught. The lady who had been looking after her was distraught as was Mihaela. Dog Wardens, vets, police and anybody who could possibly look out for her were informed. Her details were posted on all of the missing dog websites. Posters were distributed, local radio was alerted, her own Facebook page was set up - all to no avail.

She was again spotted the second week, but some way from the original sighting. We consoled ourselves with the fact that Happy had spent all of her life previously fending for herself, so we were confident that she could survive, The downside was that she did not have to seek human contact.

After three awful weeks, our friend in Essex received a call from somebody about seven miles away to say they had found a stray dog, This couple had noticed a strange dog around for a few days and asked their neighbours if they knew its background. Nobody had any ideas but, upon further enquiry, it was suggested that it might be the dog on the Dogs Lost website, and sure enough it was.

Although they had fed Happy, the people had not been able to catch her, but they knew where she was living. Our friend high-tailed it to the location and found Happy snuggled up in a derelict house, perfectly content and wondering what all of the fuss was about. Again we set off for Essex all excited and finally met our adventuress face-to-face, much to the relief of many, many people.

Chapter 2
Happy to Be Here

At long last we had our 'Romi' rescue. Using two leads, we carefully loaded her into our car. The cage doors were securely locked and we made our way home. It was a strange feeling. There we were responsible for a newly arrived dog, one with which we had become intimately involved over the last three months, but one about which we knew practically nothing.

We had been told by everybody who had been in contact with her that she was very nervous and timid, as is to be expected, and very gentle. She was not a puppy, a clean sheet for us all to develop, but an adult dog with a completely unknown history, but one which we were fairly sure would make her suspicious of humans.

Upon arriving home we unloaded our established dogs - a Papillon and two Collies - and let them out into the garden. We then took Happy out of her crate and (with two leads) led her into the garden. Fortunately there were no fireworks. All four had been together, in separate crates, in the car for a couple of hours and presumably made their initial introductions. Happy was naturally wary, but curious, but not surprisingly, her tail was firmly between her legs.

We had decided that we would give her a crate indoors to start with where hopefully she could feel secure. At times, when we could not closely supervise the dogs, we could close the door for safety. All seemed to be going very well. After a while we shut the other dogs into the house and took our new girl out into the garden (still on 2 leads) for a sniff and hopefully a pee. She duly obliged, bless her, and was easily lead back into the house.

We were quite worried at first because she stayed contentedly in her crate. Whenever we wanted her out, we had to attach a lead and literally pull her out. In order to attach the lead, we had to put our arm right in. If the dog objected, she could have made her feelings plain in a clear and painful manner, but there was no sign of aggression whatever. Luckily within a couple of days, Happy accepted this routine and came out of her own accord when we waved a lead in front of the door.

It was only two weeks before Christmas when we finally brought Happy home, and as we were having our family including four grandchildren (aged between 2-8 years) to stay for a few days, we decided we decided that it was probably wiser to keep her used to living in the crate and, at times, with the door closed. Although she was not showing any signs of aggression towards people, we had not had an opportunity to discover if she was the same with children. In the event, she seemed fairly relaxed, although we did notice the odd lip curl, but suspect this was due to the noise and boisterousness of the youngsters rather than a reaction to their presence.

We are very fortunate in that immediately behind our house there are acres and acres of fields, so it is easy to take our dogs for a walk without the added problems of loading them into a car beforehand. On the second day, one of us took the three others while the other followed at a reasonable distance with Happy. Our dogs kept a respectful distance. Happy listened, sniffed the ground and the air and generally got the lie of the land. It was all going just as we hoped, fingers crossed. During this day, we also noticed that the tail has a small but significant twitch in the end of it.

On the third day we had a bit of a test, albeit accidental. Happy had been in the kitchen with her cage door open and we opened the door to the rest of the house. Alfie, a collie, thinking it was feed time rushed through the kitchen and threw himself into his basket as he always does at this time. In his rush, he failed to see that his basket was already occupied by Happy and hurled himself on top of her. The result, fortunately, was a snarly yap from her ladyship and a swift exit by Alf. No aggression, no fighting, just one new dog making her point and one dog learning to be a bit more respectful. To our delight, this seems to have been the way it has gone. All of the dogs have been wary of each other and felt their way carefully with no aggro.

