Animal Rescue Sofia: Bulgarians Are Caring, Sensitive to Pets in Need
An interview for Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with Stella Raycheva, public relations coordinator of Animal Rescue Sofia.
- Tell us more about Animal Rescue Sofia as an organization and about your team.
We met on an online dog forum five years ago. Back then we were different people, each with their own life, we were volunteers, who gave what they could for the stray dogs and the ones at the municipal shelter. As time went by, we accumulated a lot of experience and when the Sofia Municipality invited us to take care of the animal shelter in Gorni Bogrov, the biggest one in Bulgaria at that time, we agreed. It was a brave step taken without much planning, we simply thought: wherever the dogs go, we are going with them. Today we are a team of 15 people, around 15 senior volunteers and hundreds of helpers, donors, adopters and friends of the organization.
You moved to a new shelter ("The Farm") in January 2014. Why did you have to go to a new place and how did it happen? Is "The Farm" completed?
We left the shelter in Gorni Bogrov after the expiration of the lease agreement of the Sofia Municipality for the site. Initially, we had an agreement with the Sofia Municipality to provide us a terrain where we could continue working. However, when this did not happen, there were two options – to quit our activity or to try to buy a new place with the help of thousands of good people. The second scenario took place. The response of friends of animals was huge, unexpected, simply amazing. In 78 days we raised EUR 210 000 which we used to buy the land plot with the two buildings. Now these buildings are being repaired. The repair works are expensive and they take time. It is not an easy job due to the stringent requirements for animal shelters, taking into account that a recent ordinance facilitating the construction of shelters was cancelled by court authorities.
- How many animals are you taking care of now? How do animals get to the shelter?
We now have around 200 dogs. We are not supposed to receive new animals now because the site is still not a legitimate shelter. Despite that, there is a large amount of stray dogs and injured animals which get to us and have nowhere to be redirected to. The site looks like a field hospital - our dogs live outside, in "kennels" made out of parts of construction fences and there is one water source only. To put it briefly, it is tough. But the animals need help and we are doing our best to help them.
- What is the adoption procedure? Do you stay in touch with adopters?
Prospective owners need to come see the dogs 3 times. During the first visit, we conduct an interview to find out more about them, their experience, their life, etc. The aim is to prepare a profile of the most suitable dog for the respective family and to see whether the people are aware of the responsibilities and the difficulties which caring for a pet involves. We show them several dogs that we find appropriate and we give them an opportunity to get to know each other and to take a walk. Sometimes they find an animal they like on photos or as they walk around the shelter. During the second visit, the choice is made final. People are often in doubt and this gives them an opportunity to become convinced that they have made the right choice. The visits can take place on consecutive days. On the third visit, the adopter signs a contract and is free to take the new pet home. By signing the contract, the adopters make a commitment to stay in touch with us, to get in touch with us first in the case of a problem, etc.
- Tell us more about your cooperation with foreign partners. What steps does an overseas adoption involve?
As regards international activities, we work with activists and organizations which we know and which we trust. The main thing that is important to us is the so-called aftercare, this is a commitment for taking care of the animal after its adoption. This is why we almost never work with direct adopters but with people who take care of the adoptions on behalf of a local organization. We work with partners in Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. The animals travel in a van which is ours and which meets all European requirements which are almost unbearably stringent. The requirements for other traveling animals, for instance pigs, lambs, etc, also apply to dogs – the rules are contained in complicated protocols of the EU. We are not transporting animals at present because "The Farm" lacks an official registration.
- You say that foreign adopters show great interest in taking care of injured or disabled stray animals, is this happening in Bulgaria too?
Generally speaking, yes it is. There are much more people who are ready to share their life with a disabled dog or cat in Western countries. Except for two blind dogs and two three-legged dogs, all of them adopted by wonderful families, all of the other disabled animals have been sent to families living abroad. I believe this is because we have lots of sad sights and moments in our everyday lives and people expect joy and smiles from their pets instead of a reminder of how nasty life can be. I think that this will change as time goes by and as Bulgarians start feeling happy and have fewer problems in their everyday lives.
