Adoption from abroad: how animal welfare activists rescue dogs from italy

This is how animal welfare activists rescue dogs from Italy and place them in Germany – a look behind the scenes

Professional photo Hendrikje Rudnick

Two Maremmano puppies rescued from Italy

Since 20 years the association Hundehilfe Mariechen mediates dogs from Italy to Germany. There are many street dogs there. Hunters who no longer need their dogs often shoot them.

In Italy laws make it difficult to adopt to Germany. Therefore, a lot of on-site education is important.

This year again dogs from Italy have come to Germany. Hendrikje Rudnick was in Wurzburg for Business Insider when 20 animals met their new owners there.

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Chiara Bruschi grows up in a small town in Italy. Her father is a hunter. As is common in Italy, the family has several dogs that are taken along on the hunt. But before the hunting season begins, all the animals are checked. Those who are not suitable for hunting in the eyes of the hunter are sorted out and shot.

Chiara Bruschi has to watch the procedure from an early age and can hardly bear it. Her father does not understand. He takes her hunting – she will already lose her love for animals once she knows the hunter’s point of view, he believes. But he is wrong. Bruschi’s compassion for the dogs only grows and grows.

As soon as she is old enough and earns her own money at the end of the 90s, she wants to help. Every day after work she goes to the local animal shelter, donating food, money and her time. Like many other Italian animal shelters, this one is very small, and small are also the cages. Far too many dogs sit in each one, some on top of each other, there is hardly any exercise – so the animals have to do their business in the cage.

10.1 million dogs live in German families. Again and again people decide not to buy a dog from a breeder, but to adopt one. For some years now, organizations have also been bringing dogs from abroad to Germany – for example from Italy, where the animals often have no prospects for the future. One of these organizations is the voluntary association Hundehilfe Mariechen. Her work is made possible by people who are committed to the placement of the animals in their country of origin. Chirara Bruschi is one of them.

With her the impulse came one day, when Bruschi discovers in the Italian animal home that one of the overcrowded cages is suddenly empty. 27 Dogs are gone. "The German took them," says the then director of the shelter succinctly. "They take our dogs to Germany and cut them up there." In fact, to this day there are always vague rumors in Italy that rescued dogs are mistreated and dissected for experiments in laboratories in Germany.

Chiara Bruschi, however, can’t believe it. She tracks down "the German", writes her letters and asks to meet her. The German, that is Manuela Ott. She founded the "Hundehilfe Mariechen" at that time. Chiara Bruschi goes to Germany and sees the situation on the spot. Here it is completely different than in Italy: The dogs have space in the shelter and enough exercise. So Bruschi begins a collaboration with the German association, which continues to this day.

"I described the dogs in Italy, sent information and photos by mail to Germany. Manuela then found families who want to take in the dogs," says Bruschi. Back then – in the early 2000s – this was a brand new concept of rescuing dogs from other countries. Chiara Bruschi had to do a lot of convincing at her place. Most people in the Italian animal shelters were suspicious, some did not want Bruschi to work with and with them.

In 2010, the animal rights activist was even accused by a former dog owner, she says. His animal had been taken away from him because of bad keeping. He then accused Chiara Bruschi of bringing the animal to Germany to an experimental laboratory where it would be abused for medical purposes. She wins the lawsuit, but still has to fight such accusations again and again.

Italian laws make adoption to Germany difficult

Finally Chiara Bruschi finds a shelter owner who wants to work with her. Bruschi goes with her to Germany to show her how adoptions work. Little by little it gets easier for the Italian woman. "In the meantime, I have built up a relationship of trust with the offices. They know me and my work," she explains. Nevertheless, it is not easy to place the dogs. Way too much bureaucracy, way too much paperwork.

On the German side today Prof. Dr. Andrea Kubler the chairwoman of the board of Hundehilfe Mariechen. She has a degree in biology and psychology and is a volunteer in the association. She knows the hurdles of adopting dogs from abroad. "In Italy, there is a law that makes it very difficult for us to place the dogs in Germany," she says. There they distinguish between "public dogs" and "private dogs". If a dog is abandoned or taken away from its owner because of bad attitude and brought to the shelter, it is a "public dog", which means that it has no clear owner. These then practically belong to the state and must be picked up personally by a person – the new owner or a mediator – who signs for the dog on the spot.

