Romanian dogs brought to Norfolk

Caspar at Hillside Animal Sanctuary Caspar was tied up outside and endured freezing temperatures, Hillside said

When each truck reaches its destination in the Norfolk countryside, its cargo has been travelling by road for three days, across seven countries and for 1,600 miles (2,700 km).

Hillside Animal Sanctuary, in Frettenham, never knows what to expect when its staff open the doors and welcome their new arrivals.

The dogs waiting inside have not only been on a long journey by road, but have often endured years of abuse before embarking on what will be their new life in Norfolk.

Since January, a relaxation in quarantine law has meant Hillside has been able to receive these regular deliveries of stray dogs from Bucharest, in Romania, where many thousands of dogs roam the streets.

Instead of spending six months in expensive confinement, dogs which meet certain requirements can quickly become family pets.

John Watson, of Hillside, said it has meant it can help two dog shelters in Bucharest which are struggling to rehome rescued dogs.

Strays have become a problem in the country since the 1980s, with their breeding going unchecked and many exposed to cruelty and abuse.

'All so friendly'

"We've all heard of dogs being ill-treated but the cruelty to dogs in Romania is on another level," said Mr Watson.

"We were powerless to help before, but we saw the change in quarantine in January as a chance to get the dogs out and give them a new life."

Mishka before and after being treated for his neck wound Mishka, found with a chain embedded in his neck, now lives on the Norfolk coast

The charity pays £200 to bring over each dog, which under the new quarantine rules must be vaccinated, microchipped, have travel documentation and be transported by an approved company.

It has helped about 50 dogs and rehomed more than 30, but Mr Watson said he can clearly remember the arrival of the first 14.

"They had all been so badly treated they could have lashed out as we approached them but they didn't, they came towards us.

"One of the dogs, Petronel, had been found with wire around his middle, which had just about cut him in half. He had also been beaten and blinded in one eye.

"But even after all that, he was still friendly when he came here."

Chain in neck

Among those first dogs was seven-year-old Mishka, who was also the first to leave the sanctuary when Jane Norman, of Sea Palling, snapped him up a week later.

Romania's stray dog problem

Kurk at Hillside Animal Sanctuary
  • The UK-based Dogs Trust said the stray dog population rocketed in Romania when former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu forced people to move into large complexes where pets were forbidden.
  • It believes the solution is for dogs to be neutered, vaccinated, and released, allowing the population to diminish naturally. Education on dogs, veterinary clinics and temporary shelters are also "vital".
  • A proposed law to let local authorities kill strays was ruled as unconstitutional in Romania earlier this year.
  • Shelters for large numbers of dogs are being considered by Bucharest authorities, but the Dogs Trust is doubtful they will work well.

He had been found abandoned with a chain embedded into his neck and had lost the sight in one eye due to neglect.

"I was looking for dogs on the Hillside website and thought the tales of cruelty were absolutely awful, and I think Mishka's was probably the worst of them," said Ms Norman.

"His neck hasn't completely healed - parts of it will never get the fur back and he has to wear a harness rather than a collar and a lead.

"But personality-wise, you would not know what he had gone through, he is so friendly with everyone.

"You could see his confidence growing and now he's a very happy little chap. He's an absolute dear."

Mr Watson added: "We've had some supporters ask us why we're doing this, but once you know that this is happening we cannot then say 'we only help British dogs'."

The Dogs Trust's international director David Newall said: "We are trying to get to a point where we can help countries like Romania as we know there is an urgent need and we also know that they have some fabulous dogs for rehoming.

"We do expect more and more groups to be doing this now the relaxation of the legislation has come into place."

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