The doctor who founded the first social veterinary hospital
Aurelian Ștefan has over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian. It wasn't enough for him to save animals, so he founded the Homeless Animal Hospital, the association that gives a chance to dogs and cats that need help.
Aurelian Ștefan worked for a long time in the private sector. He often found himself thinking about the "patients" who needed help but didn't have the resources to get it.
Trying to find a solution, Aurelian understood that he wanted to do something different from the few associations operating at that time in Romania and offered services to abandoned or sick animals. Since all veterinary clinics operate in a private system, and the Romanian state did not get involved in this field, the veterinarian visualized a hospital for dogs and cats that would work on the free market, and that would help animals from a medical point of view, not that would only provide shelter.
Facebook fundraising campaign
In 2011, the hospital was a World Animal Veterinary Emissaries project project. Aurelian Ștefan started the construction of the building with personal money and with fundraising organized on Facebook. In the first stage, people donated money for 5000 bricks.
The professional associations directly involved in the construction of the building came to help, such as Romania Animal Rescue, where Aurelian Ștefan is the medical director, who bought the necessary materials.
Today, Homeless Animal Hospital has a team of twenty doctors, veterinary nurses, and support staff, who together have one goal: to help where no one helps and where the need is urgent and critical.
A typical day for Dr. Aurelian at the Homeless Animal Hospital begins at nine in the morning. First on the list are "patients" in critical condition.
"It is tough to watch all these animals struggle to live. You do your best, but sometimes you have no choice but to grit your teeth effectively and hope."
Then, the day continues with routine consultations, treatments and analyses, meetings with the staff, and many telephone dialogues with people who have a sick animal and cannot afford to treat it.
He does not have a fixed time when he returns home. Some cases keep him at the hospital until quite late, and when he feels tired, he runs home because he knows that there are always colleagues who stay.
"The veterinarians at Homeless Animals Hospital are passionate. It is hard to find people who are so involved in social work, and when you do find them, some of them find it very difficult to fit into a veterinary clinic in the open market."
An animal is a friend, not an object to be afforded
Homeless Animal Hospital, located in Piteasca, a small town near Bucharest, offers animals orthopedic services, radiography, surgical operations, inhalation anesthesia, and days in intensive care, and this year, the first social CT for animals in Romania will be inaugurated.
The goal of the NGO founded by Aurelian Ștefan is to give people more time to spend with their pets. For example, the doctor told me that he came across the case of an older woman alone, with a small pension, who had a dog that comforted her. They were the best of friends.
Then, as the years passed, the puppy got sick, and the woman couldn't afford the treatment. She found out about the Homeless Animal Hospital, where she hospitalized the puppy, and then, after treatment, the four-legged friend returned home and lived with his girlfriend for many more years.
Likewise, there are cases of larger families from the countryside, with low incomes, who depend on a pet. When the dog gets sick, the children are depressed, and, more than that, the adults are left without a guardian of the household. Instead of losing the animal, they turn to the services offered by this veterinary hospital, which deals with providing help to "patients" starting from zero lei.
"At Homeless Animal Hospital, we love animals and consider them our equals. In our vocabulary, "master" does not exist, only human, canine, and feline companion."
Projects that consider health and education
Aurelian Ștefan told me that people in Romania do not perceive how many animals need help. In the countryside, in the twenty-first century, we still have cases of dogs being kept in chains, and then we still have to deal with illegal hunting, because of which domestic animals are also chained.
Moreover, also in the countryside, but not only, there are still cases of animal cruelty. The NGO fights not only to save them but also to change mentalities and somehow decrease the rate of tortured animals.
"We are a piece in this mechanism, and we know that through what we owe can change the world, even if sometimes we talk about the one around us."
Currently, in addition to the medical services offered at the hospital, Homeless Animal Hospital has several ongoing projects such as "Animal ABCs," "Veterinary Patrol," and "Education, Education, Education."
"ABC" stands for "Animal Birth Control." The act of sterilization of animals is the basis that ensures their health. In seven years, a canine couple can give birth to more than 60,000 puppies. Thus, their multiplication rate is much higher than the adoption rate, and many puppies are at risk of being abandoned or even killed.
Through this project, Homeless Animal Hospital offers sterilization from 0 lei for dogs and cats at risk of uncontrolled reproduction. So far, they have sterilized approximately 125,000 dogs and cats, most of them in Romania.
The "Veterinary Patrol" program has put into operation a mobile clinic that regularly goes to underprivileged areas in Romania and treats animals in need free of charge.
And the third ongoing project, perhaps the most important for Doctor Aurelian Ștefan, is "Education, education, education." It offers scholarships to doctors who want to help animals but are just starting. It also provides training for human companions. People who own a puppy or cat will not only have direct contact with doctors but will also learn, step by step, how to care appropriately for their furry friend.
More than a vocation
In 2023, such an emotional case still haunts Aurelian Ștefan. It is about the puppy of a lady from Brăila. Overnight, it could no longer be lifted. He was eating and acting normal, but he was sitting like a turtle that fell on its back.
The lady had rescued her some time ago from a cemetery. After he arrived at the woman's dorm, the two became inseparable. So, when she saw that the quadruped wouldn't get up, the woman panicked and called the Homeless Animal Hospital in desperation because she couldn't afford any private clinic.
The dog arrived at Piteasca, and an MRI and a CT scan were done there. A cervical disc herniation was discovered. She had surgery, and after a week, the puppy was up as if she never had a problem.
"I remember how excited that woman was when she saw it. With tears in her eyes, she said he no longer looked like the animal she had left and was so lively. Somehow, I felt like I gave them six feet so they could enjoy more time together."
If their income is higher, they can treat their pet at the Homeless Animal Hospital as at any private veterinary clinic, and their money will stay in the association and be used later to treat other four-legged friends.
"I am so happy that, besides all the cured animals, we have transformed Piteasca, a forgotten town near Bucharest, into a veterinary campus.