BUCHAREST : Before they kick a ball to start matches this season, soccer players in Romania's top tier are carrying stray dogs onto the pitch as part of an initiative to find homes for abandoned animals.
The campaign - dubbed "Fill The Gap in Your Life" - also aims to highlight the problem of unwanted dogs in the southeastern European nation, where shelters are filled to capacity and strays have long roamed the streets.
"We are hoping to motivate the people that might see the dogs brought by the players in their arms and so they would adopt them," said Anca Floarea, a counsellor at a local animal protection office.
"Until now, from the 18 dogs presented at the matches three were adopted and three more were inquired about, we are hoping the adoption will go through with those too."
International adoptions are possible but the country's football federation - in partnership with local kennels - is mainly focused on Romania for the campaign that will feature six dogs at every match until the season ends.
At Academica Clinceni's recent game against FC Botosani, players walked on to the pitch holding the pups adorned with a nametag and scarf which makes it easier for people to identify them on shelter websites.
Aside from the off-pitch success, the campaign has spurred players like Academica defender Marcel Holzmann to consider adopting.
"I have two cats, that is the problem I think, if I take one dog, but I want to," he said. "It's very good, unbelievable that people like them they help the animals."
(Reporting by Octav Ganea, Writing by Michael Kahn, Editing by Ed Osmond)