The story of survival – the tale of a feral Romanian dog traumatised by human brutality will be told in Sheffield

A former Sheffield woman who, against all the odds, took on a feral Romanian dog so traumatised by human brutality he had to be sedated or netted before being approached, will be telling her remarkable story in the city next week.

By Stephanie Bateman
Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 1:19 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 1:23 pm
Poor Ursu before
Poor Ursu before

Sarah Napier, now of Huddersfield, will be at Waterstones Meadowhall between 11am and noon on Saturday, March 23, with her dog Ursu to sign copies of his remarkable story.

Written to help raise funds for charity and inspire adoptions, exceptionally Waterstones is waiving its usual terms and conditions enabling proceeds from the one hour of sales to go directly towards supporting other stray dogs.

Poor Ursu before

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Sarah’s book ‘Ursu – Never Give up on a Dog’ is receiving five star reviews and has already attracted public praise from Downton Abbey actor and animal activist Peter Egan and actor Thelma Barlow. 

Former BBC newsreader and TV personality Jan Leeming was so impressed with the book it inspired her to meet him in his home on a recent trip from Kent to Yorkshire in January. 

Ursu – meaning bear in Romania - was already aged around seven when his photo on a U.K. animal website caught the eye of Sarah Napier in late 2014.

Unfortunately, enquiries at the time revealed he was considered too mentally damaged to home and the charity sponsoring his keep in Romania – - had just taken the decision that he should stay in the country and take his chances there. 

Ursu now

Explaining the situation Sarah said: “Ursu had survived as a stray for about two years on the streets of Bucharest before being caught by the dog catchers and flung into one of Romania’s most notorious kill shelters.

“Miraculously he survived on scraps of food for about three years despite being surrounded by death and disease and was somehow spared the barbaric regular killing of the dogs.

“No-one knows for sure how he survived but the book explores how this might be explained and how he came to be transferred to a better shelter, but still a kill shelter, where he continued to shun human contact despite the best efforts of some local volunteers.”

The kill shelters of Romania are so called because of their brutal practices including culling dogs in inhumane ways including clubbing, poisoning, starving, freezing them to death and burning them alive.

The strays are caught using metal lassos that tighten round the neck and some have their legs trussed at painful angles.

Ursu witnessed all of this and experienced much of it and chose to shut down from humans.  He would growl if anyone made a move towards him and his eventual fate was unclear while ever he was incarcerated. 

Peter Egan, who himself travelled to Romania with a team in the summer of 2018 to witness and film the needless terrible plight endured by the thousands of homeless dogs that roam the country describes the book as a “brilliant read”. 

  A 30 minute documentary entitled ‘A Dog’s Life – the Homeless Dogs of Romania’ was presented by Peter at a live screening in Brussels in January to coincide with Romania taking over the Presidency of the EU and calls on the country to abide by the existing EU legislation that would better protect these animals.

Peter goes on to say : “Having recently filmed in Romania I know what it takes for a dog to survive on the streets or in the Kill shelters. Ursu survived. He inspires us all to never give up.” 

It took a lot of persuading for the charity to let Sarah take on the dog and it was only after a home visit and on the understanding that Ursu would be taken away if his aggression couldn’t be controlled, that Sarah was given the chance to try. Ursu travelled from Romania to join Sarah and her husband Robert in January 2015.

“We were his only enquiry in all his life,” observes Sarah, “and the more I learned of his story the more I felt such a stoic dog should be given his chance. But I’m not a dog psychologist and had to rely on an innate understanding backed up by much research to try and work with him.

“There was no way my husband and I could take him to dog training. He arrived biting, bucking and terrified and hadn’t walked as such for up to four years. He wouldn’t take a collar or a lead. He was terrified of just about everything. We were beginning way back from the usual start line.”       . 

Despite the potential for a tragic tale ‘Ursu – Never Give up On a Dog’ is so-called because of its heart-warming portrayal of how there is no such thing as a bad dog, and that a canine’s emotional intelligence in its relationship with humans should never be underestimated. 

“The morning after we got him,” continued Sarah, “which had been a very traumatic day for all three of us, Ursu took the decision to come up to me and sit down in front of me and put his head on my lap.  After years of shunning all human contact his behaviour was extraordinary. 

“He was still terrified and feral and inclined to try and bite and it was a long haul to get him to where he is now, but his canine intelligence told him he was somewhere very different and that he should take a chance on us.  He is now the most affectionate of dogs and exuberantly happy.”

Priced at £7.99 ‘Ursu – Never Give up on a Dog’ tracks the first two years of Ursu’s life with the Napiers and is accompanied by photography.  Waterstones is at 26 The Arcade, Meadowhall Centre Sheffield S9 1EL.