During the first week we had her, we noticed that Happy appeared to be suffering from some pain around her ear. Although we had planned on taking her to the vet fairly soon, we were not expecting to do it quite so soon. We had wanted to give her more time to settle with us before adding new stressful items to the agenda. However, the dog's health dictated that a visit was in order, so off we went.

She was a complete star! We always muzzle our dogs at the vet's and they accept this. Happy did not fight the muzzle and surprisingly, although she was very nervous, she allowed the vet to examine her - even when he poked around in her painful ear. It became necessary to return her after a couple of days as the ear was worse, and under sedation they discovered that she had a tick in the ear and somehow this had led to a torn eardrum,. Poor soul! But even through all of this, she was completely placid. We did notice, however, that when we collected her that her whole tail wagged!

We have now had Happy for just over five weeks. Although she is always on a lead outside the garden, we let her into the garden on her own, and she comes running back when we call her. Out for walks in the open, she has a long-line and does not attempt to escape, except that on the homeward leg she is tugging to get back. When we walk on the road, her manners on the short lead are really good, probably better than our other dogs. Her tail is constantly wagging, often doing circles in her enthusiasm, and she is learning English! Happy is responding to her name, usually sits on command and is generally absorbing the habits and conventions of our household. She is also extremely affectionate and has been known to push the other dogs out to get her share of a fuss.

Everyone sit!A good start
The new girl has been accepted into the family, although we still keep her shut in her crate when they are unsupervised. They stroll around the garden together. They all sit for treats and generally are quite civilised to each other.

At first Happy was not at all keen on going for a walk. We suspect that in her previous life she simply did not walk around for its own sake. She would have travelled as far as necessary to obtain food and shelter, resting for the remainder of the day to conserve her energy. Nowadays she appears to be accepting the new regime, her food is delivered to her door regularly and the walks are just for exercise and fun.

We count ourselves very lucky. We have taken in a completely strange dog and her reaction to living with us and our dogs was unpredictable. After a short time we have a gentle, affectionate pet. She is very bright and learning our ways and seems ready to accept training.

Although we don’t feel we can completely uncross our fingers yet we have definitely relaxed them. She seems to be very healthy, and when the vet checked her he confirmed this, which upon reflection is not surprising. Where Happy comes from and her background over the generations would have demanded survival of the fittest, The weaker strains and individuals simply would not have prospered. But on the other hand, she does not appear to be especially fit and seems to lack the energy or enthusiasm to run around, but again this is likely to be due to her past life when energy was a precious commodity to be conserved.

Is Happy happy?
Has she bonded? If spending a lot of her time snoozing contentedly in her bed is a sign then she is relaxed. If, when she is awake, she is constantly under our feet seeking attention, and if we relaxing reading or watching TV and we keep getting a wet nose under our hand to lift it to her head for petting is a signal I think we can say she has bonded, and if on returning home the tail frantically wagging is an indication I think we can say she is happy to be with us.

Having said this we are noticing some, to us, strange characteristics. Happy, obviously, has not been trained before, nor is any 'obedience' built into her inherently. So although she will come when she is called it is always on her terms. For example. if she is in her bed and we call her she lifts her head, yawns, stands, stretches her front section, takes a step, stretches the back bits and then saunters over. Similarly if she is in the garden, she will finish what she is doing, have a wander, sniff around and eventually makes her way to us. We can jump up and down, call her in our most exuberant voice, wave nice, smelly treats, but all to no avail. This is something we know we must work on because until such time as she will recall promptly, directly and unconditionally we cannot risk letting her off her lead outside our secure garden.

Chapter 3
Happy’s Progress

Spot the dogApril 2014... Happy has now been with us for about four months. Throughout this time she has proven to be a complete star.  She is very affectionate to the point where she is almost a nuisance coming up to us and rubbing against our legs looking for attention. 

