Alone with the animals. Coronavirus fears force Italian philanthropist into quarantine at animal sanctuary in Romania

Sara Turetta at Save the Dogs shelter, Cernavoda, 2003, by Francesco Cito
Sara Turetta at Save the Dogs shelter, Cernavoda, 2003, by Francesco Cito

Italian philanthropist Sara Turetta has the company of 60 donkeys, 15 horses, 150 dogs and many cats at the animal settlement she runs in eastern Romania.

But for the past 10 days, Turetta who splits her time between Milan and Cernavoda where she established the Save the Dogs charity, has been on her own in so-called voluntary quarantine in Romania over concerns about exposure to the coronavirus in Europe’s worst-hit region.

Turetta, who has been rescuing and caring for abandoned animals in a poor region close to the Black Sea for the last 18 years, flew from Milan to Bucharest on February 23.


Staff at the Henri Coanda airport asked her to fill in a questionnaire.

The next day, back in Cernavoda, 165 kilometers east, she was contacted by public health authorities, who asked her to take her temperature and self-isolate.

“What surprises me is that I heard of many other Italians who came and left after filling the same form, but nobody was quarantined, so I wonder why I am included in this quarantine program,” she told

“But as long as this helps keep the coronavirus under control, I will participate and respect the rules.”

The quarantine is useful free time for Turetta who is currently writing her autobiography for an Italian publisher.

“It is about …. my 18 years charity work in Romania, so I will use these days to write the final chapters,” she said.


In her native Italy, the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to 52, an increase of 18 since Sunday, as the number of confirmed cases rose to 1,835, the Guardian reported.

Milan is in the Lombardy region which has reported more than 1,000 cases.

„Milan is normally buzzing, but the day after I left the schools were locked,” she said speaking of the community she left behind. “It’s weird, the city is not used to slow rhythms. Thousands of companies have forced employees to stay home.”

“It’s like Milan in August, Italy is paralyzed; it’s a weird kind of holiday in February,” she said. “Bars are forced to lose at 6 pm, the apertivo (pre-dinner drink) is forbidden.”

„But we are very resilient, we understand (the situation) and the mayor is very much respected,” she said. “There really isn’t much criticism.”


There is plenty of work to do in Romania, though. Save the Dogs, registered as a non-governmental organization, has 50 staff_ 45 local hires and five employees from Italy and Britain_ and an annual budget of 1 million euros.

Even so, the charity is in dire need of 3-4 need of veterinarians and nurses to continue its work in the community.

Donkeys at the Save the Dogs rescue shelter in Cernavoda

Turetta, who worked as an account manager at Saatchi and Saatchi in Milan, first came to Romania in 2001 and was moved by the plight of stray dogs, many of which were suffering and literally “dying on the streets.”

Even when she lived in Milan full-time, Turetta worked as a volunteer at dog kennels, but the situation in Romania was far more distressing.

She decided something needed to be done to end the situation where dogs are kept in “miserable pounds and killed after 14 days.”

The following year, Turetta resigned her job and moved to Romania in where she set up the charity.

Helped by Italians who were working at the nuclear plant in Cernavoda, she started to rescue stray dogs, who were being poisoned at the time.

“I convinced the mayor to start a trap, neuter and release program and I moved here on my own for 4 years, starting from scratch,” she said.

One mayor supported the initiative, but another two launched a “catch and kill” program using private companies.


The charity pays more than 1,000 euros in taxes and garbage every month and has invested in infrastructure and human resources.

It runs the Footprints of Joy settlement for abandoned animals, which stretches for over 7 hectares on the rolling hills and includes a sanctuary for the 60 donkeys, 15 horses, 50 dogs and a cattery.

It even has a sprawling social vet clinic, where 1,300 dogs and cats are neutered for free every year, and veterinary assistance is offered for free to social cases, enabling first aid to more than 200 dogs and cats a year.

Some 37,000 dogs and cats have been neutered for free, and 7,000 have been rehomed internationally, especially in Sweden.


“We are different to other animal welfare organizations; we have a holistic and special approach to the territories where we step in with the project,” she said.

She now spends most of her time in Italy, managing the charity headquarters in Milan and lobbying internationally.

“This is a deprived community and we care a lot for the people as well. We help beyond our mission, we believe a more compassionate society includes people and animals.”

On Twitter: @SavetheDogsSTD, @sara_turetta

Save the Dogs shelter, Cernavoda


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