Teenager visits Best Friends to gain knowledge to help Romanian animals

It was obvious to anyone watching Mircea Andrei introduce himself to the animals at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary where the heart of this 17-year-old firmly lies. He buried his face in fur, giving each animal he met a blanketing hug and lavishing them with a shower of affectionate words. Bystanders couldn’t help but quip that the animals showed a greater understanding of his cooing Romanian than of the English they usually hear.

Street dogs and cats of Iasi, Romania

Featured in the January 2007 issue of Best Friends magazine, Andrei serves as the managing editor of Pupaza din tei. Staffed and written entirely by children, Pupaza din tei is the animal welfare newspaper of the Clopotel children’s association, located in Andrei’s hometown of Iasi, Romania. In addition to giving aid to Iasi’s scores of homeless children and cleaning up the city’s green spaces, Clopotel has made it priority to look after the 65,000 dogs and cats living on the city’s streets.

With the help of a sister organization in Paris, Clopotel has found homes in France and Germany for as many as 157 dogs and 53 cats. With thousands of pounds of food donated by Brigitte Bardot’s Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals, members of Clopotel, including Andrei, also go out on the streets and feed the animals they’re unable to rescue.

Raising funds for animal sanctuary

As the head of Pupaza din tei, Andrei serves as the primary fundraiser for Clopotel’s animal sanctuary, which currently cares for 120 dogs, 60 cats, and two horses. But it was certainly apparent as he bear-hugged his way through Best Friends that he also spends a lot of time helping care for the animals at the Clopotel sanctuary. Andrei, whose mother Mariana founded Clopotel, has been involved in the association since he was eight years old.

"I wasn’t very much into football and staying at home and watching cartoons," he says in impeccable English. "I though it would be more fun to join Clopotel, because I’ve always loved animals."

Teen visits Best Friends with goal of improving animal welfare in Romania

Realizing the potential Andrei and Clopotel have to boost Romania’s poor standard of animal welfare, Best Friends invited him to the sanctuary. Andrei arrived, auspiciously enough, on the Fourth of July, and spent the next two weeks getting to know Best Friends from top to bottom. He toured the sanctuary, volunteered at each of the animal care centers, socialized with employees, and met privately with Best Friends president Michael Mountain and chief executive officer Paul Berry.

From the beginning of his stay to the end, Andrei couldn’t get over the immensity of the sanctuary, which is geographically larger than his hometown of Iasi, the second most-populous city in Romania. He was also excited to visit with the parrots at Best Friend’s bird department. (Romanians typically don’t keep parrots as pets, and so Andrei had never seen one outside of a zoo.) But what impressed him the most was the sheer number of animals Best Friends gives sanctuary to. It planted a goal in his mind.

"I see where I’d like our sanctuary to be in 10 or 15 years," he says. "What I hope for and really want, actually, is for us to get even bigger than Best Friends."

This goal is just one of many the 17-year-old wants to achieve on behalf of Romania’s animals. He also wants to study law in the United States and become an animal rights lawyer, so he might work towards securing better lives for Romania’s astounding number of homeless dogs and cats – a legacy of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship, wherein families were forced out of their traditional homes and into socialist housing estates. Unable to take their pets with them to their new miniscule apartments, Romanians had no choice but to relinquish them to the streets. Since then, the numbers have proliferated.

"We didn’t see the problem in front of us," Andrei says of the time he first started in Clopotel. "So we started late. But better late than never."

"After decades of communism and a rather nasty dictatorship, Romania is now a member of the European Union," says Michael Mountain, "and we’d like to help Clopotel raise the country’s standards of animal welfare to the level of other EU countries, such as Germany and Italy."

Spay and neuter is key

Perhaps the most pressing need Romania has for reducing its homeless animal population is a pervasive and cost-effective spay/neuter program. Considering it costs around 20 percent of the average monthly Romanian wage to perform this procedure, Clopotel has done a remarkable job so far, having spayed or neutered 450 dogs and 285 cats. But more needs to be done, so Best Friends will help Clopotel organize a low cost spay/neuter program in Romania, as well as set up a Best Friends Network community for the country, which should help Andrei garner more world-wide support for his noble cause.

Read about the importance of spaying and neutering.

Photos by Molly Wald