Testimonial of Chrissy Phillips – Founder and CEO of the charity Romania Animal Aid
Chrissy Phillips : Romania Animal Aid
I first met Dana Costin in the Summer of 2008 a year or so before I started the charity RAA. I’d spent a week in Romania in May of that year and was struck by the devastating street dog problem there. On my return to the UK I decided to get involved and one of the only charities I could find online in those days was ROLDA. Even then Dana had a considerable internet presence and so I made contact and subsequently spent a few days in Galati a few months later staying at the small cottage located on-site at the ROLDA shelter.
During this stay myself and a friend observed several things that worried us but we were under the impression that many ‘issues’ were due simply to a lack of financial resources and this explanation we readily accepted as we had no reason to believe otherwise at that time.
From that visit we had many key concerns several of which would be voiced by other visiting volunteers over the following 2-years. For the most part these were: –
- A real lack of exercise for the dogs at the small ROLDA shelter who are kept in their kennels almost all the time. At best they would get some exercise every few days but very little stimulation otherwise.
- No on-site security overnight, if the dogs get ill or someone breaks in – they would be very vulnerable
- A distinct disinterest by Dana for helping to spay local animals. Many of the neighbours close to the small shelter spoke to us and were keen in having there animals neutered but when I mentioned this to Dana she commented that they should stop being lazy and drive to the clinic themselves. When I answered that some had no transport she said they should take the bus. There were a couple of elderly ladies living very close by that just couldn’t have carried their animals there. I found her attitude really at odds with the message being given to supporters by Dana that ROLDA were running a spay program aimed at helping the community.
- A few dogs that we did stop by the road side to get spayed were done so at the clinic in Galati. I personally was shocked by the crude nature of the spay work but I put this down to the vets perhaps not being well trained. I became clear over time however that infection is rife in the ROLDA dogs following spay ops and i’m not surprised when I reflect back to what I saw during that visit.
- Over at the large shelter funded entirely by Mittal but run by Dana, things were even worse. The dogs were/are in concrete kennels 24/7. They get absolutely no exercise at any time, they sit on cold, wet, damp, dirty concrete. No toys, no beds, no hope!!! Many shelters in Romania that I have seen have very many dogs held in small areas but I had never seen a place quite so stark, soulless and heart-breaking as this large shelter. Many of the dogs had tasted freedom having living near the Mittal plant and now there were here locked away for the rest of their lives other than the few lucky ones that may find a home overseas. Yes they are being given food and shelter but the conditions are awful and in my opinion these dogs would be better off on the street or being put to sleep than exist like that. Neither this shelter nor the small shelter were open to the public so no adoption drive was operating. The workers simply cleaned up, put the food down and left. This was a prison, nothing else. It can in no way be called a ‘sanctuary’. There was/is plenty of secure space within the high walls of this larger shelter left over where exercise pens could be built pretty cheaply but this never came to fruition no matter how many times I begged Dana to do this over the coming 2/3years.
Following this visit and my return home I initially helped support Veronica Titchener based here in the UK who at that time was helping support Dana/ROLDA by sending supplies of food, blankets, toys, crates out to the shelter. Veronica was also the point of contact in the UK for ROLDA and she ran a bank account in ROLDA’s name for UK donations. I would help Veronica by drafting letters to appeal to dog food suppliers and to shops and businesses that may consider taking a ROLDA collection tin (all with a covering letter that stated clearly that any donations collected were to be sent to Veronica Titchener made payable by cheque to ROLDA).
At some stage in late 2008, early 2009 I started to rehome dogs to the UK for Dana. This was very time consuming given the 6-month quarantine for the UK along with the checking of passports, trying to find good adoptees, arranging transport etc. but I persevered as I was determined to try and help as many of the dogs from the two shelters she ran as I could. I wanted some of them to have the chance of a new life, not just sit there waiting to die. Over the course of the next 2-years Dana and myself fell out many times, she just cannot take constructive criticism without launching into attack mode. Dogs would arrive here in the UK and be the wrong sex, one was unspayed, 4 had big problems with their legs/hips – 3 of which went on to have major operations. A couple had bad spay infections also. I didn’t understand why Dana could not check the dogs sufficiently before they left for the UK, why simple fundamental mistakes as to their gender were being made time and time again. On most occasions I received no apologies whatsoever, just defensive excuses and blame levied at ‘her workers’. Again, I continued on regardless with the sole aim of helping more dogs find a way out of there.
