Its 5 pm and almost dark. Despite the bitter cold, the main roads are crowded with people coming and going, most of them carrying bulky wrapped packages. Every year it's the same atmosphere near Christmas, but as soon as it passes, the entire area transforms completely and people are rarely seen out freezing after the dark.
The front building facing the main road is already decorated, differently for every apartment. If you happen to pass near windows left open a crack for ventilation, the food smells can't leave you indifferent. Especially if you happen to be a dog and smelling is your main job.
A face appears in one big old steamed window, where a circle of condensation has been wiped away to allow the person to see out. Her eyes, wrinkled at the corners, search for someone in the street crowd. Even if her sight used to be better, her eyes are trying, staring .For a short moment the face seems pleasantly surprised, but then she moves away from the window.
The building basement is a storage space which remained unused for years. Here, abandoned cats used to hide with their litters, but because of the bad smell, people blocked the entrance and left the cats to die as prisoners, starving. At the end of the basement, a three-walled covered space remained unblocked, accessible to animals as a refuge. It is not the ideal shelter, open to snow storms or freezing wind blowing from the direction without a wall, but it is better for a street dog than sleeping under the stars.
In a smelly used box, full of oil stains, White Snow - a thin dog -- gave birth to eight puppies. The last puppy was barely breathing when their weak mom tried to stand up. Human food smelled today better then ever, and she was so hungry, plus she felt that soon her babies would wake up and want to eat. She walked through the dark to the exit, where the cold air blew in.
Outside, she shook her wet fur and prepared to beg for dinner. People were passing, ignoring her sad eyes, which became more and more desperate. Some people tried to avoid her, as she smelled awful and touching her might dirty their clothing.
White Snow realized she had no chance to beg this evening. She was really desperate now, as she could barely stand. She thought of her babies who needed her.
She looked up at the sky. Because of the freezing weather, all of the stars were visible. She saw one glowing differently. White Snow had spent many nights under the sky, as she was always a homeless dog. But this particular night the sky was most beautiful.
Was it only her imagination, or was the sky closer now? So weak after giving birth to eight pups, White Snow felt she could not move. She had never had that feeling before. She lay near the building a long time, not far distant from her babies, but unable to reach them.
Her legs were stiff and frozen at first. Then her upper body became numb. She stared at the little closer star. Then she started hearing each beat of her heart thumping louder.
White Snow refused to close the eyes, as the star would also disappear, like the building, her legs and her body. Only her heart was moving, beating too loudly! Each time she closed her eyes for a moment, she saw a table that she could reach and jump on, with lots of food, all shapes and sized, food that smelled divine, filling her nose. All her babies were playing in safety, in fluffy blankets. They ate until their bellies were full. Then, after jumping all over, they slept peacefully, with puppy smiles all over their faces.
The star took the shape of a face with wrinkled eyes. White Snow felt that the star was staring at her. And, gradually, she could feel her right paw heated slightly by a human hand.
"Please, don't catch me, don't send me into a pound," she thought. "I have babies!!!"
"Poor girl, is she going to make it? She is shaking and crying, like she is trying to tell me something…She was lucky I spotted her when I carried an extra bag with trash before the family comes. It's late already. I wonder - did they forget about me? Each year they all come for just an hour, to make me feel not alone for Christmas. They are embarrassed about not knowing what it's the right gift to bring to an old lady like myself. They have no idea that the hour spent with them is the only gift I am really expecting--the babies laughing, the loud voices finally, my house is alive, if even for a short while, before transforming itself back into a monument of silence and memories.
"What happens to this girl? What she is trying to tell me? “Come on girl, be strong - drink this …only one spoon, you will see how tasty it is…yes, you see, it's not bad - easy, take another."
White Snow looked scared.
"What is she trying to do to me? Please, do not poison me! I have no strength to fight with you…please, my babies…Hm, this is really tasty…can I have one more? I have to go search for food to be able to feed my hungry babies. Can I go now? What? This full bowl is only for me? Isn't a trick to make me come closer to hurt, to beat me? I will stop looking foe your next move, to eat more of this soup. This will be enough, I must go, as my babies are in the dark, alone, scared, crying for food and freezing…Oh, I can walk, my legs are back. Thank you, lady! Why are you crying?
"Finish your soup to warm your body. My family will be here shortly, if they didn't forgot about me."
White Snow ran outside, but looked back at the door to the old lady who saved her life and the lives of her babies. The lady was crying differently than dogs do. But dogs feel when we humans are sad.
"What are you doing? I didn't steal your soup--you gave it to me! Why are you upset?
I wish to do something back for you. If you feel sad, pay attention to me, I am trying to tell you something: If you feel sad, look up at the sky. I looked and you came to save me!"
"What is wrong with this animal? Scratching the door to run back into the cold…and returning to look up at the window."
The old lady with wrinkled eyes went back to the window and got tired looking at the road, almost a desert now. Fewer people passed, hurrying home. It started to snow small crystals from the sky. She was thought that a heavy snow would delay her family's visit and she would be alone this Christmas. Well, she would not feel sad, while her family was safe - this was the most important thing.
She wished to be stronger and to make her tears stop.
She looked up at the sky full of shining stars. One glowed differently from the others. A knock came at the door and she heard some familiar children's voices laughing.
White Snow knew what star to look to make her wishes come true. Thanks to the lady with wrinkled eyes, White Snow was fed at the very right time to get the strength to return to her babies who needed her to start a new life.
There are many dogs in Romanian streets that are not so fortunate.
Wandering dogs sometimes hunt rats, but they mostly scavenge the food from the household wastes in trash bins, competing for food with beggars, who often abuse, beat and even poison the hungry dogs.
Most of retired Romanian seniors live in poverty. I knew an elderly lady who often switched off the electricity after dark and watched TV only a few hours a day, even though she could move only a few steps every day. This lady did not go outside her apartment for six years. The ambulance came each time she needed her medication changed or needed emergency treatment in her home.
Her pension was close to $70 per month. Later it was slightly increased.
This lady had no relatives. Her husband died, and later, her son. She could not afford medicines and for few months, she could not pay her hot water bill. People who happened to be around her could not remain indifferent, and helped her with food, money, and going to pharmacy to buy her medicines.
I have seen spoilt children crying and yelling for a chocolate and I also have seen this woman crying when she got a chocolate as a gift.
She planned immediately how to split it to have it for more days.
This woman died two years ago, but I will never forget these details. There are many seniors like who worked a lifetime in the Romanian system. At the end of their lives, at the limit of their strength, especially if they have no close family to be of support, they end up as beggars or die by inches, suffering from too little food, not enough of the medicines they need, and not enough warmth in their homes. They become like the zombies of modern times, pushed away from what we call civilization. Instead of being protected by the community that they served, they are made to feel like a burden.
Paradoxically, many of the animal rescue calls to which ROLDA responds come from these seniors, who find enough dignity and humanity to share their poverty with the voiceless furry souls whom they often rescue.
Abused cats or dogs often find senior guardian angels who are willing to share their last pieces of bread and their bitter final days.
A little help offered to these seniors for vet care and feeding their rescued pets is more then a mercy. It is a reason to live for most of them, a positive experience and a little shining moment of happiness between the daily problems and abuses coming from a system which neglects them in the same manner that dogs or cats are ignored or hurted.
As part of our Second Chance Program, ROLDA assists older people who need vet care and sterilization for their pets, or need ROLDA to help them rescue animals who are living in places where they will starve or freeze.