This is the first of a three part story about a little puppy named Evie and the story of her life thus far, told through the eyes of a young woman with a big heart. It begins with Evie's unlikely introduction to Cynthia, a volunteer for the Peace Corps who was living in Moldova at the time. We could not be more proud of Cynthia or more honored to have been allowed to play a small part in making this journey possible. Although Tim Shiffer is listed as the author of this post, the story below was written by Cynthia.
Evie's Story Part 1: Life in Moldova
I served in Moldova for the Peace Corps. My primary assignment was working with a children’s library, but in my free time I worked with one of the animal shelters in my town and spent a lot of time with strays. This shelter usually housed around 130 dogs. It was funded by a mayor’s office and its mission was to catch dogs on the street, spay or neuter them, and then release them back to the streets. I lived in a soviet style apartment building and there were strays all over. It was common to see one mama dog in the front of the building with puppies and another mama behind the building with more puppies. I always gave the runt special treatment and made sure I didn’t lose any of them.
There were another six or so adult dogs that wandered around outside the building and four cats with about ten kittens living underneath. My neighbors would feed the puppies pasta and milk or bread and milk mixed together. Even the "dog people" I knew thought that mother dogs and puppies should have cow’s milk… I didn’t argue, but I knew that cow’s milk was not at all important for nursing dogs or puppies. As you might imagine, it was a strange concept for my neighbors to grasp when they would see me buy real dog and cat food.
The animals I just talked about were the ones that lived right around my apartment building. If I walked to the end of the block there were other packs. I picked up a lot of strays myself and either brought the cats to the capital for sterilizations or the dogs to the shelter to get fixed. Because I loved the baby animals so much, I felt the need to keep them all healthy and alive. It was exhausting and I had to use a lot of my own money, but I kept trying to spay and neuter as many as possible. My neighbor told me that the mama dog in front of my building would have puppies once or twice a year for the last 8-10 years. I was shocked that she might be up to 10 years old because that was the oldest dog I knew of in Moldova. Not to mention that she had been hit by a car and only walked on 3 legs while one just hung there. She definitely looked older than her years. One day I carried that 45-pound dog to the shelter myself after her last litter was weaned. She was well overdue to be sterilized. My neighbors liked her because she was nice to kids and people, but would attack other dogs that got close. She kept guard of that block and only accepted a few dogs. There is a lot of fear of dogs in Moldova, so it was interesting that my neighbors warmed up to her so much, because she kept the other dogs away.
I never met a bad dog in Moldova. I only ever met dogs that had been beaten or treated badly and were scared, or they were just hungry. Any “bad” dog, I could eventually get to roll over for a belly rub.
In the villages, it is normal for a dog to be kept on a 2' chain and fed only bread for its entire life. If it is female sometimes they'll let them loose in the winter on a cold day (so the dog doesn’t freeze to death), but if another loose dog gets into the yard and the female gets pregnant, it is normal to “shoot the old one and keep a young one.” Otherwise, puppies and kittens were often left in dumpsters or drowned. One family I knew offered no reason for shooting their male dog. They just shrugged when I kept asking why. Now they have two puppies.
When I knew I would be coming back to the US, I started planning for how I could get two puppies back to the US with me. The dogs at the shelter have a rough life too, but they are fed a meat and grain dry food twice a day, have regular water, and they have shelter, which is better than a lot of strays or even village dogs have it.
I had a terrible time picking two puppies. I was worried about weight and I had to pick two that looked like they were about the same age and could be siblings. They also had to look like they were about 4 months, as one month must have passed after their 3-month rabies vaccine. I took two small females, because I know females usually have harder lives in Moldova. After a vaccination for parvo virus, one got sick very quickly. She was a beautiful blond puppy, we were calling Petra. Evie was then called Wish (Dorința) in Romanian and I took another puppy from the shelter, I called Hope (Speranța) in Romanian. Hope was a little white puppy that I had taken from the street myself about a week earlier. We got a call that there were two puppies near the road and were asked if we could come get them. We were there in just a few minutes, but one was already dead in the road. We had just missed it. He was still warm. I scooped the little white puppy up from under a dumpster and brought her to the shelter. She was bigger than Petra, so I didn’t pick her at first, but I had cried into her over her dead brother, and was a little attached to her, so I knew I would try to take her with Evie after Petra died.
About 9pm on the night before we were supposed to leave Hope started acting sick like Petra had. A little non-responsive and weak. I took her to the only emergency vet in the country and prayed that it wasn’t parvo again, although I already knew. I handed over my credit card and asked them to do whatever she needed, but it was horrible to realize that I couldn’t take her. I had to be at the airport at about 2 am. There was no way she would be cleared to travel or convince veterinarians that something wasn’t wrong with her in the next four hours. I had to call a friend and turn her care over to him and leave with just Evie. Evie had now been exposed to two puppies with parvo but somehow her little 5-pound body was strong.
I left Evie with a friend on the third floor of the building where I was gathering all my stuff to leave, when I was at the vet with Hope. I could hear her howling for me from the first floor, and I had only picked her up that afternoon. I realized I had to carry her around with me. As I was throwing 50lbs bags around I had to keep her safe in her carrier, but she had to be able to see me, or she’d start howling. I didn’t sleep at all that night, but she passed out for a little bit.
We took a taxi to the airport and waited a long time before I could check us in. Lots of little kids were super curious and loved that I had a puppy in my arms. My experience in Moldova taught me that the fear and dislike of dogs was definitely learned from parents or grandparents. Little kids seemed to love baby animals, just like little American kids do.