When Sarah Napier welcomed feral dog Ursu into her home from Romania in 2015, he arrived biting, bucking and frightened.
“He hadn’t walked as such for up to four years. He wouldn’t take a collar or a lead. He was terrified of just about everything,” she says.
Despite years of trauma, Ursu, meaning bear in Romania, has now learned to let go of his fears and in a heart-warming new book, Sarah, from Huddersfield, shares his story from a dog “broken, terrified and unapproachable” to one “affectionate and exuberantly happy”.
“Ursu had survived as a stray for about two years on the streets of Bucharest before being caught by the dog catchers and flung into one of Romania’s most notorious kill shelters,” Sarah says.
“Miraculously he survived on scraps of food for about three years despite being surrounded by death and disease and was somehow spared the barbaric regular killing of the dogs.”
Ursu was aged around seven when a photo of him was spotted by Sarah on a UK animal adoption and sale website in 2014.
By this point, charity Monica’s Romanian Rescue had intervened and had seen Ursu moved to a “better” shelter, Sarah says, where it was sponsoring his keep and hoped to find him a forever home.
But Ursu had become so traumatised by his life events that he had to be sedated or netted before being approached, Sarah writes in her book, entitled Ursu – Never Give up on a Dog.
Against the odds, she took him on – and Ursu travelled from Romania to join her and husband Robert three years ago.
“We were his only enquiry in all his life,” Sarah says.
Caroline Logan, of Wakefield, volunteers with the rescue charity and witnessed Ursu’s violent reaction on the day he was collected by the Napiers.
“The kill shelters of Romania are so called because of their brutal practices including culling dogs in inhumane ways including clubbing, poisoning, starving, freezing them to death and burning them alive.
“The strays are caught using metal lassos that tighten round the neck and some have their legs trussed at painful angles. Ursu witnessed all of this and experienced much of it and chose to shut down from humans.
“He would growl if anyone made a move towards him and his eventual fate was unclear while ever he was incarcerated.”
After a remarkable transformation, Ursu accompanied Sarah to a book signing at Waterstones in Huddersfield at the weekend, patient as strangers made a fuss of him – and he is continuing to make progress.
“The morning after we got him which had been a very traumatic day for all three of us, Ursu took the decision to come up to me and sit down in front of me and put his head on my lap,” Sarah says. “After years of shunning all human contact his behaviour was extraordinary.
“He was still terrified and feral and inclined to try and bite and it was a long haul to get him to where he is now, but his canine intelligence told him he was somewhere very different and that he should take a chance on us.
“He is now the most affectionate of dogs and exuberantly happy. If Ursu and I can do it then anyone with the patience and motivation to help these wretched dogs can do so too.
“The charity said he was one of the most damaged dogs they have ever seen. But it isn’t rocket science. Have love in your heart and think like a dog and not as a human and with patience a dog will turn itself around.”
Ursu – Never Give up on a Dog is priced at £7.99 and it is hoped it will help raise funds for Monica’s Romanian Rescue.