Friday, July 9, 2010


I suppose I had lots of pets as I was growing up, geese, dogs, cats, rabbits, chicken, cows, pigs, horses. None of them fell in the category of house pets. They hanged around the yard and some in the house but were never allowed to spend the night inside grandma Elena's house. The closest pets or pests, depending on your viewpoint, who slept and lived with us were fleas that colonized her beds, our clothes, and her rugs. We were constantly flea bitten, my skin looked like the canvas of a flea artist. The sheets and the night gowns were covered in blood from the numerous bites suffered during the night. Occasionally, mamaia, as I called grandma Elena, would get serious about flea control and spray DDT. They died for a while until the eight cats or so hanging around the house would track them in again, carrying a myriad of newborn babies. DDT was strong but was eventually banned in the U.S. and production ceased. That did not stop Romanians from using it - they had stockpiled it for decades.

There were no vets to take pets to, give them shots, special food, special diet, treatment for wounds, etc. Cats and dogs had to be resilient, learn to live with injuries, lick them and make them better, or kick the bucket. Surprisingly, in spite of utter neglect, cats and dogs lived longer lives than most pampered pets in the U.S. We had large animal vets to treat cows, horses, donkeys, goats, pigs, and sheep. Even they were not exactly living it up at Club Med. I remember at least 4 pigs who had to be put to sleep because of trichinosis. The vet tech was called on special occasions, when large animals were sick, had stopped eating, or had a difficult birth, such as a cow with a breech birth, and breaking the calf's ankle bone. The bone never healed and the vet had to put it to sleep. I cried because I bottle fed the calf and named him. It was a bitter pill to swallow, losing my charge.

Pets had to fend for themselves in the bitter colds of winter. Dogs had a dog house with an old raggedy blanket on the dirt floor and nothing else. Cats lived a little better, they could sleep in the attic where it was quite cosy in the midst of dry, warm hay and lots of rats and mice. Chicken, ducks, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, and horses were huddled in the barn where temperatures were a little milder. Mamaia would bring in the house the newborn calf, goat, sheep for a few days then return it to its mother. My Bogart lives like a king by comparison. Nobody would fuss over kitty litter, a warm house, a warm cat bed, wool rugs, yearly trips to the vet for shots, or medical treatment for the many scrapes he gets from the altercation with animals crossing his territorial domain. He certainly does not have to suffer from flea infestations and neither do we.

Surviving on table scraps, most cats and dogs were mangy looking, yet somehow they survived accidents or animals diseases. I supposed the lack of vehicles on the road spared many animals an early death. Feeding pets store bought, specially made for animals packaged food was non-existent. And if it did, people could not afford it.

Farmers were very utilitarian when it came to killing animals for their fur - they used it to make warm clothing and hats but also ate the animal. No PETA would shame them into giving up slaughtering an animal in exchange for survival and warmth. The one shameful story makes my skin cringe. The village had a pit in a hallow where all unwanted pups and kittens were dumped as soon as they were born. The hole was so deep, nobody crawled out and no food or water was delivered. I can still hear the howls and faint meows of despair, hunger, and pain. I was just a kid when I realized what they were doing. I cried for days begging grandpa to deliver food and to put a stop to it. I was hoping his could convince the village elders to find a more humane way to deal with unwanted pets. Spaying and neutering were impossible and too expensive. People were poor and primitive in their mentality. I would go and throw food into the hole but they died of thirst first. Runaways were lucky - their babies were safe from the hell hole.

Romania was eventually admitted to the European Union. Prior to the adherence, many written and unwritten laws had to be changed. Cruelty to animals was redressed in cities by allowing feral dogs and cats to multiply to the point where herds roamed the streets out of control. Dogs became more than a nuisance, attacking small children on a regular basis, maiming many, killing some, and even injuring adults. One such vicious attack killed a Japanese businessmen in downtown Bucharest, while he was attempting to enter his high rise apartment building. His femoral vein was torn by the vicious bite and he bled to death. It was not unusual to see a feral cat or dog enter a department store or grocery store looking for food and people shrugged their shoulders. PETA made its way into Romania, and no more dogs were put to sleep or mistreated. Consequently, they multiplied wildly, as no veterinarian euthanasia was allowed. Country folks continued their cruel traditions unchecked.

Rats and mice had a plentiful life on the farm. They had corn and wheat in the attic and lots of food in the cellar. They burrowed between the walls and made their way to the attic. On any given night, there was a concert of tapping feet, going back and forth inside the walls, between the attic and the cellar. Eventually the colony grew so large, the house had to be destroyed and grandpa rebuilt nearby with brick and mortar, a much nicer home.

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