Volunteering with Animals in Moldova
VOLUNTEERING AT AN ANIMAL SHELTER IN MOLDOVA
Firstly, I studied Zoology at University, so naturally I’m an animal lover, and at my happiest when I’m working with animals. So when I was planning my trip to Moldova and researching Work-away opportunities, and found one volunteering with animals, I knew I had to do it. Here is everything you need to know!
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About the Animal Shelter
Datcha Animal Shelter is an animal rescue centre for cats and dogs, around a 30 minute drive from Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova. The shelter is in the middle of a forest, surrounded by cherry trees and vineyards. In 2001, members of an animal rights group in Germany heard of the stray animal issues in Moldova and began fundraising efforts. Subsequently, they sent money over to help stray animals on the streets of Chisinau. Locals would feed the animals and take injured animals home with them. Later on, the animal rights group in Germany helped to buy land outside of Chisinau, to create an animal shelter.
The manager of the animal shelter is Ira, she is a hard-working, passionate and selfless woman. Ira leads the rescuing and feeding of the animals everyday. There are 3 other members of staff that help to clean the kennels, feed the animals, and care for injured and recovering animals. There is one member of staff on the premises at all times to watch over the animals. The shelter has a veterinary room, and a vet visits every week to check on the health of the animals and perform surgeries as needed. There are also a couple of full time volunteers, working as part of the European Voluntary Service.
The shelter is home to over 300 dogs and over 50 cats.
About the Stray Issue in Moldova
The issue of stray animals in Eastern European Countries such as Moldova and Romania, stems from the fall of the Communist System. After this many buildings were torn down, which caused residents to unexpectedly lose their homes. Therefore, many animals were left behind and many of them were not spayed or neutered. Resulting in an overpopulation of stray animals roaming the streets of Moldova. Many of these animals are being killed in inhumane ways. The link below is to an article about the current status of this issue in Chisinau. *DISCLAIMER the article contains disturbing and upsetting content, view with care*
THERE IS CURRENTLY NO LEGISLATION PROTECTING ANIMALS FROM CRUELTY AND ABUSE IN MOLDOVA
Cruel methods are used to prevent the overpopulation of animals. The city’s sanitation service is tasked with ‘cleaning’ up the streets. They capture stray animals, often using inappropriate equipment. Capturing causes severe and often lethal injuries to the animals. The animals are transported to ‘Necropol’, an area controlled by the city’s sanitation service. No one is allowed to enter this facility. This facility does not even allow volunteers to care for the animals. Some animal rights activists have managed to enter and document their findings. Overcrowded cages have been found, which can cause dog fights, which may result in severe injuries. Animals without access to food and water were also found. Some animals were even found being poisoned with Chlorine, which destroys the skin and organs of animals. Activists also reported that when animals were dead or near to death, they were thrown into an acid bath.
There are currently around 5000 stray dogs in Chisinau.
Animal rights charities are certain that the population could be controlled using a capture, neuter and release method. Alongside educating pet owners and ensuring pets are also neutered. Necropol is apparently going to be reconstructed into a ‘Spay and Neuter’ centre. Hopefully, this will mark the end of the inhumane treatment of stray animals, and solve the overpopulation issue. You can read more about the update of Necropol, via the link below.
When planning my trip to Moldova, I looked on Workaway for volunteer opportunities which would allow me to extend my trip, see more of the country and help a good cause. I found the shelter and contacted them via the website. I arranged when I would be arriving, and was added to their Facebook group chat to talk to the staff and volunteers. Please find a link to their workaway page below. It costs £39 per year to be a workaway member, and you can do unlimited workaways during that year. This was my first experience with workaway and it was great!
The accommodation has two large rooms for volunteers to stay in. There is also a basic kitchen and a terrace/balcony. The bathroom facilities are in the other house where the Moldovan staff reside, there is a traditional Moldovan toilet outside the volunteer house. They are currently in the process of installing a bathroom in the volunteer house with a shower and western style toilet. This is great as you won’t have to go over to the other house to wash, and I’m going to be honest the traditional toilet was THE worst thing about this experience! It was just a hole with a toilet seat over it haha.
I slept in a room with lots of cats, and woke up when the sun came up as Moldovan’s do not seem to have curtains. The hostel in Chisinau did not have them either. Staff clean the bedroom daily. Which meant that it was always fresh and didn’t smell of cat litter, which I was a bit anxious about.
I was brought food everyday which Ira’s mum made. Food varied, but was mostly vegetarian food. It was also traditional Moldavian food, such as Plăcintă and soup. I didn’t spend any money during my week at the shelter, Ira was kind enough to grab things for me from Chisinau that I needed, as there isn’t a shop nearby. I really enjoyed the food provided, the only downside is that there is no way to heat food, so I was super thrilled when I had a hot meal after leaving the shelter. I was floored by Ira and her staff’s generosity and kindness. The German couple that help fund the shelter visited during my stay, and even gave me a lift back to Chisinau when I left the shelter.
A volunteer met me in Chisinau at the central bus station, and rode the bus to the shelter with me. I recommend meeting a volunteer if you decide to come by bus. As the station is rather chaotic and hard to navigate. Therefore, it is much easier when someone knows which bus to get and which stand to get it from. The bus took around 45 minutes, it is a local bus so not the most comfortable and it was VERY hot onboard. The buses also get pretty crowded and people have to stand, so I recommend getting there early. You have to ask the driver to stop when you want to get off, and the bus stop was just at the side of a main road. I have no idea how to know when to get off the bus as nothing was there to mark the spot, no signs or anything! We then walked through the forest to reach the shelter. This was quite far to walk, and it was difficult with all my luggage.
