THE BLOG

Mihailesti Shelter Neglect

08/10/2013 12:35 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Mihailesti Shelter, in Bucharest, Romania, is an animal sanctuary operated by the local government to house stray dogs, ostensibly while efforts are made to locate their owner, if they have one, or find them a forever home if they do not.

Publicly funded shelters matching homeless dogs to dog-loving citizens - sounds like an ideal, humane solution to the city's (and, indeed, the whole of Romania's) overwhelming stray dog problem, doesn't it? Unfortunately, as is often the case with seemingly ideal solutions, all is not as it appears to be at Mihailesti Shelter.

For one thing, new legislation means that, in Romania, stray dogs are kept in shelters for a maximum of 14 days. If, at the end of that period, they remain unowned, they are unceremoniously - and viciously - killed. Unsurprisingly, it is incredibly difficult to find owners, be they old or new, in so short a time. For many of its occupants, therefore, Mihailesti Shelter is but a brief stopover en route to oblivion.

For another, conditions at Mihailesti stretch the definition of "shelter" to breaking point. According to oxforddictionaries.com, it is is a noun meaning, "a place giving temporary protection from bad weather or danger." It can also be a verb, meaning, "protect or shield from something harmful, especially bad weather."

Clearly, the overall gist is of protection from harm, danger and / or adverse weather. As applied to an animal sanctuary, one might be forgiven for picturing an establishment where stray dogs are given regular food and water, veterinary care as needed, and accommodation that is warm, dry, clean, safe, disease free and not dangerously overcrowded.

In reality, however, the situation at Mihailesti Shelter is shockingly different. One local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), posting via Facebook, and reproduced here, describes how dogs were left in roofless, outdoor cages for two days despite bitterly cold weather and non-stop torrential rain. The only concession to the inclement conditions was an overhead net, intended to provide shade in summer, but utterly useless as shelter from rain.

Staff at the shelter allegedly refused to move the animals to indoor accommodation, claiming to be "too busy". They where eventually shamed into doing so when the NGO brought along a television crew to record the situation.

So much for protection from bad weather! Needless to say, Mihailesti fares no better on the other essential characteristics that differentiate a respectable animal sanctuary from a mere death camp for stray dogs.

According to B365.ro, translated (very badly) into English by Google's translator software here, prosecutors from Romania's High Court of Cassation and Justice began an investigation into Mihailesti Shelter in late September 2013, following complaints from concerned NGO representatives.

They told prosecutors that they had witnessed cruelty at the shelter, with two or more dogs kept in cages designed for just one animal. Groups of 20 - 30 large dogs were kept together, with no attempt to segregate them based on their age, sex or health. Naturally, under these stressful circumstances, this lead to death and injury as the dogs fought over limited food, and allowed disease to spread quickly through the groups. They had seen healthy dogs become sick and weak, they said, while others were observed to have fractures and open wounds that had been left untreated. Clouds of flies surrounded the injured dogs.

So closely confined are the dogs at Mihailesti that, according to staff, their food is routinely contaminated with their own faeces. As a result, instead of giving the dogs more room, they simply throw away both food and faeces, leaving the dogs hungry and cramped. This, the NGO representatives claimed, was a ridiculous waste of resources when the shelter purported to be so short of funds that it couldn't afford to even put wooden floors in its cages, forcing dogs to lie on cold, wet concrete.

During the investigation, the NGO representatives found a dead puppy in a cage, alongside its live littermates and mother. Staff at the shelter refused to acknowledge that the dead dog was one of theirs, as no paperwork or database entries existed for it - the idea that this unfortunate animal might have slipped through the bureaucratic net appeared to be beyond them.

Shelter management refused to comment on the investigation, but, in an action that could have been calculated to enrage Romanian animal lovers, they suspended all dog adoptions from the facility until the investigation is complete, forcing dogs to remain even longer in those appalling conditions. Tellingly, prosecutors themselves were happy for adoptions to continue, suggesting that there was no real reason to suspend adoptions.

Matters came to a head in early October when, as reported by badpolitics.ro and also mentioned here, prospective adopters and shelter staff came to blows.

After making arrangements with the shelter management, a group of about 15 animal lovers arrived Mihailesti shelter. They formed an orderly queue outside, where they were kept waiting for two hours or more, with only two people being allowed into the building to adopt a stray dog in all that time. Then staff closed a metal security door, preventing anyone else from entering the shelter, and began euthanising the dogs inside, even as adopters stood helplessly by. Unsurprisingly, tempers were somewhat frayed, and the police became involved.

Evidently, Mihailesti Shelter is a shelter in name only. In actuality, it is little more than a cold, unpleasant, disease-ridden detention centre, where stray dogs are taken to die, thereby saving the cost of killing them. Although, if they are so stubborn as to survive 14 days in those hellish conditions, the shelter has no qualms about euthanizing them anyway, regardless of whether or not anyone is willing to adopt them.

It is difficult to understand how anyone could be so cruel. Even allowing for limited resources, why would the staff ignore willing adopters in favour of killing hapless dogs? Are they merely sadistic, or is there a more nefarious, profitable explanation? Time will tell.