Cumbria Life Magazine

My feature in Cumbria Life magazine. Romanian Rescue

Thank you to Sarah French @ Cumbria Life Magazine for featuring my story of Romanian Rescue.

 Giving a dog a home

 The discovery of Romania’s neglected orphans in the 1980s-90s shocked the world,


the poor treatment did not end at children, according to a Cumbrian dog trainer and adopter of overseas rescue pets

Romanian Rescue
my first Romanian rescue

It was the unforgettably sad face staring back at her from a photograph that grabbed Doreen Potter’s attention.

Locked in a cage, the dog looked malnourished and desperate. Doreen could notlook away, she had to act.

The animal was Roma and today, ten years later, she is an affectionate, well fed and well loved pet living in Gosforth with two doggy pals and a devoted owner. 

She is the picture of contentment, lying on her bed and being fed treats, occasionally getting up to check on the visitor sitting on the sofa.

It has been a long road to get here, however, and there has been sadness along the way for Doreen,who did not stop at Roma when it came to helping dogs living on the streets of Romania. 

She has adopted five in all, and now supports other owners who, like her, were swayed by the sight of a rescue dog on a social media page but unaware of the challenges that may come with offering them a new home in England.

Originally from Paisley, in Scotland, Doreen moved to Cumbria 35 years and worked as a psychiatric nurse in nursing homes. She has had dogs all her life, in particular being a trainer of collies.

It was during a brief spell of doglessness that she saw the picture of Roma. 

“I knew nothing about her other than she was an adult dog and in a shelter in Timisoara, in western Romania".

It was when the dog catchers were rife in Romania. People were employed to go out and catch them with nooses. It didn’t matter if the dogs were alive or dead, they were paid for every dog they took off the streets, so there was mass slaughter.

They were put into shelters that were built on the edges of towns but they didn’t treat them well.

There were 500-600 where Roma was. They didn’t spay them so pups were being born in an uncontrolled way, disease was rife, dogs starved to death.”

Romania's problem with stray dogs stems from the country's communist period when its president

Nicolau Ceausescu forced thousands of residents into crowded city tenements. The apartment blocks did not allow pets so many people had to abandon their dogs.

The charity Barking Mad Dog Rescue says: “For more than 20 years, dogs in Romania have been chased, beaten, captured, abused and killed. They are routinely shot, hanged, poisoned and bludgeoned to death.”

After stray dogs were accused of attacking a small boy in Bucharest in 2013, the government pushed through a law allowing all dogs in public shelters to be euthanised after 14 days. So time was short and running out for many animals.

Roma spent five days being transported by road to the UK and finally arrived at the pick-up point at Gretna at midnight on a Sunday. 

“We came home and that’s when my learning started,” says Doreen.

“They are not what we would consider ‘normal’ dogs,” she explains. “They are definitely wired differently. They need to feel safe and because of the life they’ve had everything is unsafe to them until they know differently. 

They are survivors upon survivors.”

Roma’s particular quirks in the beginning included being scared of plastic in hedges and being petrified of people. “She would bolt at loud noises and not care where she was going.”

Knowing how to help Roma was a gradual learning process, says Doreen. “We learned together. And I made mistakes, like putting her in situations she wasn’t ready for. 

With these dogs it’s about decompression and working at their pace because if you don’t it can go quite wrong.”

Through her unique experience, and discovering more about her new pet, Doreen was soon hooked.

“I’ve never known a dog as special as her. She has such empathy with people. These dogs are so rewarding because they seem to relate to human emotions a lot more. They are able to read body language and are very, very astute and sensitive. They’re really tuned into signals, and they find UK dogs quite bad mannered actually.”

Along with Roma, Doreen had, Tai, a German shepherd former police dog, who was also a rescue pet but unfortunately he passed away.

“Roma pined because Tai was her best pal and gave her confidence. She went into a deep depression and stopped eating properly. She went backwards quite a lot so I got another, a puppy called Juno from the same area where Roma came from but not from a kill shelter. 

She had been found with her siblings on a rail track and was in a private foster.

“Roma loved her. Her mood lifted and she became a role model for the puppy.”

Romanian rescue
Roma and Juno

Unfortunately, Juno had been spayed before she was four months old which Doreen believes was to blame for various health problems she had especially in the development of her hips and knees.

