Sara Turetta

Vår mycket kapabla kontakt i Italien är Save the Dogs' grundare, 36-åriga Sara Turetta, bosatt i Milano. Sara växte upp som äldsta barnet av två i en internationell miljö. Fadern hade en chefsposition vid ett större italienskt företag och familjen var tidvis posterade utomlands. Sara talar därför många språk, förutom modersmålet italienska, även franska, holländska, engelska och rumänska. Sina universitetsstudier genomförde Sara i Milano, specialiserande sig på modern italiensk litteratur och i förlängningen media och reklam. Från ett bra jobb inom reklamindustrin sade Sara upp sig för att på heltid ägna sig åt de rumänska hundarnas fruktansvärda situation. Detta arbete har gjort Sara vida känd i Italien och hon har tilldelas flera utmärkelser.

Saras djurintresse har alltid funnits. Under tiden för universitetsstudierna började hon besöka lokala hundhägn som volontär, skötte om och gick ut med hundarna. Hon besökte också bondgårdar där hundar sköttes dåligt och försökte att genom information förbättra dessa hundars villkor. Bilder från djurförsök öppnade Saras ögon för dessa djurs lidande och hon är aktiv även i dessa sammanhang.

I en liten stad i Rumänien byggdes ett kärnkraftverk i italiensk regi. Den italienska personalen kring bygget reagerade mycket starkt mot de grymheter stadens hundar och andra djur utsattes för. Sara som redan var en respekterad auktoritet inom djurskydd mottog deras brev om hjälp år 2001 och reste till Rumänien för att studera situationen. Chockad och djupt berörd fann hon ingen annan utväg än att själv bosätta sig i Rumänien under några år för att kunna utveckla och driva sitt program. Borgmästaren i staden beslöt efter mycket påtryckningar att då stoppa slakten av hundar. Saras program består ursprungligen i att genom kastrering av gatuhundarna reducera antalet. Skadade hundar tas även om hand och rehabiliteras. Omhändertagna hundar med god mentalitet förbereds också för adoption i andra länder, för närvarande Italien, Sverige och Holland.

Sara ger avlusningsmedel till hundar i Columbia, det fattigaste området i Cernavoda

Sara matar några hungriga hundar Sara i Cernavoda-hägnet

Saras hjälpverksamhet sträcker sig inte bara till hundar i Rumänien. Även katter, hästar, åsnor och andra djur kan få hjälp. Sara förmedlar också förnödenheter till utblottade familjer och till ett litet sjukhus för HIV-positiva barn i staden.

Sara delar ut choklad till romska barn som tack för att STD fick sterilisera deras hundar

Med all denna verksamhet i sina händer samt ett flitigt resande kan Sara inte ha några egna hundar. Dock bor tre hittekatter tillsammans med Sara och hennes man i Milano.


Sara's own story


Once I longed to have a career, a rich and healthy lifestyle, and to travel the world, but when I arrived in Bucharest in 2001, I would never have imagined what was to follow. At the time, I was working in Milan as an accountant for Saatchi & Saatchi. I had always loved animals: it had been years since I had eaten meat, and my spare time was focused on safeguarding them. After my first, tragic trip to Bucharest, the plans that I had made about my future were swept away within a week, and my life would never be the same again. The mass killing of stray dogs in the city had been a recent phenomenon, and, after reading an article in Corriere della Sera, I couldn't remain impassive knowing that this tragedy was happening a mere two hours from Italy. I had to do something.

Seeing dozens of dead dogs scattered along the roadside, poisoned or hit by cars was a massive shock. In Bucharest and throughout the country I was faced with a twin tragedy: the stray dogs, sick, hurt and mistreated, and the masses of dogs cooped up in shelters after being saved from dog catchers. The deaths of the thousands of dogs taken to these shelters was even more of an atrocity. How could the people who had intended to protect these dogs not be responsible for their actions? How could they condemn these creatures to death by disease, malnutrition and hunger and at the same time think that they were doing them a favour?

I returned to Milan distressed by what I had seen. From that moment my heart and soul stayed in Romania, 1,800 kilometres from Milan. So a year later, in October 2002, after handing in my notice at Saatchi & Saatchi, I left Italy with my car crammed with personal belongings and drove back to Romania. I had to make a choice: either I took the situation into my own hands by moving to Romania or I had to abandon the whole cause. It wasn't logical to ask for help in Italy for a situation over which I had no control, particularly since none of the animal associations that I had supported in fundraising over the previous year had much in the way of managerial ability. I really needed to be on the spot if I was to make an impact. Some months earlier, we had convinced the mayor of Cernavoda to put a stop to the killing of dogs and to follow a 'neuter and release' scheme. If I hadn't left for Romania, then our understanding would have disintegrated and the killings would have begun again.

