Doctor Mila Bobadova: I'd like to think that people can change
Doctor Mila Bobadova is a veterinary doctor with almost 15 years of experience. She is of considerable internet fame, known for being very outspoken on various issues - mostly, but not limited to, animal rights and welfare. She is also champion of human rights and organized a campaign in support of the Syrian refugees when the situation with them was dire in the autumn of 2013.
She is in the list “The 100 Most Influential Bulgarian Women” of the influential Bulgarian “Capital” business weekly and deputy chairperson of the Bulgarian Veterinary Union.
In 2011 she got the Human of the Year award of the audience – annual awards, bestowed by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee recognizing contributions to human rights in Bulgaria. Mila got the award for her considerable effort in initiating law amendments criminalizing cruelty to animals. The amendments came into effect in 2011. Since then, there has been one effective prison sentence and several suspended sentences.
Mila is the manager of the “Good Whim” (Dobro Hrumvane) vet clinic in Sofia and treats all kinds of animals – from common domestic pets such as cats, dogs and chameleons, to all kinds of small wild animals – birds, hedgehogs and squirrels, to name a few.
How many causes do you have right now?
Right now I am mostly concerned with animals. I am planning a campaign about cleaning up after your pet dog, because this annoys me a great deal. We had a similar campaign before, when we stuck little green stickers with dog poo on the pavement, but that was a while ago. It was a bit of a vandal act, but if I have to choose between stepping into dog poo and stepping onto a sticker of dog poo, I'll pick the sticker anytime.
I am also waiting for the playroom in the Voenna Rampa refugee center in Sofia to be set up. Initially we were given a room to set up for the children and I collected BGN 2000 and materials to renovate it. Then they told us they'll need this room for administrative purposes and promised to give us another. So we've been waiting for this room for five-six months now.
The idea is to set up something of a playroom for the children, because they get awfully bored in this camp. They need some brain food, because otherwise they'll get up to stupid things, just like any other kid.
Did you find people to teach the children and play with them?
There are many volunteers. There are people who teach them Bulgarian, people who teach them English, to paint. Recently we had a photography workshop by a Spanish photographer who lives in Bulgaria. This is really nice and there are many people who spend time with the children and teach them things.
So this drive to help the refugees is ongoing, though it is not a matter of life and death anymore?
It is ongoing, yes.
Initially we started with medicine supplies, because they didn't have any medical attention and medicines. As a doctor, I have the opportunity to buy medicines in bulk on discount and this is why I started with this. I gathered a group of medics – general practitioners, pediatricians, gynecologists to examine those people in the camp. There were 800 people, now more, and they had many medical problems, including cases of Butterfly Children (Epidermolysis Bullosa), scabies and worms. When you have so many people with medical conditions in one place, it becomes a massive problem and could become a public health issue.
So the idea was to buy medications, prescribed by those doctors and help the refugees.
Then came the Doctors Without Borders and they took over from us and they will be helping for a while.
What about this foundation that is providing free syringes for the drug addicts?
They are friends of mine – an NGO, “Initiative for Health”, that provides free sterile syringes and needles to the heroin addicts in Sofia. Their work is important, because when I went to take photos – this is all I could do – take photos and use my internet clout to rally some support for their cause, I met 10 addicts, seven of which were HIV positive. It is a scary number – 70%.
People may think this does not concern them, but this is again a matter of public health. Because your daughter can get drunk and meet some guy in a bar and they go to bed and last month he has slept with a girl who is HIV positive, because she shoots heroin from a common syringe. So all of a sudden this becomes your problem.
This foundation is trying to raise some funds to buy syringes and needles, because the Health Ministry, which has a special fund to cover such projects, still hasn't gotten round to provide the money.
How many heroin addicts does this foundation help?
I don't know the exact number, but as far as I know, it is a considerable part of the heroin addicts in Sofia. And they do not only provide them with free paraphernalia, but also take them to medical consultations and try and help them as best as they could, though it is really hard working with them.
We also make charity calendars each Christmas for the children with cancer in one of the Sofia hospitals. The oncology ward there is spending its funding in a practical, but not very sensible manner, so we're collecting money for blood lancets, because with them blood sampling is a lot less stressful and painful for the children.
How about the calendars with animals that you sell?
Those calendars are for our clinic. We have a piggy bank, which covers the treatment of street animals that we find. Because usually people who bring homeless animals to us, pay for their treatment, but not always.
Or, we had a case last year, when we treated a dog that needed a very expensive joint implant. It was absolutely impossible for its owners to pay for the implant, so it was covered by our little fund.
How does your social networks popularity help the business of the vet clinic?
It certainly helps. It would be hypocritical of me to say it doesn't help. But the coin has a flip side.
For example, there are many people who know of our piggy bank and abuse it.
People who take care of street animals sometimes bring an animal to us for treatment and never come back to pick it up and pay the bill. Last year those uncovered bills ran up to BGN 10 000.
So on one hand my relative popularity helps – people seek me for advice, but on the other – it has its negative sides.
Not to mention that when I get home in the evening and pour myself a glass of wine and sit in front of the computer or the TV, people start asking for free consultations. This is not such of a big problem really, because I love my job, but sometimes it's just tiresome.
Our clinic is socially involved and we support in one way or another many animal welfare foundations, so my popularity helps.
Like, for example, the Wild Animals Foundation. It is relatively new and virtually unknown, so we decided to help them and treat for free all the wild animals that are brought to them.
Also, I try and educate people on animal matters – when they respect you, they tend to listen and believe you.
Would you say Bulgarians are merciful people?
Yes, they are, a lot.
It is a myth that people can hardly take care of themselves, let alone take care of street animals, Syrians, or drug addicts. Many people say it, true, but when you touch their tender spot, they respond.
There is this English woman, living in a nearby village, who has taken in her home several Syrian refugees. She told me initially she was very worried how the people in the village would accept this, but unlike the villagers from Rozovo, those people reacted in a positive manner. She said she was absolutely shocked to find each morning a bag or two of food, that the people left at her door. - A chicken, a bag of apples, or a sack of potatoes – whatever they could spare. And whenever she goes shopping, she comes back with a few more extra bags of food, because people give her whatever extra stuff they have from their gardens. And mind you, those are not so well to do people.
So I don't believe people in general are evil towards other humans or animals. There are really bad people who do bad things, but they are not so many.
People like to help. Or at least I want to think so.
So would you describe yourself as a humanist?
Oh, no. I am extremely cynical, nervous and aggressive. There are moments, when I honestly want to bash someone's head into the wall. Sometimes helplessness really drives me into a blind rage.
I'd like to think that people can change and I put considerable effort in that direction, though sometimes I have hard time understanding them.
But I like animals and children.
When 15 years ago I started working as a veterinarian, people were treating animals much worse. The change is dramatic, really dramatic. Back then people absolutely didn't care if someone shot at street dogs.
Do you think that this is thanks to the cruelty to animals amendments?
To some extent, yes. It provides the backbone and the faith in people, that if someone does an awful thing to an animal and they get caught, they will be punished.
It is true that no one in Bulgaria believes in the rule of law and almost everyone does as they please, because the law is not enforced, but the Animal Protection Act at least gives some people hope that someone will get punished.
There have already been sentences – one effective and several suspended. It's not much, but is at least something of a good start and I am perfectly OK with that. The goal is not to send 25 people for 30 years in prison. - This will not help anyone and all you'll get, is 25 people in prison. The goal is to educate people that they should not do such things, because it is bad, not because it is forbidden by law. The goal is to somehow raise awareness.
The photos inset in the text are by Doctor Mila Bobadova.
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