Running is a North American sport. At least this is what my husband explained to me as I packed my running shoes for our trip to Romania. He didn’t have a clear explanation to back up his statement so I quickly discounted it. Now that we’ve been here visiting family for the Easter holiday, and I’ve had a chance to get out running a few times, I can give clear reason why people don’t run here… STREET DOGS!
There is a particularly nasty dog about 8 houses down from Viorel’s parents house and he’s clearly been on the block for a very long time. He’s about 7 pounds or 3 and a half kilos (but don’t let his size fool you), missing an eye and, well, he just looks mean. I was innocently running past when all of a sudden he jumped in my path and put my run to a very abrupt stop. …I had run into his territory.
Now, I love dogs and I’m a naive foreigner, so I was not going to be scared of this little dog. (Later I learned his name is Chiorovel which is the Romanian equivalent of “one-eyed Willie”.) Chiorovel’s growling and barking woke up all the other dogs and they quickly emerged out of nowhere, from every corner and card board box (literally). Having his pack nearby boasted his confidence and then, I’ll admit it, I was scared of him and his scruffy, school of hard knocks, street dog pack. So, I gave up on my run and turned to head home. But as soon as my back was turned he lunged at me! I had no choice but to walk backwards (facing Chiorovel) until I was safely home.
Chiorovel and his pack were really loud and I was surprised that no one came out to see what all the commotion was about. Really, no one came out to investigate what was going on! When I got back to my husbands house, I told my story and then asked why no one heard anything? I mean, really, the whole scene was so loud! It turns out that everyone here is used to the dog packs and barks and their activity just blends and goes un-noticed. So, they didn’t hear or notice a thing.
More importantly, the “attack” focused my attention on the problem of street dogs in Romania- and world wide! Street dogs aren’t exclusive to Romania, they are also a problem in certain cities in the U.S., Australia, India, Taiwan, Greece, and many more (Mott 2003). Like most foreigners I like the dogs and feel sorry for them. Tavi and I embarrass whoever we’re with by trying to feed and (sometimes) pet them. But in all seriousness, these dogs are a real and dangerous problem. In Romania, dog bites occur on a regular basis and I’ve read and heard many reports of people being attacked. In fact, there were even sad cases where the dogs have caused deaths. The most recent, september 2013, was a 4 year old boy who was mauled and eaten by a pack of street dogs in the capital city of Bucharest (Dancu 2013).
These street dogs (or maidanezi in Romanian) aren’t all necessarily “street dogs” because they (for the most part) very loosely “belong” to someone. Or, rather, someone is feeding them and they live near or around peoples homes. For example Chiorovel, and most of his “pack”, live in the compound down the street. There does appear to be many legitimate street dogs that live in old abandoned buildings and eat the trash that litters the streets. In fact, I’ve even seen these dogs adapting to city life by crossing the street at crosswalks along side people. (Seriously, It was so amazing I kept looking to see if there was anyone the dog could belong to… but it had no owner!)
The Romanians I’ve spoke to blame systemization, or displacement of people (and consequently dogs), during the communist regime. Which makes sense and definitely contributed to the problem. However, the problem of street dogs persists in every developing and developed country I’ve ever lived in or visited. It does not seem to be exclusive to systemization or post systemization. So, the real root of the problem is most likely social.
Most countries, including Romania, have effective animal control programs and veterinary services (like SPCAA) that help keep the numbers of stray animals under control. But these services aren’t enough without changes to social norms. Ionut Simion, owner of Waves kennel in Romania, explains that “people here just don’t think to neuter their dogs”. He says that if there really is to be change in Romania we need to invest in education and encourage people to really take on the full responsibility of their dogs, including proper care and neutering.
The problem of stray dogs in Romania is undoubtedly complicated and controversial. The long term solution is difficult, requiring strategic planning, education and implementation of a new social and cultural norms. On a lighter note, the short term solution to my running problem has been to schedule my workout early, before the street dogs wake up, so I can sneak past them (6 am) or run in the local park.