Therefore, a taxi is your best option to get to the shelter. If you contact Ira before, she knows the taxi companies in Chisinau which know exactly where the shelter is, so she can help you book a taxi. It’s very reasonable, at less than €10. Ira comes from Chisinau everyday so is the best person to contact regarding this.
I stayed for a week at the shelter, and would have stayed longer, but already had the rest of my trip booked. The day begins early at around 9am or 10am, and I finished around 7pm. The first task of the day is letting the dogs out into the large runs to exercise.
Secondly we begin walking some of the dogs. There is a timetable to manage how long each group of dogs spends in the runs and which dogs go for walks. On average the dogs spend 30-45 minutes in the runs and then we swap them over, this continues until all the dogs that need exercise are exercised. This was the most strenuous part of the day, as many of the dogs have to be carried from their pens to the run. So that was my daily workout. Some were too heavy for me to carry, so the staff helped out. Throughout the day I checked how much water the dogs had and refilled as needed.
Working With Disabled Dogs
There is a lot of disabled dogs at the shelter. The team try their best to put them in the run everyday and to groom them. As most do not have any feeling in their bottom half, their fur gets dirty and matted. Therfore we tried to groom them daily to prevent this. The disabled dogs fill my heart with so much joy, they don’t let their disabilities stop them. They run around so quickly, and one butts everyone else out of the way to get to the brush to be groomed first. Unfortunately, on days of bad weather we could not put them outside as the ground would be too slippery for them. Also some of them have wounds and sores that could get infected if dirt got into them. If I were to adopt a dog from the shelter I would definitely adopt one of the disabled ones. As I feel like these poor guys are the least likely to get rehomed, unfortunately.
There were two small puppies that had just arrived at the shelter when I was there. I took them outside everyday and played with them, they loved being outside so much. They were so little that they were still being kept in the vet room as they hadn’t had their jabs yet. They loved playing outside and having cuddles.
In the afternoons, we collect all the food that the dogs haven’t eaten. They are fed twice per day, so this is collecting the morning food that is leftover. We take these leftovers to the dogs that live on the farm nearby. There are a few dogs living on the farm, they are strays, the farmer doesn’t own them or have anything to do with them. Most of the dogs have been caught and neutered by the team. But there are two dogs which the team haven’t managed to catch yet, as they are too scared of humans. And these two KEEP having puppies! We take them food everyday and check on them all to make sure they are healthy and okay. When I was there one female had just had puppies, and the volunteers were waiting for her to show us to them. This normally happens after a month or so, and then the puppies can be checked and jabbed etc.
We then feed the dogs at the shelter in the evening, this is the last task of the day.
Working With Cats
The cats that reside in the cat house have limited interaction with people. The exception to this being when they are cleaned out or fed. The cats that have been pets before crave human interaction, and enjoy being petted, fussed and groomed. However, the kittens and some cats which have been born here know no different, so are very timid and shy of humans. To increase the cat’s chances of being adopted I spent any spare time I had in the cat house, playing with the kittens and slowly making a fuss of them.
There were also the cats that lived in the volunteer house which were much more friendly. Every evening we fed the cats dry food and wet food. They are also fed in the morning by the lady that cleans the rooms.
On the first night of my stay, there was a thunderstorm which scared all of the cats in my room. So that night, I didn’t get much sleep. I’m a really heavy sleeper though, and because the work tired me out all week, I had no issues sleeping with all of the cats. Apart from during that first night. I would just wake up with a different amount of cats on top of me, the most was 7 at once. During my stay, a new kitten was introduced to the other cats in my room. He was understandably very scared of the cats. And there were a couple of fights between them all at first. So I kept a close eye on him, and made sure he was able to get to the food and eat.
Also, a cat in the room was found with no fur and no teeth, so I kept a close eye on him too. I really hope he was just born like this, and a human didn’t shave him and pull his teeth out. But honestly who knows in a country like this with no legislation against animal cruelty. We mashed food up for him everyday, but he was so defiant and ate from the other bowls. I have no idea how he eats without teeth, but he managed it!
A Final Note
Above all, this is one of the best experiences I have had during my travels. I loved working with animals everyday and I loved being in the beautiful countryside. It was hard work, and more than the 5 hours it said it would be on the workaway ad. But, I recommend this place so much, the work they do is INCREDIBLE. They are giving these animals a better life, and the chance of finding a loving, stable forever home. Three dogs were adopted whilst I was there, and left to travel to their new homes throughout Europe. I wanted to take all the animals home, but I don’t think my mum would’ve been happy with that.
The first day was tough, the work was hard and I thought that I wouldn’t be able to last the whole week. But it got better, I fell in love with every single animal, and in the end wished I could of stayed longer. This is an amazing cause to help with, and I hope some of you are inspired to go and help out. I know I will be returning as soon as I can. If there is anything else you want to know, message me or leave a comment.
Also, if you wish to give anything to this amazing shelter, there is a list of things they need, or how your donations can be used on there website. Which I have linked below for you.
WANTING TO SEE MORE OF MOLDOVA?
Check out my other blog posts on Moldova to help plan your trip. Follow the links below.
Want the visit Europe’s least visited capital city? Here is a guide to spending 3 days in Chisinau.
Want the visit the country that doesn’t exist? Here is a guide to where Transnistria is, how to get there and what to do whilst there.
Plan a trip to the World’s largest winery. More than 2 million bottles of wine are stored in the underground cellars, which span 200km. This is a definite bucket list experience.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Don’t forget to share it and let me know what you think.
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