A Street Dog Named Blade by Jackie Lambert
During the buildup to our road trip through Romania, we were told so many scare stories that we almost didn’t go.
Along with warnings of scams, kidnapping and robbery, “packs of wild dogs will attack you” proved popular, teamed with assurances that wolves and bears would finish whatever the canine carnivores left behind.
I can’t deny there are a lot of stray dogs in Romania. This is the sad result of two tragedies; one natural, one man-made, which compelled people to abandon their pets. In the 1970s, an earthquake left many homeless. Then, in addition, Ceaușescu’s ‘modernisation’ of the country forced citizens to move from rural villages to the high-rise communist dream of towns and cities.
Our first encounter with a throat-tearing stray was at the fabled Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa Regia in Transylvania. As we entered, we saw a medium-sized, fluffy white sheepdog-type patrolling the UNESCO-listed temple ruins. The second he spotted Mark and I approaching with The Fab Four, our little fur family, two pale eyes locked on to us like lasers. He made a bolt straight at us. Then, from a respectful distance, he rolled over menacingly to demand a tummy tickle.
He shadowed us throughout our visit, then followed us back to where we’d parked our van, amiably in step with our pack. We rewarded him with a slap-up dinner comprising a full tin of beef and salmon dog food, a former favourite now spurned by our fussy furries, who lived happily in the knowledge that the next meal would always come.
“We can’t take him with us,” I said to my soft-hearted husband, Mark. I was torn, but made the point, “Touring in a caravan with five dogs, especially a stray, is just not practical.”
When I heard the van door slam, I had to check that Mark hadn’t sneaked him in!
Our next stop in Transylvania was a campsite in the village of Cisnădioara, just outside the Saxon city of Sibiu. There is absolutely loads in the area to do and see, so we planned to stay for at least a week, although for reasons that will become clear, we stayed a little longer...
As with most Romanian campsites, there were several resident strays who earned their keep by charming campers. A cute, little, black fellow, with a white chest, four smart, white socks and one floppy ear, bowled up immediately to introduce himself to The Pawsome Foursome. He looked like a cross between a border collie and some smooth-haired breed, and seemed fully grown, but his playful nature and puppy-white teeth suggested that he was a youngster—we guessed perhaps six months old. Since he was smaller than the other strays, he was way down in the pecking order. As an example, we gave him a chewy treat one day, only to see one of the bigger dogs steal it from him. To make sure he got at least a few decent meals in him while we were there, we fed him tins of our pups’ spurned surf ‘n’ turf.
‘The little black stray’ as we called him, became a regular visitor. He was very affectionate and loved company and a cuddle. We really enjoyed his visits and looked forward to seeing him every day. Our cavapoos (cavalier/poodle cross) are small dogs. Despite being a similar size to our Rosie, the little black stray had ‘presence’. He was a ‘proper’ dog with a deep and resonant bark. Although they liked him and he didn’t have a nasty bone in his body, our four rather frou frou cavapoodles were a little wary of his boisterous play.
One of our favourite aspects of road tripping is the brief encounters we have with a wide variety of people. In Cisnădioara, we met Jake and Kate. Another couple of ‘alternative lifestylers’, they had based themselves in Romania while they converted a six-wheel truck for their upcoming trip overland to Africa. We instantly became the best of buddies and had a great time together during our stay. Jake and Kate had quite a menagerie; two stray dogs, Stella and Jonti, and an abandoned parrot named Coco. The moment we gave voice to slightly abstract thoughts around adopting the little black stray, they leapt to our aid.
They had obviously considered it themselves, but Stella and Jonti were damaged and needy. They could not take on another pup, even though the little black dog was an absolute sweetheart.
“We know the local vet. We’ll help you get his passport!” they enthused.
Mark and I agonised over the decision. While life was obviously a slight struggle, the little black stray seemed relatively happy doing the rounds on the campground. He had his freedom, played with doggy visitors and the other strays, and had a distinct talent for getting food and love from big softies like us.
“Do you think it’s in his best interest to take him?” we asked the campsite owner. His answer could not have been more clear,
“Definitely. Yes! He probably won’t survive the winter. The bigger dogs get work from the shepherds, who feed them, but he’s too small. The camping closes in October, so there won’t be so much food around and in winter, all the water freezes.”
As we sweltered in the thirty-degree heat of a Transylvanian summer, the possibility that the mercury could drop to a brutal twenty below seemed incongruous. The thought that leaving him behind could be a death sentence prompted some serious soul searching in Caravan Kismet that night.
Since we travel with four dogs, we are very familiar with European pet travel regulations. Romania joined the European Union in 2007, so we knew a rabies jab followed by a thirty-day wait for it to become effective would entitle the little black dog to his passport to Britain.
We also knew that in pet transport terms, five is the magic number. Travel with more than five animals and you are viewed by Customs as a commercial operator. Then, the paperwork becomes much more onerous. Red tape would not stop us, but what about the practicalities?
Like Jake and Kate, we had reservations about touring with five dogs, particularly this black bundle of energy. Although everyone got along, our little pack was slightly scared of him. The solution we came up with was to re-home him back to England, so to test the water, we posted his picture on my Facebook profile and polled my friends,
“We will rescue him if we can find him a new home in the UK. He is friendly, affectionate and gets along with everyone, but he is lively and intelligent. Without lots of exercise and stimulation, he will become a problem dog.”
