Dark days are as many as light - work in animal shelter has its' crust ', yet faith in the good in people remains
Every year there is a moment, when on streets you hear more meowing than usual. Social networks have been flooded with pictures of new born kittens, there are the ones who proudly offer kittens born in their own barns, and those who have found them in boxes abandoned in a variety of places and now are looking for help. In those moments, similar to those when you run into wandering dog in which eyes you can read despair and abandonment, questions arise for those, who is responsible for vulnerable destinies. What is their excuse for irresponsibility? To balance the world, there are also people who rush to correct the irresponsible mistakes. At this time, I spoke with Elīna Dambe, manager of animal shelter “Astes un Ūsas”.
The origins of the shelter and association can be found ten years ago in county of Alsviķi, in abandoned farm building. The association was founded by Modris Briedis and his brothers. They began this all with the idea that in Alūksne and its county, need a place, where to deal with abandoned animals. After a while, the municipality granted other facilities in the city of Alūksne, also in the former farm building. The association began to inhabit provided building, slowly wrote European projects, and with received money from projects, the building was improved and adapted to the needs of animal shelter. Now the tenth year has been gone, in August will be anniversary. Manager of the shelter, Elina, admits that shelter occurred because of both: there was wandering animals and because she loved animals: “Yes, there is that love for animals. And the fact that you understand, nobody will do it. Well, somebody has to do it. That's how it happened. Those people who work for us are changing quite often. But those who are resilient, people who work with us year after year, are not so many.”
|Animal shelter “Tails and whiskers” numbers|
|How many animals are in the shelter right now?|
|How many animals are adopted, average per year?|
How many new animals come to the
average per month?
10-cats (last year august count
each day somebody called
about found kittens), 5-dogs. August
always is craziest period,
when kittens has been born uncontrollably).
How much cost shelter has for each
60 EUR (2 EUR per day)- cat
90 EUR (3 EUR per day)- dog
|Animals receives constant care from shelter:|
|2 volunteers un 2 paid employees.|
Yet, despite the fact that shelter workers don't always get a positive attitude toward their work, they aren't rushing to condemn animal owners. To manager of “Astes un Ūsas” doesn't seem fair, when people on Facebook, under another picture of wandered animal, write hundreds of negative and offensive comments to the owners of the animal. She invites to bear in mind that picture may not be so grim, and the story must be seen from both sides: “Recently, I have read comments on the Internet, that all people must be punished for being cruel to an animal. For example, post on Facebook appears regarding wandered dog. And then there's a lot of comments, which blames the owner, who does not care about the dog and it shouldn’t be returned to him. But at the same time, the situation is not well known to us. Maybe the dog himself jumped over the fence and run away. We don't know what it has been. Are you sure, if owner been bad, because perhaps the dog had escaped? And maybe owners really do look for that dog. It has not been said, that somebody has thrown dog out. We're always trying to believe in that good option. Maybe the dog escaped because of fireworks or thunder in summer. Or dog has got scared, run away and know are not able to get back home, owners are looking for dog and can't find it. We also understand that there are people who deliberately do bad things to animals – do not feed and does not care of them. But at the same time, writing under each post how bad is owner, also doesn't seem exactly right. That is why we are trying to objectively assess situation and not believe to everything. We do not want to believe that the owner is always the bad and guilty one. But all sorts of situations have been seen. For example, owner keeps the dog by the chain and feeds it only once per every couple of days, and owners actually live somewhere else. Dog is protecting that house, when owner remembers, he comes to feed the dog occasionally. There are situations like this, of course, when owner must be blamed. But not always everything is as bad as it looks.”
As regards to the treatment of animals, in Latvia as a whole, the situation is not so crazy. It seems that possibility of publishing and expressing everything on social networks, public condemning, perhaps affects the situation. However, irresponsibility still remains. This is most noticeable in summer, because of the large number of kittens which appears. People do not sterilize cats, when they take them, but after a while they has kittens. Then kittens are divided, they have been given away to somebody, some of them has been taken to countryside or cottages. So, this circle continues. Such situations are particularly often in countryside. The animal has been perceived as a worker: cats must catch mice; dogs must bark and protect houses. There, animals are not friends, but they do some function. This could be explained by lack of awareness and education, old stereotypes. The most popular of them is - a dog must live at the chain. Last year, “Astes un Ūsas” along with local government police drove in raids, to identify the situation, and to examine under what conditions animals has been held, and whether all the papers are OK. Manager of the shelter admits: “Farther you go to the countryside, for example closer to border or some other remote area, 90% of dogs are held by chain. There can be felt a legacy of Soviet times, when the dog has a dog's place to protect home. Dog can only make a noise, because he's at the chain and he is not able to get anywhere else. He's just making a noise, not protecting home. And when we ask to owner, why do you have a dog? He tells, dog is meant for barking, so we know, that somebody comes to backyard. The dog is not a friend and it is something …. I don't know, maybe a whole generation needs to change to make people understand. Because young people already understand everything. They understand that dog needs to be chipped and sterilized. In the meantime, until old generation changes to new generation, stereotypes will be in place."
