Steve and Sandra Collinson of Commondale, near Scarborough, have been involved with the glitzy side of the canine world for the past 15 years and are well-known breeders and show people in the UK and Europe with their Tibetan Terriers.
They have worked hard at establishing an enviable reputation and have had two international champions in the breed, but the photograph of a dog in Romania changed their lives.
Steve said he was so moved by what he saw in that one photograph that he messaged the lady who had put the story on social media.
“The dog was pictured outside a school and the wall was covered in blood. Everyone was putting comments about how cruel it was, but nobody was doing anything.
“I asked the lady what the story was with the dog and she said it was still on the streets, that the dog shelters were full and nobody would pay for any vets bills.
“I had no idea how big a problem there is in Romania and the Balkan countries and that there are tens of thousands in the same predicament.
“At that time, I rang the nearest big town to where the dog was, to contact a vet, a place called Timisoara.
“I told him the story and said that if I paid for the treatment would he keep it for me and I would arrange to have it picked up and brought to Commondale.
“I messaged the lady again to ask her if she could find the dog to take it to the vet.
“Two days later I received a call from the vet saying they had our dog, Sam. She had mange. It’s canine scabies where a mite gets in the hair follicle and causes skin disease. When dogs scratch it makes them bleed.”
Six months later Steve flew out and visited one of the shelters. Steve said it was a heartbreaking experience, something that will remain in his head forever.
“It was the worst thing I have ever done. I saw 200 dogs barking, fights breaking out because the dogs wanted attention.
“For a dog lover it was unbelievable. It stays in your head. You can’t get rid of it.
“A couple of dogs in particular were in a really bad way and I took one, Frank, to the vet while I was there.
“I couldn’t take him with me because passports were needed. When Frank was ready to be picked up I drove from Commondale to Romania.
“They have two kinds of shelter. One is called a kill shelter where the dogs have 14 days to be claimed or they are killed by horse tranquilisers or they go into a non-kill shelter such as one in Oravita where some dogs have been locked up for four years.
“The shelters are no more than wire with a tin sheet as the roof.”
Seeing the conditions first-hand at both types of shelter, Steve began rescuing even more dogs, travelling over to Romania at his own expense. Brexit meant he had to apply for various new licences and undergo additional competence courses for Europe, but he said it didn’t deter his effort.
“I’ve been over to Romania seven times since January this year. It’s a 30-hour journey from Commondale and I go through the Eurotunnel across France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.”
Steve is a bricklayer by trade and Sandra is a care worker in their home town of Guisborough.
They moved out to Commondale because of their dogs four years ago and Sandra also works with adults with learning disabilities at Beyond Boundaries at a neighbouring farm.
Sandra said their work now as North Yorkshire Foster Dogs is all about ensuring that their dogs rescued from Romania enjoy the rest of their lives and with the right owners.
“We look after the dogs and see what they are going to be like with children, adults, older adults and other animals.
“It is really important to match the dog with the owner. People put in an application with us and we assess whether we think it will be a good partnership.
“When the dogs go from us they go with a contract that states the dog must not be put to sleep and that we have to be informed if that is a consideration, they have to cover all vets bills, the dog cannot be sold on, and if anything ever goes wrong the dog must come back to us. We are giving the dogs a lifetime back-up.”
Steve said he is adamant about all of the rulings they have put in place because of what he has seen the dogs’ lives have been like in Romania.
“It’s hard for me because you would think that anywhere they get to live would be better than over there, but I don’t want to take the risk with just anyone.
“I know the kind of lives these dogs have had and that’s why Sandra and I need to make sure each new owner is as right for them as they can be.”
Sandra said that many understand totally why she and Steve are so careful and that it has brought them new friendships with dog lovers.
“We have made really good friends with those who have adopted. We have one older lady who took on an elderly dog and she told me recently it has changed her life.”
Steve is still making the journeys over to Romania and was about to set off on his latest last week.
He said he still feels as strongly now as when he started three years ago.
“That image never leaves me. We now have a Dogs of Oravita page on Facebook keeping everyone up to date.”