Ana-Maria Ciulcu rescues a dog from the streets of Bucharest. (Photo: REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel)
Ana-Maria Ciulcu is 13-years-old, wears braces and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She also runs a successful animal rights campaign that's getting her international attention.
Ciulcu lives in Bucharest, where stray dogs are often found on the streets. Her mission is to give them permanent homes with loving families outside of Romania. She does this by using the Internet — and the fact that she's fluent in German — to her advantage. Since September, she's managed to rescue 150 strays, all of which have been given new homes in Germany, Austria and Belgium.
"I like to know that my dogs will be spoiled, and will be allowed to sit on the sofa ... so one of my first questions would be: 'Are you going to chain him?'," she told Reuters.
Ciulcu finds the dogs on the street, and takes them to live in her backyard temporarily. They're then vaccinated by a veterinarian and given microchips to identify them. Her family pays for these costs, which usually run about 150 euros (about $230) per dog. The new owners, hand-picked by Ciulcu from thousands of applicants on her Facebook page, pay the costs of transporting the dogs to their new homes.
According to Reuters, recent estimates suggest there are as many as 60,000 stray dogs in the Romanian capital. Many of these are thought to be descendants of guard dogs that were abandoned when dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu razed the city centre in the 1980s, forcing thousands of people (and their dogs) out of their homes. A piece in The Atlantic last year argued that stray dogs only proliferated with Ceaușescu's ousting in 1989. Many Romanians already lived in poverty, which only became exacerbated by the removal of commodity subsidies and withheld aid from the IMF and World Bank. In short, many Romanians were too poor to care for dogs, and Bucharest's municipal government didn't have money to manage the population of strays.
Now, dogs that are taken in by the state are usually euthanized within two weeks, which was the result of a bill passed last year by the Romanian government. About 2,000 have been put down in the last two months, according to Romania's Authority for Animal Surveillance and Protection.
Stray dogs in Eastern Europe made headlines recently during the Sochi Winter Olympics, when athletes and journalists were surprised to find strays wandering near event sites. (They were also surprised at how the Russian government handled the situation.) In Sochi, as in Bucharest, stray dogs are quite common. Some athletes, such as American silver medal-winning skiier Gus Kenworthy and hockey player David Backes, made it their mission to find homes for the dogs they encountered. Many of them ultimately ended up in the United States and elsewhere as a result.