Home » Legacy » 2.5 million homeless dogs – one quest for change

Gemma Hebden

ROLDA UK Chief Coordinator

“It’s hard to envisage 2.5 million stray dogs currently roaming the streets of Romania.” Read Maia’s story and find out how you can help homeless dogs just like her.

As Romania is not a tourist destination, much of the suffering of homeless dogs goes unseen. The government is less active in attempting to solve the issue; making the ‘trap, neuter, return’ system illegal seems to work against organisations such as ROLDA (Romanian League of Defence of Animals).

“We were very active running sterilisation campaigns for stray dogs in the past, but now we concentrate on pet dogs” says Gemma, International Manager for ROLDA. “The problem is made increasingly worse by people abandoning their pets when they are ill or are pregnant. By neutering pets from disadvantaged communities, we are tackling the problem before the dogs become homeless. This has been statically shown to work”.

However, making matters worse, the authority’s response to Romania’s stray dogs has been to invoke a law that allows public dog shelters to euthanise a dog 14 days after they have been caught. Unsurprisingly, the methods are inhumane and the numbers of dogs coming to a violent death in these establishments is overwhelming. “Not only is it incredibly sad that these dogs are suffering in such huge numbers; this method of stray-control is an ineffective, even counterproductive, way of dealing with the stray population,” Gemma explains. “The gentle, friendly and submissive dogs are caught by the dog catchers, leaving the more aggressive, feral dogs to roam and reproduce. ROLDA rescue as many dogs from public shelters as we possibly can, before their time is up”.

Where ROLDA began

ROLDA is a charity from very humble beginnings. It started when Dana Costin, ROLDA’s founder, rescued a German Shepherd that had been used for dog fighting. “It was amazing really”, says Gemma. “Dana spoke no English and couldn’t work a computer. Yet, after igniting a passion to rescue stray dogs, ROLDA became a small organisation, established as a charity, attracting vital support for our shelters.”

We do our best to ensure they find the home they deserve, it’s the reason we are here. We are very passionate about that.

Dana went on to establish the first formal group of animal rescuers in the city of Galati, driven by a vision to change the fates of Romania’s millions of homeless dogs for the better. Today, many of the dogs ROLDA rescue are badly abused or injured.

ROLDA currently cares for 700 dogs (and a donkey called Ben!) between two purpose-built shelters and has helped over 20,000 dogs and other animals to date (including a donkey called Ben!). They have overseen the successful rehoming of nearly 1800 dogs to happy homes across Europe.

Maia’s story

Maia before, during and after her recovery

Maia came to ROLDA having suffered horrendous injuries to both front legs. She required dozens of hours of surgery, four months in intensive care and over a year of hospitalisation in the care of ROLDA’s expert veterinary medical team.

Gemma explains the lengths ROLDA will go to for a dog like Maia, “ROLDA never gives up on an animal where there exists a chance of an acceptable quality of life.”

Abandoned during the pandemic

Despite the coronavirus crisis, ROLDA still continues to rescue, which is even more vital now dog abandonments are on the increase in the local area. “Many owners mistakenly believe their dogs can infect them. We are finding many scared, abandoned dogs, some still with collars on. It’s heartbreaking.”

A gift to ROLDA helps to end the suffering of dogs that would otherwise be unseen. ROLDA is their best hope to be rescued, rehabilitated, and adopted into loving homes. Like many charities, ROLDA relies on the support from kind and compassionate people who want to help them end the suffering of millions of stray dogs.

It costs £110k to run the shelters each year which are sustained entirely by international giving; “Donations and legacies are our life source” says Gemma, “we cannot continue to operate without the generous support from people all over the world”.

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Home » Legacy » 2.5 million homeless dogs – one quest for change

Elisa Moscolin

Head of Sustainability & CSR, Santander UK

Charlotte Matier

Director of Development, Alzheimer’s Society

Hannorah Lee

Director of Partnerships, Age UK

When businesses and charities work in partnership, they can pool their expertise, find effective solutions to complex issues and drive systemic change.