“Her quality of life was never going to be good and we had to take the decision to have her put to sleep.”

Romanian rescue
Barry in the shelter

Before Juno died, Doreen adopted another dog, Barry, from the same shelter Roma had come from a year later. Whereas Roma is an Anatolian shepherd cross, Barry is from the Mioritic breed. “They are both flock guardian breeds so they are independent thinkers. Barry is a clown, a doer, whereas Roma is much more of a thinker, but you don’t teach the breed, you teach the individual dog.”

The latest addition to the family from Romania in the past year is Whisper, who Doreen admits is her most challenging dog so far. “She’s very, very clever and needs constant work.”

Romanian rescue

When Doreen was made redundant, she reinvested her payment into doing qualifications and setting up her business specialising in training anxious and nervous dogs, alongside doing moreresearch into the plight of Romanian and other overseas rescue dogs, including spending time on the streets and in shelters in the country learning about how to support its dogs.

“Vets here don’t keep records of the countries of origin of dogs they treat but one told me they had roughly ten-12 in their practice. There are 59 vet practices in Cumbria, so if you multiply that as an average it’s quite a lot of dogs.

“There must be people out there who are struggling. I was an ‘expert’ in dogs before I got a Romanian dog. They are completely different and that’s why people need help.”

Doreen has responded by setting up a private online support community for owners of overseas rescue dogs adopted by families in Cumbria. She also offers training via Zoom.

“People aren’t very good at seeking help because they blame themselves. I ask them to put the guilt away and start again. They also wait, thinking the dog will ‘settle down’ but if the dog has never learned it won’t get better and problems may escalate.

“You can’t treat these dogs the same. They need much more understanding of their emotional needs. If you don't work with their feelings you will just suppress it, like a sticking plaster when you don’t know what’s going on underneath.”

A common difficulty is separation anxiety, for which Doreen suggests a structured programme that can be time consuming.

“You can’t teach a dog who is in a stressed state so you have to eliminate the stress factors and get them to a level where you can work with them.

“They may have come from a not very nice place, but it was the place they knew, and if it was the streets that is at least somewhere where they had freedom of choice.”

She recognises that owners love their dog and want to show them love, but sometimes may be trying too hard. 

“You have to let them decompress and take in and adjust to this new life. People think all it takes is a comfy bed, nice meals and a lovely garden but that is so different to what the dog is used to that it takes a while for them to adjust. It takes at least three weeks for them to decompress, but it may take longer as it’s individual to each dog.

“My advice is not to rush taking them out for a walk or socialising them. You have to work on building trust and a bond so they know where they live is a safe place before you do anything else.

As an owner you’ll know when the bond is there, then you can start doing other things.”

Potential rescuers should also be aware that rescue dogs can be expensive as they may need additional veterinary care. “Barry has had a hip operation, but on the other hand Roma hasn’t had anything. 

You just don’t know in advance so you should be prepared for that,” says Doreen.

The ‘import’ of rescue dogs can be a controversial topic particularly since the pandemic where it is believed more people turned to overseas dogs when they were unable to source an animal in the UK, perhaps because they were turned down by shelters.

In April 2022, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suspended the commercial import of dogs from Romania and some other eastern European countries at high risk of rabies, including rescue animals, because of a “serious health risk to humans and animals” in the UK.

The temporary ban was lifted in October 2022 with additional regulations in place.

However, with the pandemic over and rescue charities being inundated with unwanted dogs or pets whose owners can no longer look after them because of changed circumstances and the economic crisis, there are fears of a housing crisis for the nation’s dogs.

“It’s so easy to fall in love with a dog but if you don’t go through a reputable charity or it’s a rescue where they won’t take a dog back, the problem of dogs to rehome grows. The rescue system here is already full,” says Doreen.

“People who ordered puppies are ready to be homed now and the teenage rescue dogs they may have seen on social media are now fully grown adults. If someone wants a dog, I do encourage them to take an adult as they are fully developed already.”

Finally, she adds: “People have good hearts and want to do their best. If they don’t do their research or realise what they are getting into it may not be a happy experience for them or their dog, but there is help available.”

FB: @A2BDogTrainingandBehaviour


Categories: : Romanian Rescue