BUCHAREST When French film actress Brigitte Bardot began a campaign to spare the thousands of stray dogs in Romania's capital from being put down, she did it with a $150,000 donation scheme.
A similar campaign is being waged by Ana-Maria Ciulcu, a 13-year-old schoolgirl with braces on her teeth who uses Facebook to appeal to dog lovers all over Europe - and to make sure the dogs go to the right homes.
"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?'," Ciulcu told Reuters.
Ciulcu was a baby when Bardot started her sterilization campaign in 2001. Now she speaks fluent German and has a grasp of the Internet, and she's used both to rescue 150 strays and ship them to Germany, Austria and Belgium since September.
But Bucharest's state-funded wards now hold 2,800 dogs, and 2,000 dogs have been euthanized in the past two months, according to Romania's Authority for Animal Surveillance and Protection. Foreign citizens, mainly German and British, have directly adopted about 30 dogs since September, ASPA Director Razvan Bancescu told Reuters.
Some 60,000 strays roam Bucharest. Last year, a four-year-old boy died after he was mauled by a stray beside a Bucharest park. Street protests demanded something be done about the dogs. The authorities began enforcing the euthanasia rules, which enable city halls to put down dogs caught in public spaces if they are not adopted within two weeks.
The strays are thought to be a legacy of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's decision to bulldoze Bucharest's historic center in the 1980s to make way for a gargantuan "House of the People". Thousands of guard dogs were abandoned by residents who had been forcibly relocated into small apartments.
SPURRED TO ACTION
Ciulcu collects strays on the street. They go to a temporary private shelter, or to the backyard of her home on the capital's outskirts. She has a veterinarian vaccinate them and give them microchip identification tags and eventually gets international passports for them.
All costs, from medicines, vaccines and neutering to identification chips and passports, are covered by Ana-Maria's family - about 150 euros ($210) per dog. Transporting the animals to their destinations is covered by the new owner.
She spends up to about two hours a day selecting owners from among thousands of would-be pet owners who visit her page (www.facebook.com/anamaria.ciulcu). Few Romanians are among them.
"Romanians generally want to adopt only a pure breed," she said.
Ciulcu, who wants to become a doctor, believes keeping animals together in state-funded shelters is not a solution, just an extermination plan. Until she takes up her medical studies, her ambition is to save as many dogs as she can.
"Dogs can't live packed together," she said. "They need affection." ($1 = 3.2342 Romanian lei) ($1 = 0.7234 Euros)
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Larry King)