Written by Gayle du Preez
Professional photography by Catchlight Image Photography (www.catchlight-image.com)
From living in a Romanian shelter to enjoying the South African beaches…
Romania is a country that’s unfortunately known for its animal cruelty, and it’s made headlines thanks to its stray dog problem. At some stage, over 600,000 dogs and cats lived on the streets of Romania, more than in any other European country. Dogcatchers try to control the situation by executing a “catch and kill” policy. Stray dogs are caught and thrown into cages at so-called Death Stations. Animal shelters have two weeks to rescue them, or else the animals are “destroyed”. Horrendous stories have been witnessed where dogs have been thrown alive into fire or been electrocuted.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the world’s largest animal shelter, called Smeura, is in Romania. They fight to save as many stray dogs as possible and to find them new homes. They also try to educate the public on neutering and spaying the dogs, instead of killing them. Smeura is located in Pitesti, about 150 kilometres north east of the capital, Bucharest. More than 5,500 dogs live there, and little Leo was one of them.
This Dachshund Pekingese mix, Leo, was born in the extremely cold winter of 2015. We don’t know whether he was born in the streets of Pitesti, or in the shelter, or if he was born in a proper home and just dumped at the shelter. By Leo’s side was his little sister, later named Mia. Both fur babies survived the first three months in the shelter and, for some reason, were chosen to travel to Western Europe for a chance to be adopted. Smeura cooperates with various animal shelters across Europe, and, when they have space, they help dogs from Romania and other countries to find forever homes. Smeura has to make sure that all animals have been vaccinated and declared fit to travel. Then the fur babies are equipped with an EU passport and are ready for their new journey. Sadly, the journey is long, and a lot of them don’t make it. After travelling for two days, Leo and Mia arrived at the German animal shelter, together with two other puppies.
By the time they got out of the van, they were starved, thirsty and riddled with Giardia, an aggressive parasite that causes diarrhoea, cramps, bloating, and other discomfort. It took almost two months and lots of antibiotics to treat them. But, gosh, while they looked so sad, they were the sweetest things ever. In order to keep themselves occupied, they chased each other and tried to eat stones to curb their hunger.
During their first two weeks in Germany, the local vet attended to their basic needs. Once declared healthy, they were ready for adoption. Mia and the other two instantly found new homes, and a day later we decided to adopt Leo. First, however, we had to make sure that his older fur sister, Abby, wouldn’t mind him moving in as she’d been a single child for 13 years. While Leo waited in the German animal shelter for us to get ready, he was so desperate to find a human who cared for him. Whenever somebody walked past his cage he stood up on his back legs and did a little dance to grab their attention. Maybe his show talents helped to get him and his sister selected to travel from Romania to Germany for a second chance? How else do you choose between 5,500 other dogs?
On the 14th of June 2015, Leo moved in with us, and Abby was cool with her new baby brother, although he was a handful in the beginning. At times we were too scared to come home, not knowing how he’d rearranged the house. Leo aimed to show off in front of his older sister, who was very patient with him, but now and then she threw him on his back to educate him.
When Abby passed away in December 2015, Leo was devastated and looked for her for quite some time. He’s very sensitive and sensed our shock, too. One of Abby’s favourite spots was her leather couch, and he never tried to get onto the couch. A few months after her passing, he made a small move towards the couch, looking and seeking permission as to whether it was okay for him now to lie on it. We still have the couch, and Leo enjoys it now as much as Abby did.
The little man also made a name for himself as a lifesaver. In 2016, we went away for a holiday and left him with a friend. One night, he poked and alerted her that something was wrong with her 90-year-old mother. Thanks to Leo, the old lady was rushed to the hospital just in time. She’s still around, and Leo inhabits a special place in their hearts. In fact, they were very sad having to say goodbye to him when he moved to South Africa in June 2017, as he spent his last few days in Germany with them.
While we flew via Dubai to Cape Town a few days ahead of him, Leo took the direct flight from Frankfurt to Cape Town. We didn’t mention to him that he flew Cargo class. When he arrived after the 12-hour flight, he was a bit confused but happy to be with his humans again. Once he was cleared by the vet, he was chauffeured from Cape Town International to Betty’s Bay, where a 1,495 m2 garden was waiting for him. What a huge playground, as we’d lived in a townhouse in Germany with only a small garden! Initially, Leo was a bit wary of his new environment but soon learnt to love it, and boy, does he enjoy his walks down to the beach! He also deeply enjoys playing with his sister, Lilly, who moved in a week after him in, and his baby brother, Oliver. Both are rescues from the Kleinmond Animal Welfare Service, and all three get on very well.
Leo is the smallest out of the three, but he definitely has the biggest mouth as he has to alert his siblings whenever another dog, a mongoose, tortoises, or any other wildlife pass his garden.
He adapted very well to his new home country. In spite of having an EU passport, he acts now like a true South African dog: enjoying a braai, relaxing at the beach, and running up and down his huge garden.
Leo leads a happy dog life, though he was diagnosed with epilepsy a few months after his arrival. We noticed his first seizure in October 2017 after a walk on the beach. We rushed him to the vet, who administered Valium and said that it could be a once-off episode, but unfortunately the fits continued. In January 2018, we took him to a specialist in Cape Town, and he confirmed that he suffers from idiopathic epilepsy. While we still try to find the right dosage of his medication, Leo continues having lots of fun, demanding his cuddles and belly rubs.
And last but not least… a huge shout out to the German welfare organisation Tierheim Gernsheim (https://www.tierschutzverein-gernsheim.de/), who took Leo in from Romania.