Within the hour, we had three forever homes and an offer to pay for his jabs. The little black dog had cast a spell that had crossed a continent.
Conscious of our conversation about the stray we’d met at Sarmizegetusa Regia, Mark double checked my feelings.
“I think we should take the little black dog,” I replied, without hesitation.
Mark and I are both impulsive. That’s exactly how we gave up work, got four puppies, accidentally bought a caravan, decided to rent out the house and embark on a permanent road trip. It also meant that we were not sensible enough to question the consequences of bringing a street dog along for the ride. Thoughts like, ‘urine-soaked caravan chewed into matchwood’ or ‘hindering border crossings and preventing you from re-entering your home country’ did not cross our minds, which is probably just as well.
After his latest portion of beef and salmon, the little black dog snuggled down to sleep underneath our caravan. There was no doubt—he had adopted us!
Now The Fab Four had morphed into The Famous Five, we needed a name. We lay on the bed with our four precious pups and pondered,
“What about ‘Chizzie’?” I said—from his home town, Cisnădioara.
“He doesn’t look like a Chizzie. Since we’re in Transylvania, how about ‘Vlad’ after the ‘real’ Dracula, Vlad the Impaler?”
“No. That’s not right.”
Then, I thought about Wesley Snipes and one of our favourite films,
“Blade—The Vampire Slayer.”
It suited him perfectly.
Our decision thrilled Jake and Katie, who bought Blade a collar, leash and identity tag. Then Jake took us to the vet. Blade was so trusting. He was a natural on the lead and hopped into our van, Big Blue without hesitation. After his jabs, we gave him a bath and a flea treatment, and although Jake and Kate offered to let Blade stay in their awning for his first night indoors, we decided we should start as we meant to go on.
‘Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst’ the saying goes. We prepared Blade for a new home that might not want dogs on the furniture. Also, to be fair to our four fur babies, we declared the bed a ‘Blade Free Zone’, where they could seek respite from his lively play. We placed cushions on the floor between the sofas at the front of the caravan to make a comfy nest for Blade, then went to bed. What could possibly go wrong on your first night with a street dog in the house?
Do you want the truth? Blade had a clean, dry night and woke us at 06:40 am for a comfort break.
“He makes our job very easy!” we said to the English couple we met on our walk near the castle at Saschiz a week later. They were aghast when we told them that the well-behaved dog trotting obediently at our heels was a stray we’d adopted only six days earlier.
Blade mastered walking on a loose lead from day one, and his recall was excellent within the week. My friend Nicky, a canine behaviourist, suggested that teaching him to roll over would be a useful skill to help him adjust to his future life.
“It is a very powerful psychological position of surrender and acceptance. It shows that he means no harm and is confident enough to be vulnerable.”
About ten minutes later, she followed up with, “Let me know when he has mastered that—and message me if you need some tips to help him learn.”
I had tears in my eyes when I typed my reply. I attached a photo of Blade rolling over for Mark before she had even sent her follow up email. There was no doubt—Blade was an amazing dog. The Fab Four are very bright. Although they are half poodle, the second most intelligent breed after the border collie, Blade knocked even them into a cocked hat.
The next chapter of Blade’s story broke my heart into a thousand pieces but made it swell with love and pride. The new home that we first organised for Blade didn’t work out—he didn’t gel with my friend’s pack. After rescuing him, there was no way we would let him go to anything but the most perfect home, but a surprise love affair developed over dinner one evening.
Back in the UK, we caught up with our dear friends, Helen and Bernie. They had invited their neighbours, Sally and Richard, over; a lovely couple whom we’d met several times before. They had recently lost their dog, Thorn, and were not ready for another pup, but chemistry was happening. Sally, Richard and Blade got on like a house on fire!
Since Sally trains three times daily to run marathons, exercise was not an issue, and Richard fell in love with Blade’s playful nature.
A few weeks later, we all went out for a walk and handed Blade over to Sally and Richard to see how they hit it off. Blade had been with us for nearly six months, yet he seemed to know. At the end of our stroll, The Fab Four hopped into our van, Big Blue, while Blade trotted off to his new home, straight past Big Blue and without so much as a backward glance at Mark and I.
Blade could not have found a more loving and perfect home. Sally sends us pupdates and photos, and we meet up when Mark and I are back in the UK.
That December, when temperatures plummeted to -30°C in Cisnădioara, we were left with zero doubt that adopting our Transylvanian orphan was the correct thing to do.
And in that moment when he walked so confidently away from us, we all knew that everything was right.
For the second time in his short life, Blade had chosen his destiny.
The Fab Four at Dacian Capital Sarmizegetusa Regia when we couldn't possibly adopt another dog
Off to the vets, first time in car
The New Family Shot - Blade's first outing on the leash
Three days into adoption - Blade off the lead in Sighișoara!
Playful Blade settles in
Blade with Rosie
First Puppy Pose Cincşor
At the stave church in Barsana
Lacul Roșu (2)
Already falling in love with the affectionate stray
A new life - Blade leaves Camping Ananas
Total recall within a week!
Blade with Kai
Fab Four Puppy Pose Cincşor
Blade wins the battle of the bed
Lacul Roșu (1)
The Famous Five at Barsana, Romania