Our relationship was further strained as I also felt frustrated by the lack of progress being made at either shelter despite constant appeals circulated by Dana to all her supporters. Over time I couldn’t understand the point of her trying to raise funds to build a cat shelter when the dogs at the larger shelter were still caged up with no chance of ever feeling some grass under their feet, no place to run and exercise. Still lying there on the concrete day after day. I also didn’t understand why their were never any real updates as to the vet hospital/clinic Dana was appealing for after so many years. Spay campaigns never seemed to come to fruition despite on-going appeals for money. The only spay work that I was aware of taking place was funded by Mittal. Donations were also requested for food, meds etc. Again, I could never understand this as from my understanding, all of the dogs at the small ROLDA shelter were taken from the large Mittal shelter and so their vet treatment was covered or their spay, chip and vaccination costs certainly were. During my few days in Galati I noticed piles of dry dog food at the ROLDA shelter. Dana told me it came from the large Mittal shelter so even that was paid for. In summary, appeals were always forthcoming from Dana but I couldn’t understand what costs she had to cover aside the 1 x caretaker salary she has to pay for the lady that works at the small ROLDA shelter.
I also found it strange that Dana would at times suggest that she was running the larger Mittal shelter and looking after 600+ dogs usually in the context of an appeal. She may well be running it as a ‘volunteer’ as she herself states but she is in no way financing the large shelter as all the costs are paid for by Mittal. At other times Dana has even stated openly that Mittal pay for all costs so I still couldn’t understand why people weren’t making the link before parting with their money. For my own part, I figured out early on that something didn’t feel quite right and so I never sent funds either personally or via RAA (aside an initial £500 donation from my own personal account in 2008).
Whenever I asked about improving conditions for the dogs at either shelter there were always the same excuses about lack of money or that (in the case of the large shelter) she didn’t have the authorisation to action this as the place was funded by Mittal whereas when the situation suited her, she would seem to have all the authorisation needed – there was no consistency!! In respect of beds/blankets for the dogs especially in Winter… I was told unless I could afford enough beds for every dog they would fight and so it wouldn’t be ideal. The other excuse was that the workers wouldn’t want to clean around them. Well, I couldn’t afford enough dog beds for all and so as a substitute I sourced 260 plastic pallets and had them shipped from the UK to Romania at a cost of almost £2,000 during the Winter of 2010. Although not ideal, these pallets were washable, they could be hosed down as they had ‘run-through’ legs so fairly easy to clean. They raised the dogs off the cold dirty floor and just gave them ‘something’ in their desolate kennel. I send a photo of pallets to Dana prior to ordering them and we decided that these were better than nothing. It was just a month or so later that I read in a newsletter written by Merritt Clifton in the US that a UK ‘donor’ had sent pallets but they were completely unsuitable and so they were not being used. This was crushing to me not just from a financial standpoint but because I’d tried so hard to find a way to make the dogs lives even just a small bit better. Dana hadn’t even bothered to tell me they weren’t being used and when I confronted her with this she told me Merritt had made a mistake although having checked with subsequent volunteers to Galati I know they are not in use. Surely they were better than having the dogs sleep on the floor? On this note, I have grave reservations about Merritt Clifton and his unwavering support of Dana/ROLDA. I simply do not understand how a man in his position who writes for a dog publication in the US can present such a distorted view of ROLDA to it’s readers.
Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion but it beggars belief that he rates the facility there so highly and never asks why more isn’t being done to help the dogs in either shelter and locally via spay campaigns. I truly believe at best his views are naive, at worst they are alarmingly misleading to his readers. Why are there not more people asking exactly what the donations that Dana receives is being spent on when all of her day to day costs are covered by Mittal????