These days, most forward-thinking organisations and companies understand the importance of acting sustainably and responsibly.

In order to achieve this ambition and thrive, businesses need local communities and the wider society to prosper too.

Indeed, we know that ‘no business can ever succeed in isolation’, insists Elisa Moscolin, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility at Santander.

The importance of partnership

To make a real difference in this area, effective teamwork is needed with other stakeholders who are experts in their respective fields.

For example, to improve the lives of older people and those affected by dementia and ensure they have better access to financial services, Santander and the charities Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK have formed a strategic partnership.

The charities advise us on how to best support older people and those affected by dementia. So, when COVID-19 struck, the bank was already using their expertise to support and respond to our customers’ needs.

The operative word here is ‘strategic’. Many organisations will partner up with charities, but offer arm’s length support, such as donations.

There’s nothing wrong with this because charities need the financial support to deliver their vital work, notes Moscolin, but her organisation wanted to do something over and above cheque-writing.

Working as ‘one’ makes a partnership stronger

“We’re always asking how we can better serve an ageing population and people living with dementia to empower them to stay financially independent for longer,” Moscolin says.

“We’re not experts in dementia or later life, but the charities are. By working as one, we can make the most of our different areas of expertise and, together, find effective solutions to complex issues.”

One outcome has been the creation of a steering group — made up of people living with or affected by dementia — to make sure the bank’s products, services and process are dementia friendly.

In developing this type of initiative, it’s not enough for strategic partners to be close, says Moscolin; they must identify as a collective.

Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK have seconded staff to work within Santander to influence and drive change across the bank.

The charities also participate in team meetings. “We realised that if we work as one, our partnership will be stronger,” says Moscolin.

An effective way to make big improvements

The trust and respect fostered by this way of working allows the charities to speak “as critical friends” to the bank.

“Because we’re a team’, we’re able to ask: ‘OK. We’ve hit a brick wall. How do we collectively go around this?’” says Moscolin.

Having a strong strategic relationship also helps during a crisis. “The charities advise us on how to best support older people and those affected by dementia. So, when COVID-19 struck, the bank was already using their expertise to support and respond to our customers’ needs. In partnership with the Santander Foundation, we also offered support to the charities to help vulnerable people in our communities.”

“All three partners have big ambitions,” says Hannorah Lee, Director of Partnerships at Age UK. “We all want to build a better world for people who are most in need and we recognised that working strategically is our best chance to drive big, systemic change.

“If we can influence the way an organisation works with other people and harness its skills to help us achieve our objectives, we thought it was the obvious thing to do.”

Why strategic partnerships are the future

Charlotte Matier, Director of Development at Alzheimer’s Society, agrees. “Other organisations will see there’s a different style of working with charities that goes far beyond fund-raising — one that adds commercial value and improves the experience of customers. It is not just a socially responsible step to ensuring that people are embraced and understood. There is a clear economic case demonstrating that dementia-friendly businesses are more successful in retaining and attracting customers.

“There’s also a bit of peer pressure. Do you really want to be the only company working in your industry that isn’t dementia inclusive?”

This type of private sector/third sector strategic partnership is still relatively rare, but it’s the future say Lee, Matier and Moscolin.

“Obviously, we want to be a commercially successful organisation, and we want to do that by being a responsible and sustainable bank. This means taking a broader, holistic view to make sure our commercial decisions are also socially and environmentally sound.

“Working in strategic partnership with charities has done that by changing the way we think and operate” concluded Moscolin

For more information about Santander, Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK’s strategic partnership, access www.santandersustainability.co.uk/partnerships

Santander UK plc. Registered Office: 2 Triton Square, Regent’s Place, London, NW1 3AN, United Kingdom. Registered Number 2294747. Registered in England and Wales. www.santander.co.uk. Telephone 0800 389 7000. Santander and the flame logo are registered trademarks. Copyright © Santander UK plc. All rights reserved.

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