After about six weeks, we risked letting her off her lead in the fields behind our house. Despite our worries, she just followed along and made no attempt to run off. Gradually as her confidence increased - and ours with it - she wandered off ever greater distances until now she will sometimes be up to 300 yards away, always returning when called, albeit it in her own time if she is  in the middle of something 'important.' 

Last weekend I took a big chance and let her off her lead in the woods with the other dogs.  In no time flat I was alone in the middle of all of the trees without a dog in sight.  Nail-biting time.  However, after about 15 minutes she came out of the undergrowth with one of the other dogs, bounded up to me and showing in every way she had thoroughly enjoyed herself, but was glad to be back, phew!  But another milestone passed.

A couple of weeks ago we had our first outing of the year with the caravan. Once again this was to be a new experience for Happy. At home she showed marked reluctance to go into the caravan, so we thought we might have trouble. In the event there was nothing to worry about. She followed the others inside when we arrived at the site and made herself completely at home.

Another important milestone was passed when our son brought his two children to visit for a weekend. Up to then we had not really been able to assess her with children and were quite concerned. At the very least, it is not good to send grand-children home with too many teeth marks! Again her ladyship came out with flying colour once we had impressed on the kiddies that they were to treat Happy with respect and reminded them that when dogs are in their beds they are not to be touched. We have always done this since our own children were tiny and the dogs soon learn that they have a safe, child-fee haven. There was absolutely no problem except when our 2 ˝ year old grandson got too familiar with Happy in her bed and got snapped at as a lesson.

So, where are we?
We recognise that we are very lucky. We have a lovely, affectionate dog  who has quickly - and easily - fallen into our ways and is admired by all who meet her. Yes, it could have been tragically different if she had not fitted in for whatever reason, and unlike getting dogs from a rescue local centre, there is not 'trial period.' It is all or nothing.  Having said this, we are in contact with many other folks who take an interest in the plight of Romanian dogs and know of several which have been brought over.  The success rate has been remarkably high, and the support when it's been needed is swift, genuine and effective. We have found ourselves embroiled in a lovely community.

Chapter 4
Happy to Help

In days of yore dogs roamed human habitations, not as pets, except in a very small number of cases, but as half-wild companions. They fulfilled a useful function clearing up the scraps, killing rats and mice and in extremis they could be eaten. Life was harsh for most of the population who lived from hand to mouth, winters were times of hunger and everything, including animals, had to be exploited to the full in order to survive. Fortunately in most of the world, and especially in Europe we have progressed from this and we all live a life of relative ease. It would appear that in some parts the old attitudes still exist and animal husbandry and care standards are not universal.

Eastern European countries have not apparently moved in their attitude to animal welfare. They have recently been released from the yoke of Communism and joined the EU in order to improve their prosperity and the living standards of the population. This is laudable. But if they want to join our Western European club and derive the benefits, they should accept all of the standards we live by and not pick and chose.

This does not only apply to Romania
I see articles appealing for help to rescue and assist dogs and other animals from many countries. Money is made available to Romania and others to control the stray dog numbers, but the methods they adopt are totally ineffective, half-hearted or unnecessarily cruel.

The official method employed is sterilisation. On the face of it maybe this would be effective, but it relies on every dog and bitch being caught and operated on, which is never practical. In practice it is again only the easy-to-catch dogs, not the large and aggressive ones, which are treated. And by this artificial selective breeding surely the general population of feral dogs becomes more dangerous.

On top of this the procedure itself is pretty ruthless. The dogs are castrated frequently without anaesthetic and sent straight back to the street as soon as the last stitch is in place. The bitches do have the advantage of being anaesthetised, but are released as soon as they wake up. As a parting gift they have a plastic tag punched into their ears to mark them as neutered. There is no backup treatment, so many suffer greatly, and unnecessarily, from infections. Happily there are some dog lovers who care and will capture dogs and pay for the treatment to be carried out properly and humanely. Happy's rescuer is one of these lovely folks.

