Imagine you’re walking down an alley, between two rows of apartment buildings. You find yourself tugging at the collar of your coat in an attempt to try and recreate the heat of the scarf you forgot. Stopping dead in your tracks, almost slipping on the ice, you spot a black cat crossing your path: “O man, now I’ll have bad luck”, you say to yourself. The cat moves fast, but you manage to catch a good look of her as she jumps at the top of a fence and rests; one eye glued shut, her belly hanging almost to the ground and the worst of all, a tremble shattering her bones. You sigh, but continue walking. You realise you’re not the only one struck by bad luck.

Did you find it hard to imagine this scenario? I would think not, as this is the sad reality of many homeless animals, especially in our country. A very high number of cats and dogs wander the streets of Romania in all kinds of pitiable states. No matter the condition of the animal, be that it is strayed, abandoned, feral, born in the streets, actions need to be taken in order to ensure at least an improvement in the health of these beings, if full rescue is not an option.

Even though the problem of homeless animals is present all around the world, it is present in Romania in particular, seeing as most Romanians seem to have an aversion towards them. The rise in the numbers of dogs in Romania started during the Communist regime when people from the rural areas were forced to move to the city, having to leave their dogs behind to survive by themselves. In the past decade and a half, multiple laws have been brought up and considered in the Parliament, many of which suggested the mass killing of the stray dogs in order to reduce their number. The death of a 4-year old in 2013, killed by a dog, spurred this wish. Animal rights organisations and politicians are still fighting and trying to come with a solution, a reliable program or system.

Meanwhile, organisations like ICare exist. For almost four years a community of people has been trying to help the cats and dogs of Cluj-Napoca, to balance out the levels of homeless animals and give them a chance at a better life.

As I spoke to ICare’s president Ramona Axinte, I realized how necessary people like her are, in a world where people don’t start working on change, because they feel their small efforts won’t matter anyway. When I asked Ramona how the organisation came to be, she told me she gained experience at other associations, by experimenting with the shelter system. In the end, along with her two former partners, she came to her own understanding of what saving animals really means and they “created a concept that fit us and in which we believed: a foster care system in which the animals receive the utmost care, nourishment of the maximum quality and the right veterinary treatments. For us, only a few animals taken care of, but with the maximum effort put in, means the recipe of success in truly saving lives.”

“For us, only a few animals taken care of, but with the maximum effort put in, means the recipe of success in truly saving lives.”

A very present issue related to the high number of homeless animals on the streets is caused by the existence of pet shops, which are filled with dogs that mainly come from breeders that force the animals to mate, for their own profit. This action is done in unsafe environments and very many puppies are born with disabilities due to this. “People need to understand that the animals in pet shops aren’t truly purebred and that they come from unknown sources. Adoption is a controlled phenomenon, where you are in contact with the person/persons that took care of your animal until that moment; you get their (the animal’s) health card and their medical history is known. The safety (of the animal) should prime over the aspect. There still is a lot of misinformation on this topic” said the president of the organization.

ICare represents a community that manages both the adoptions and fostering of cats and dogs. They don’t have a personal shelter, but instead resort to putting the animals in fosters care, which means taking an animal in, to help it adjust to home life in a warm environment instead of a shelter, until a permanent owner comes along: “Most people that offer (to foster) live in rented places and it is very important that they discuss with the owner, to make sure they agree having animals in the apartments. We currently have 26 animals in foster or checked into a cabinet.” After a while all animals end up getting adopted, some sooner, some later. Asking Ramona if there is any discrimination regarding the adoption choice, she said that: “There is a lot of it and not just related to age. (…) Discrimination also happens based on the colour, animals with a more special colouring being preferred over those with classical colours, also based on disability, animals without an eye/member or any type of visible flaw are almost impossible to be adopted in Romania, these only having a chance abroad.”

“Animals with a disability or any type of visible flaw are almost impossible to be adopted in Romania, these only having a chance abroad.”

Taking care of the health of these animals is a top priority for ICare, which has created the project “Pisica de Cartier”, that focuses on raising the money for the procedures of sterilisation and spaying of stray cats. In 2017, 108 cats have been sterilised. This action is “the only viable solution as a combative method” against overpopulation, which represents a phenomenon also caused by abandonment, by people not realising that animals are a long term responsibility.

If you want to help ICare and get involved in the saving and bettering the lives of stray animals you can become a volunteer. Just get in touch with the community by searching it on social media. More than that, according to Ramona Axinte, ICare organises multiple events that are accessible to everyone such as: “adoption fairs and food donation gatherings at Vivo Mall, Garage Sale type events in different places downtown, as well as anniversary and educational events.” Attending these will be a sure way of making yourself noticed and being one step closer to making a change.

Thus, the next time you see that black cat or that ragged dog in your way, try first checking whether it is friendly or not and then calling a specialized association to come pick it up and give it the chance of a finer life.