It’s 5 am and Norica Prigoana wakes with a burning throat and runny nose that no amount of tea and tissue can control. She sits up in bed and tries to ignore the body aches that ripple from the top of her head to the soles of her feet. Norica shuffles around the kitchen, preparing breakfast for 18 dogs and cats who are yawning and beginning to come to life. A couple of the animals lie patiently in their beds, paralyzed and unable to greet Norica with anything more than a tender look. Their shoulders still wiggle and you can almost sense the phantom wags of their tails. Each of them knows that food is coming and the sheer surprise of having regular meals has not yet worn off.
Once the pack at home are fed and cared for, Norica slides a coat over her arms and glances over at her husband Cristian who is putting on his boots. Without a word, the two head out to begin their rounds feeding stray dogs and caring for the 50 or so lucky ones who are now safe at the couple’s small rescue center. And though fever begins to swell inside her body, Norica would walk through fire to get to the dogs who need her. She and Cristian begin lifting enormous sacks of kibble onto their shoulders and disappear down the street.
One of Many Rescuers Who Would Walk Through Fire
Norica and Cristian are among the cluster of good people who are holding a thin line between the unwanted dogs in Romania and the authorities who vow to kill them. After a dreadful tragedy earlier this month in which an unattended 4-year-old boy was killed by a dog, there has been a swell of politicians elbowing one another to get in front of television camera and declare their support for a massive ‘extermination’ campaign for dogs. And while the same exercise 20 years ago had no true impact on the population of street dogs that simply rebound, there is a thirst for justice here and the science of humane stray control has simply fallen to the floor.
Many of the dogs that Norica has rescued come from the public shelter. Not just in Romania, but in many parts of the Balkans, these centers are notorious for what goes on inside as the dogs seem to suffer in one of two ways. Either they land in a shelter where food and water are withheld until the dogs are weak enough to be easily killed or they linger in a barren facility in which their most basic needs go unanswered.
“The dogs are stressed and desperate to be free,” Norica explains. “Many of them are imprisoned for almost two years in the public hell. They have never been in more miserable conditions where the winter is colder than outside. If they could talk, you would be horrified to know the truth behind these iron doors.”
Finding Hope in the Smallest Things
Under the banner Hope for Animals, Norica alone has pulled 160 dogs from this one shelter and taken them to her own shelter for complete physical and emotional recovery before placing them up for adoption, mostly internationally. Yet she’s now been given two months notice to leave the land where her own shelter sits, and despite promise from the municipality to help her find a new space, it now appears she’s on her own.
“Norica has had 15 operations to try to correct her poorly hip, foot and leg,” says supporter Debbie Evans. “She should not be lifting or spending so long on her feet, but as she says to me, ‘these Angels are my life, and I can never not go to them.’”
“She is an inspiration,” Debbie continues. “The seriousness of her situation, with her shelter under the threat of being evicted by the owner, her fear of having no other premises to move to, is causing her to lose weight rapidly. Despite pleas to the mayor and city hall, she is regarded as ‘crazy’, to want to help these dogs that bring no money in.”
New Mission: “Hope is the only bee that makes honey without flowers.” – Robert Ingersoll
A flurry of support is beginning to take shape for not only Norica and Cristian, but for many others just like them who maneuver over obstacles three-stories-high. There is particular emphasis on preparing animals for the impact of winter on the streets and in sub-standard shelters. To learn more about efforts to help, click here.