An alternative method of control is to catch the dogs and place them in a Public Shelter. These are provided by the city and in theory places where stray dogs can be kept in safety and health, and hopefully be homed. The practice is too often far from this. The shelters are little more than cages open to the elements where the dogs are crowded. Fights frequently break out which are broken up by beating the dogs with sticks, and injuries are ignored. The dogs are thrown into the cages regardless of size and gender and where the neutering policy has been ineffective mating takes place and puppies are born. Little effort is made to rehome these dogs and they can spend years in this squalor. If the number get out of hand they are reduced, a popular method is cudgelling and stabbing, humane euthanasia seems to be a luxury that very few of these unfortunate creature experience.

The following is from a web-site - about the Public Shelters in Romania.

When authorities rarely or never check how the dogs are treated or if they receive care by the manager - under current law - the standard may vary greatly between different municipal enclosures (public shelters), depending of the mayor, who runs it and if the dogs get help from the citizens.

The images (as can be seen on the web-site) show dogs from the streets that have become caught by the local dog catcher, transported and then being enclosed - the dogs are then forced to be subjected to neglect in these highly mismanaged and substandard municipal enclosures.

The dogs who just lived freely in the street, are shocked and they do not understand what is happening - they are often placed together regardless of gender, size or temperament.

Pictures and movies taken now and then, represents how enclosures works today - there has not been any improvement.

According to Romanian and EU directives, the abandoned animals shall stay comfortably in the enclosure, be given food and water, and be given care and veterinary treatment. The dogs must be placed in view of the size and temperament and neutering, and that there should not be more than four dogs in the same pen.

The dog is still alive - final destination for many healthy dogs - abandoned, neglected, sick, starving in a municipal dog enclosures in Romania - extended torture and death - an increasingly common sight in a country that is unable to institute laws that can prevent unwanted dogs become born to a life in agony.

More information can be found by Googling 'Public Dog shelters Romania'

Happily there are some people in authority who have higher standards. I have recently been to Hungary to attend an international Agility Competition (IMCA/PAWC.) The Mayor of the city where the event was staged recognises that they have a street dog problem and has gone on record as saying that he is delighted when this competition is held there as it demonstrates to the local residents that dog ownership can be fun, satisfying and fulfilling to both dog and owner.

Not all of those in authority are quite so open-minded
We are aware that in several towns in Romania the solution to an overpopulation of street dogs is a ruthless and brutal cull. Although I am saddened at the thought of culling unwanted animals I can understand that sometimes it would be necessary. In this country, we cull all of our farm animals when they have reached the end of their productive lives.

The difference between here and other counties is that we have rules to govern the manner in which creatures are treated, and these rules are adequately enforced. Eastern European countries have taken steps to improve the welfare and prosperity of their people. As a part of this bargain, I believe, that they must be made to understand that their treatment of the street dog population is unacceptable and change must be made, even to the point of sending experienced people from Western Europe to educate and, if necessary, to enforce the standards which are already are in place.

So, to return to the original question, why did we take a rescue from Romania? We became aware of the horrors of dog control in Romania, and through this the equal horrors in other countries. We had room in our hearts and our home for another dog and decided that by taking one of these unfortunate animals we could together wave the banner and raise their profile. Our hope is that this will speed those with the authority do everything in their power to change the animal welfare laws where they need changing and to enforce those that are in place but ignored.

About the author..
Richard & Sheila Partridge
have been dog owners all of their married life.  During this time all of the dogs have been rescues. 

Sheila became aware of the plight of the Eastern European dogs and as a result of this interest, they have adopted Happy who now lives contentedly in Rural East Sussex with the other family dogs - Smokey, a Papillon and Alfie & Murphy, the infamous Twerphounds.

They took up Agility about 14 years ago and during this time, although they haven’t progressed though the grades too spectacularly, they have been fortunate to compete in IMCA – PAWC in various counties where they have enjoyed top notch competition and met many really lovely people.

First published 16 Aoril 2014


© Copyright Agilitynet