In the Summer of 2009, I visited another shelter run by the FPCC based in Northern Romania. I drove to Romania so that I could bring back 6 more ROLDA dogs that were ready with passports at the end of my visit. The FPCC run the most successful and extensive spay program within Romania and in addition to their city shelter they have pioneered the concept of an ‘Open Shelter’ otherwise known as a ‘Natural Shelter’. Along with several others and some representatives from the Dogs Trust we visited this open shelter and it was extremely impressive. Their city shelter was also impressive with a good adoption drive, they have dog show days and many of the locals bring back their adopted dogs to enjoys these days. Near the end of my trip to Oradea in 2009 Dana met me in Oradea with the 6 dogs. She had driven over 10-hours to get there so was understandably tired but instead of returning directly the next day to Galati I asked if she would like to visit the FPCC’s city shelter and their open shelter. These were both not far away and considering she may not get up to Oradea again for a long time it would be invaluable for her to see their set up and glean from them some useful ideas. She was not in the slightest bit interested and so returned direct to Galati. Just recently I noticed her appealing for funds for a ‘Natural Shelter’ – the same style of shelter run by the FPCC which she couldn’t have been less interested in 2-years ago. Again, we will have to see if that ‘project’ ever comes to fruition. None of the others seem to have.
Another appeal I’ve seen recently is for an air-conditioning unit inside the van used to take dogs back/forth to the vets. I offered to pay for this during my visit to Galati in 2008 as saw for myself how hot the Summers can be and how the dogs literally roasted in the back of an enclosed van with no ventilation. Back in 2008 I was told that Mittal would not authorise any adaptations to their van so unless their views have changed – why appeal now for funds for an air-con unit?
One last memory I have of my few days in Galati is of a poor dog suffering from what seemed to be a broken nose that kept sleeping outside the shelter walls but by the only entrance to the small shelter. Flori the shelter caretaker mentioned the dog had been suffering for 2-weeks prior to us arriving. This dog was coughing up blood and clearly distressed so we asked if we could take her to the vet. Dana helped us with this but it worried me how this dog could’ve been overlooked for 2-weeks in that state. Even though it was obvious to me that Dana did not visit the shelter daily – how was she not spotted for 2-weeks. Dana told me the dog subsequently died.
In May of 2011 I decided I could no longer continue being associated with Dana Costin and ROLDA. Many people can testify that I had many reservations for such a long time but remained in contact SOLELY to help find homes for some of the poor souls in her shelter/s. On advising Dana that I could no longer be involved in any way she (as always) went on attack mode and spread complete and utter lies about me and my charity. This is Dana’s usual tactic when she feels slighted in anyway, it’s shameful. Dana will always attack first to deflect any unwanted attention that may be heading her way. Around that same time a supporter on Facebook noticed a Facebook cause that Dana had set up in the name of Romania Animal Aid but with the proceeds going directly to ROLDA. I had not been aware of this page and she certainly had never sought my permission to set this up. I asked Dana privately in an email to remove this page and she refused. Only when I (and others) reported her to Facebook was she made to take it down. This is fraud and totally unacceptable.
It is my honest belief that Dana Costin uses the dogs held within her shelter and those also at the Mittal shelter as a money-making commodity. She cares nothing as to their well-being. She has no expenses to pay but the emotive subject of animal rescue ensures a steady stream of donations from people completely unaware as to what’s going on out there and to her true character. It’s a crime not only against the animals that she is supposed to be helping but also to more decent hard-working Romanians struggling to make a difference on a mere fraction of the money she receives. It is scandalous in the extreme!
The only reason Dana works hard on her rehoming project (again, all costs are covered by Mittal and/or adoptees) is because she believes that every dog adopted overseas creates a potential new sponsor/donor opportunity. It is always about the money, nothing else!
It’s time people wake up to the reality of Dana Costin and ROLDA. She’s a smart lady and has fooled too many people for far too long and for the sake of the animals suffering needlessly within her shelters and those on the streets of Galati she should not be allowed to get away with it any longer.
27th August 2011