Vienna / Bucharest- On World Animal Protection Day 20 years ago, FOUR PAWS founders Heli Dungler and Josef Pfabigan presented a 74 'retro police bus as the first mobile veterinary clinic. What sounds strange today was a pilot project of its kind back then and a pioneer for mobile veterinary clinics that are used worldwide today. The former stray clinic will be reopened as a museum on this year's World Animal Day. FOUR PAWS managing director Josef Pfabigan, who was entrusted with the stray projects in Eastern Europe at the time, remembers the time: “Establishing stationary animal clinics in Romania was a real challenge in the 90s. There was a lack of structure and especially away from the big cities, the strays suffered immensely. That is why we came up with the idea to develop the first mobile veterinary clinic at FOUR PAWS. Of course, there was no experience converting old police buses in animal clinics, so Heli and I took everything into our own hands. ”Even then, Heli Dungler, founder of FOUR PAWS, was always personally involved in the projects with a lot of commitment and creativity. Heli Dungler passed away unexpectedly in January 2020 - Josef Pfabigan has headed the global animal welfare organization since then.
The clinic for stray dogs was a pilot project in 1999 and a role model for the mobile castration missions that FOUR PAWS is also using today to rescue bears and wild animals. “The bus was already retro back then and actually a real rust bower, but we invested a lot of passion and financial resources in the project. Inside we have equipped it according to the latest scientific standards and an air brush company helped us design the outside areas. On the back it still says 'Simply the best for animals' today. Our goal has always been to create decent living conditions for animals, ”says Pfabigan. The authorities bothered them at the time: “Nobody knew how to classify our project. Something like this just hasn't happened before Mamai took up his duties.
Reopening as a Museum
The bus is affectionately known as Mamai (Eng. Grandma) and is a museum in front of the FOUR PAWS partner animal home in Sperantain Bucharest. There are many memories in the Retrobus: the mobile clinic has been in use in over 23 locations over the years. FOUR PAWS was already working with the gentle catch-neuter-return method in 1999. Strays are gently caught, neutered and then released back into their territory healthy. This guarantees a humane way to curb the stray population in Romania, where unfortunately the killing of strays is still legal today. “I still remember the first dog that was neutered in the clinic. The white, gentle neighbour dog. It was just great to see that we could also reach remote villages and remote regions by bus. In some places we were the first to offer veterinary help and castration projects for strays. A real innovation!"
Since then, 100,000 dogs and cats have received medical care and castration in Romania in over 20 years of animal welfare work. The catch-Neuter return method has since been further developed. Scientific advances in treatment were regularly adopted and a vaccination program was also introduced. What has remained the same with today's catch-Neuter vaccine return method is the humanity with which the animals are treated. While the new mobile and stationary clinics from FOUR PAWS are already in operation, the old retro bus Mamai will be a reminder of the passion the organization has always retained, namely to help and protect animals in need.
A Shelter Called Hope
The Speranta animal shelter offers temporary homes to over 550 dogs in Bucharest. FOUR PAWS still runs an inpatient clinic together with our local partner Animal Society and visits around a dozen communities annually with mobile teams in order to be able to neuter and medically care for as many dogs and cats as possible. Comprehensive medical care is particularly important, because many dogs have serious injuries from which they will not recover from the outside. These dogs are then taken into the Speranta animal shelter. The name says it all: Speranta means hope in Romanian.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Hungary, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.uk