- You also look after animals which have suffered abuse - is statistics in this sphere optimistic?
There are times when one believes that things are going bad and the number of cases of animal abuse is increasing. The truth is, however, that there is great progress and the growing number of such cases which reach us and other organizations is due to the decreasing tolerance towards animal cruelty. Instead of just passing by, people step in. I believe we are making progress, I hope I am not mistaken.
- You rely on donations, what are your most pressing needs? Where is volunteer assistance most needed?
"The Farm" receives volunteers every day – there is enough work for everybody. We are most happy about the people who come on Saturdays and Sundays for the walks organized by the senior volunteers. One only needs to dress appropriately and bring their good mood - we have some 200 dogs which are eager for walks and cuddling. It is a joyful experience, come and join us!
Apart from that, any kind of help is welcome. We are constantly experiencing financial shortages so it is hard to say what we need most. Pharmaceuticals, food supplies and gasoline keep running out all the time. Now we also need various construction materials. Any help is welcome!
- You organize fundraising campaigns – tell your impressions from past events of this kind. Are any new events forthcoming?
The impressions can be summarized very briefly: Bulgarians are cool people with huge potential. Whenever we asked for help – we got it. It was not rich companies or rich people that supported us – it was mostly people like us, people who do not have much but want to see Bulgaria progress. I am convinced we are working with the best people in Bulgaria.
- Do you approve of the policy of the Sofia Municipality on reducing the number of stray dogs? What can change for the better? Are institutions willing to cooperate with NGOs in the sphere?
The Sofia Municipality really changed over the past year and it changed for the better. Naturally, there is still a lot to be done, but there is work going on and the results are noticeable. We are not happy with the idea to build more and more huge shelters where dogs are kept for lifetime with no adoption prospects. Taking animals from the street, whether to accommodate them in a shelter them or to destroy them, only has a temporary effect and is too expensive. Prevention is the only way to achieve a lasting solution of the problem. In this line of thought, we would like to congratulate the Sofia Municipality for the free-of-charge neutering of backyard dogs which are a major cause of the problem. Apart from that, there are dog neutering operations in Roma districts twice a year. We are definitely making progress. I also hope to see an educational program for children aimed at improving pet care in the next few years.
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Oops! The link above was not correctly provided. Please visit http://en.animalprograms.org/unknown-number-of-dogs-fall-victim-in-militarys-chemical-weapons-test.html .
"Q: Do you approve of the policy of the Sofia Municipality on reducing the number of stray dogs? What can change for the better? Are institutions willing to cooperate with NGOs in the sphere?>>
A: The Sofia Municipality really changed over the past year and it changed for the better. We are definitely making progress.">>
-- Yep, we witnessed a drastic reduction of Sofia street dogs numbers. However, this does not mean a sustainable progress in local dog population management and all nice conclusions proclaimed by the NGOs closed to Sofia bureaucracy just are not based on a realistic assessment of the whole process. Indeed, any USA city has not a street dog population, while its animal shelters remain overcrowded for decades. For example, the City of Albuquerque along with Bernalillo County (New Mexico) euthanized about 3700 unwanted dogs per year consequently in 2009, 2010, and 2011. And we are also able to hear about annual intake numbers (16,000 on average), adoptions (9000 on average), returns to owners (3500 on average), etc. So, how does mayor Fandykova changed the situation? We heard he increased the numbers of dog catchers teams to at least eight. But we are not sure how many dogs were removed since 2009 under Fandykova's rule. True animal advocates should be also worried on what happen to most of shelter animals. And whether Sofia animal control services aka Ecoravnovesie are involved in illegal transfer of animals to research facilities, e.g. to be subjected to military chemical-weapons tests as mentioned by former Sofia Military Medical Academy chief (http://en.animalprograms.org/unknown-number-of-dogs-fall-victim-in-militarys-chemical-weapons-test.html).