I remember my parents, concerned about my wellbeing and convinced that I would be heading back within weeks. But I didn't return. Until 2005, I lived in almost complete solitude in a small area, attempting to transform an old building into a veterinary clinic and to create a shelter to tend to sick and wounded stray dogs.

In Romania, I would be haunted by continual nightmares: sleep was tormented with puppies dying, dogs beaten to death or knocked down by cars that my vet then had to euthanise. I always returned to Cernavoda expecting the worst.

In Cernavoda, I lived under the watchful eye of the locals. Funds raised in Italy were limited and we had to neuter around 2,000 dogs with basic equipment, a part-time vet and an inexperienced worker. It was a brave new beginning, adventurous but at the same time enormously difficult. I've lost count of the number of workers who were sacked after I had caught them stealing, regardless of the good wages I paid them, and of the vets I caught with fridges full of medicine that had been stripped from the clinic.

I would return late at night, my head filled with thoughts of the abuse and atrocities that I had encountered every day, unable to share my despair. At the kennels, I was greeted with a crumbling two-roomed house, a malfunctioning heater and a rationed use of warm water. They were three years of hell. But my immense passion and the dream of a better future for these animals drove me onwards. I look back and ask myself where I got the strength to make it through that period. If I had been shown a film of what I was about to live through, I would never have left Milan five years ago.

The project that was born perhaps out of naivety and idealism has become a small miracle. Save the Dogs, the association that I established for stray dogs in Romania, now has 20 employees. The shelter in Cernavoda is no longer a strip of fencing but now encircles an area of 2,500 square metres caring for 270 dogs, 30 cats and three donkeys that were saved from an abattoir. Indifference has been replaced by trust and respect and hundreds of poor families bring their dogs to us for treatment and operations free of charge. Every year, volunteers from all over Europe come to the rescue centre. In most cases, it is not sufficient to neuter and release animals. Many have no chance of survival: they are weak, riddled with disease, puppies or simply just too old. Some are domesticated and have had an owner, but once abandoned they do not have the know-how to find food. For them, the only chance of survival is to take a plane with one of us, where they have a better chance of adoption; each month up to 40 dogs fly to new homes in Italy, Sweden and Holland. Last year, 458 animals from the Cernavoda shelter found homes this way.

In 2004, we worked with the nearby town of Medgidia, which has since halted the use of poison to kill dogs. In 2005 the Dutch model and animal rights activist Bridget Maasland donated a mobile clinic. Following the adoption of one of our puppies, beautiful Bridget brought a whole camera crew to film a documentary on the 'killing pounds' in the Romanian city. At the same time, she was also able to reveal daily life in our neutering centre. The documentary together with many other initiatives through her Dutchypuppy foundation enabled her to raise enough funds to donate a camper to Save the Dogs. With the camper, we reach villages and isolated areas to care for animals and to promote our cause in the most destitute and suspicious localities. The camper is just as much a means of educating local residents as it is a mobile operating theatre.

In 2007, hopefully we will move ahead with a third neutering programme. After a long battle with the local council of Calarasi, (77,000 residents, living along the Danube river), it looks like there will be a turning point. If everything goes to plan, come September a new neutering centre will be supervised by Save the Dogs. It will be new adventure that needs new funding and local workers, but most of all, it will be another victory over barbaric and uncivil behaviour.

Romania is a country beset with complex humanitarian problems so it isn't surprising that I am criticised and ridiculed for the energy that I use in helping animals here. Such criticism has become something of a routine, and I'm used to it. Being reminded that there are children and elderly people who are just as needy doesn't diminish the fact that animals also suffer and need help. We need to address all the suffering in the world, no matter who may be the sufferers; the situation for Romania's stray dogs is a tragic reality, which is why it must be dealt with ethically.

Thousands of animals have directly benefited from our actions, but Romanian people have benefited indirectly too: not only have the number of strays decreased, with the inevitable sanitary and environmental implications, but a new, more responsible attitude has surfaced amongst the local population, promoting respect for all living creatures. I am always sorry to meet people who are unable to understand these aspects of our work and who prefer to ridicule it as some kind of female hysteria. I believe it is the worrying sign of a narrow-minded mentality and a heart made of stone.

There is still so much to do, but if I look at the photographs of that old house in Cernavoda, I realise that part of my dreams have come true. Turning back the clock to 2002, I never thought I would be capable of saving so many lives. As Jane Goodall said: 'Each and every one of us can really make a difference and make this world a better place'.


Foto: Mauro Chiara

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