So if a German family wants to adopt a dog from an Italian shelter, a person there would have to go to the shelter and pick up the dog personally. That several dogs are brought to Germany and handed over there is actually not possible. "Fortunately, Chiara has arranged an exception permit with the Italian cities, which allows us to submit the signatures a little later, once the dogs have been handed over here in Germany," says Andrea Kubler.

"Private dogs" on the other hand are dogs that have a clear owner and have not been surrendered to a public shelter. If, for example, a hunter calls Chiara Bruschi to get rid of dogs, they are not considered "public". This makes it a little easier to bring the animals to Germany.

About 19 hours of work every day

Bruschi is up every day at 5.30 o’clock on. First she takes care of her own animals. She has three dogs, 40 cats, chickens and goats at home – all adopted, saved from death. Then she goes to work. Chiara is a teacher at a preschool in the kindergarten. Until 13.30 o’clock she works there with the children, afterwards she goes directly to the animal shelter.

Now the volunteer work begins. She takes the dogs to the vet, feeds them, spends time with them. Regularly she gets calls from hunters. Here would be dogs to give away again. Either she fetches them – or the animals are shot. In the evenings, she takes care of the paperwork that comes up: applications, communication with the offices, calls and mails to Germany. Earlier than 00.30 o’clock the Italian rarely gets to bed.

"If I don’t save them, these dogs will die," says Chiara Bruschi. She knows she can’t save them all – and it’s always hard when she can’t take them all with her when she goes hunting. "Those eyes, you can’t forget them," she says.

On the spot the preparations are going on

But she has already rescued many – together with the dog help Mariechen. On a Wednesday in October, Andrea Kubler is with Chiara Bruschi in the small Italian village of Policiano.

In a few days, 20 dogs will be driven to Germany in a transporter. The women prepare everything for it. Three new puppies have just arrived at the shelter: DaVinci, Leonardo and Galileo. A shepherd, who "produces" puppies, has handed over the young males.

He keeps the female puppies or passes them on as "birthing machines," Kubler explains. Two of the puppies have already been placed. "We cannot leave the third one here alone. He has to go too," she says. First a member of Mariechen takes DaVinci and then mediates him further in Germany.

The handover in Germany

Ten days later, the helpers of Mariechen are standing in a parking lot in Wurzburg. Here the dogs should arrive in the morning and be handed over to the owners. The large area is surrounded, here the dogs can go for a walk first.

Since about 6.30 o’clock in the morning the volunteers are on site, have set up and prepared all the documents. They step from one foot to the other, keep looking at their cell phones – in case there is news from the transport. Little by little the new owners arrive. Many do not come directly from Wurzburg, but have arrived by car.

Around 8 o’clock then the transporter turns into the street and drives onto the property. Today the veterinary office is also there, from time to time they carry out checks.

20 dogs came in boxes in transport from Italy. One by one, the helpers take them out of the car and present them to the vets. All dogs must be vaccinated and chipped, they also need an EU pet passport.

Hundehilfe Mariechen has placed the dogs beforehand. On the website of the association you can look at each dog and get in touch if you are interested. On the phone all important questions are clarified – about the dog and also about the family. Are all members of the family agree with the admission of a dog? Is there already another animal in the family? Have all enough time to take care of the new dog?

After the meeting, a Mariechen employee goes to the family for a preliminary check, looks at the apartment or house and gets to know the new adoptive parents. Here all final questions can be asked again. Before and after the adoption, the families always have a contact person who is available to advise them.

Adoption from abroad: how animal welfare activists rescue dogs from Italy

When picking up the dogs, the new owners sign the transfer contract and pay a protection fee. Then finally they are allowed to receive their new family members – like today the waiting people in Wurzburg. Some have waited four weeks for their dog, others even half a year.

Some dogs jump directly into the arms of their new owners, others are hesitant and have to sniff around first. Everything here is new and different – the animals have a long journey behind them.

Seven of the dogs do not have a final home yet, they are still being placed here in Germany. But for the other 13 dogs it goes now to their new families: to their own blanket, their own food bowl.

Around noon the transporter is empty. The helpers fill it with about 900 kilos of dry, puppy and wet food. In addition, blankets and bath bowls also come with. During donation campaigns, the food was delivered by feed manufacturers and private individuals. In return, the animal shelters in Italy keep places free for dogs that are brought to Germany.

"When a dog is unwell, an Italian hunter just laughs about it – and a German family cries. This is the big difference", says Chiara Bruschi. She hopes that the Italian culture towards dogs will become more like the German culture. But as long as this does not change, the Italian continues.

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