Over the years, people have often asked me: “If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?”…
My name is Elena Daniela Costin, or Dana for short. I started ROLDA soon after I finished high school.
My father was born in Transylvania (the “Dracula “county) and my mother in Galati, the town where I was also born. They worked hard their whole life to provide me with the best possible care and education, and to encourage my passions and hobbies. Although they taught me to respect animals, they never allowed me to have a dog inside the tiny apartment where we live together with my grandmother. However, every time I visited my grandparents, I enjoyed the company of their cats, a tiny Pekinese dog called Norica and even some chickens.
My grandparents died immediately after the fall of communism and it was at this moment when the population of street dogs dramatically increased all over Romania. This was possibly because during communism, dog population was kept under control using barbaric, inhumane methods. Stories say that under communism, an industry was built around dogs – capturing strays, keeping them in filthy pounds (unfortunately many of the pounds are still filthy to this day), electrocuting them, skinning the dogs for purses, shoes etc and then selling their meat across Asia.
During my 20’s, the stray population boomed all over Romania, including my home town Galati. This led to an alarming growth in dog fights which were widely organised mostly treated with indifference by the Police. Dog fights are now completely illegal, but have not disappeared completely.
My first rescued dog was a German shepherd, which I found abandoned in a local park. He was terribly wounded, probably in a dog fight, but the vet was able to put him on the road to health. I named him Printz. He was very aggressive with other dogs and people – again, likely because he had been trained to fight, but gradually with time and love, he accepted me and my family. Printz was the first dog allowed by my parents to stay in our tiny apartment – a high honour indeed!
(Note: Myself and my Mom continue to share the same tiny apartment, as I write these words. One of the two rooms is transformed into the office from where I do my administration work).
Because of Printz’ aggressive behaviour, I couldn’t house any other rescue dog until 2002, when he unexpectedly died. I was heartbroken, but knew there was work that needed to be done. At this time, I had no shelter and no space that I could offer the countless dogs I came across. I asked my friends and family if I could use their gardens to help. They were very supportive, and although this was a great short term solution for a few dogs, I knew this was not enough. My parents financially sustained my passion and even after ROLDA became known internationally, they continued to support every way they could. Today, the loans made by my Mother to ROLDA total approx 300,000 RON (around £60k).
I knew the costs involved in rescuing and caring for a dog because of Printz: food, medical bills, etc. At the same time the internet became more popular in Romania especially in public places called internet cafes. I went to these cafes every evening, where I paid mostly the “night tariff ” as this was considerably cheaper and I needed long hours to figure out, by myself (as I was too proud to ask for help) how to start the computer, how to use the internet, how to create an email address etc. You may be surprised, but I had no computer knowledge and above all, I could not speak English, which made everything much more difficult!
Every small step using the computer represented a victory for me and the quantity of useful information I could suddenly access was simply amazing. I learned about the big animal charities, about building shelters and about the other activities that charities do around the globe. By that time, I knew that running a charity in Romania with Romanian funds would be impossible, but by using the internet I had the revelation that I could ask international people for help to support rescue efforts. To my knowledge, no other Romanian charity was widening their scope internationally at that time.
Aside to this, our former president decided to commence a mass killing of dogs in Bucharest. Unfortunately it was around this time that I discovered the dark side of charity work. Other animal welfare organisations in Romania often make it harder for others to succeed. This is a mystery to me, because I feel we should all stick together and value the others attempt to make life better for our animal friends.
It was during this time that I discovered something new about myself: I am very motivated and determined. Over the next few years, the endurance to fight injustice became one of my most powerful attributes. I was always a bit of a rebel at high school but as time passed, I created (and followed) my own set of rules and values.
From the very beginning, my strategy was quality over quantity. This is why the first kennels we built were fully insulated, following a respected British model, even thought we received numerous protests from some locals (including some charities) who disagreed with our intention to make our ROLDA dogs comfortable. I pushed on and moved ahead on the path I considered right. ROLDA is the first Romanian charity to build the only modern shelter for stray dogs in the whole of Romania. It has remained the best for almost 10 years, and others have followed in our footsteps.
The stray population is huge in Romania, estimated to approx 2.5 million dogs. As much as I would love to, I am aware that ROLDA can’t save them all. But, we can change society, educate people, rescue as many dogs as we have the budget for – and do it responsibly! This is the only way we can set an example.
In 2007, ROLDA started the partnership with the largest steel producer from Europe. As a result, we built a modern shelter capable of housing up to 700 dogs and a veterinary clinic, which currently need equipment. I am very proud of our achievements so far, but am aware that there is much still to do. One day, when I am old and grey, I want to be able to look back, with a dog by my side and know that I did everything I could to help.
My top qualities are certainly endurance and resilience. The main challenges I have faced have been either having to deal with indifference, or battling to get the funds needed. It is said that the road to success is more beautiful than success itself and this is true: every small victory puts a big smile on my face. I have extremely enjoyed building the charity ROLDA and I hope you can be a part of it too (click here to see how you can help).
To give a short answer to the question I started with: “If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be? The answer is ‘myself’. Maybe with a few changes if I had my time again. Maybe a little more confidence in myself. But I would like to be myself living this, often difficult, life which is animal rescue. A life made possible by each of you who trust and support ROLDA’s work in Romania.
ROLDA started as a small group with a very modest website. We had no budget and some vet bill debts when this beautiful dream started. The key to success is the passion to do what you are meant to do. I was born to do this, it’s as simple as that.
On behalf of myself and the thousands of dogs we have saved over the years, the thousands of dogs we will save in the future, and myself, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.