In Latvia, gradually, laws have been adjusted. Currently, at the Parliament, the law has been waiting on approval, regarding the adoption of harsher punishments for those who treats cruel to animals. There are also discussions about educating people, not necessarily punishing them with fines or forced labor. Because it is important to separate - what is cruel and malicious, and what is, when dog escapes, but owner, has been seen as somebody who has abandoned his animal. It is important to distinguish this, but when law will be improved, there is a hope and belief that situation will be better.
Another issue that should be examined in legal system, is the holding of animals by the chain. There are countries where it is banned, and Elīna would also like us to go in same direction. “I wish we would also go in the same direction. Because we have such cases - people come to adopt animal and say it, we'll keep him by the chain. We always had kept all of our dogs by the chain, because they run on the road. Then I say to them, but you don't even know, if this young dog also will run on the road. Why are you sentencing him life by the chain? Then we evaluate, and we don’t give a dog to such people for adoption. People are not happy after that. They say we'd should be glad that they wanted to adopt a dog at all. Why do you keep those dogs in shelter, if you don't give them away? People think taking a dog from shelter is the same as take bread from shop. They see it, like it, and get it. These people, who claim to have kept all their dogs by chain, we don't even have anything to recommend them. They have to try working with dog, but people want ready-made product at once, who will go there and do everything as people want it. People aren't aware that they must work with animal, for example, teach them territory. Not everyone is prepared to work with animal.”
Every person who wants to adopt an animal is given a two-week test time. During this time an owner and animal has a chance to understand, if they fit for each other. Before adopting, it is also important for the future owner to meet the animal, if this person wants to pick up dog, they both go for a walk. Shelter employees also talk to a potential owner and tries to figure out what conditions will be in new place and which dog would be best suggestion for each case. However, shelter employees cannot know about all characteristics of the animal. Elīna says: “There has been cases, when animal must be returned, because there are other animals or birds in the country houses, and that dog is chasing those animals. Here, in shelter, we don't know, if the dog likes chickens or not. Then people call and say, unfortunately, we will not keep him because he has already bitten three chickens, we'd love to keep him, but we won’t. For such cases, yes, people give the dog back. It's like a blind date, because you can't know, when you meet for the first time, if it will be your real one. Usually, we tell everything, what we know about the dog. If to shelter comes dog, which previous owner has been dead, we know his previous life, for such cases it is easier to find a new owner, which fits. But it doesn’t mean that the dog will necessarily settle in within new home. And that's why we give to people time, to understand will it happen or won't. Because maybe the dog will not like it, maybe the owner will not like something. We do not want people to live with clenched teeth and think where I'm going to take this animal now."
The biggest pain for shelters is arbitrary breeding of animals and confusion of people - that it is better to take the animal from the shelter and not from a neighbor, who has not taken care of his dog by operating it. Those people are preventing the work of the shelter, by deliberately breeding their animals. What people need to understand is that taking an animal from a neighbor, it is unlikely that this person has carried out all necessary vaccines, for example, cats haven’t been vaccinated, and most likely vet haven’t seen them. But taking animal out of the shelter everything will always be right - all operations according to age, passport and all vaccines. Yes, it must be paid for, so shelter can pay to vet, but after that new owner do not need to do anything. Everything has been done already.
After serious conversation, I would also like to hear some cheerful meeting story. And we are pleased to hear that there are many stories like this, and the main thing is that communication continues after adoption. The new owners are sending pictures from Facebook and WhatsApp, sharing the moments they experience together. The last joyful story is about Arnold who was adopted to Riga. Manager tells: “A young couple adopted dog and they have sent to us pictures of how pleased they were with dog, and they have been glad to have chosen it. We are delighted that our animals are not adopted only in our region. We are delighted that our reports go beyond our region borders. That our animals have been seen also outside Alūksne and Gulbene. These stories go out. Because, if it was the case that, animals would be taken just from our region, our capacity would be quickly exhausted. Therefore, we have a pleasure that people adopt animals to other municipalities."
Another joyous story is about dog, adopted last year, to Bauska or Rundāles Palace. People had seen a picture of a dog on Facebook, and they immediately liked it. They came to meet him, took a walk, and took the dog with them. After a while, shelter received pictures and story of the dog's new life. This rural dog has been transformed into a real city dog, who, along with its new owners, go on a variety of tours to different places. Such joyous stories give employees power to continue their work, and gives sense that, what they do is important. “Satisfaction is great, when an animal from unloved and abandoned becomes a real family friend. Who sleeps on sofa and travels with new owners.” says Elīna. Yet, not all animals are going through their happy story. Older animals are the last ones to whom people are looking and number of seniors in shelters is increasing. Animal owners are put in nursing homes or die, and animal is deprived of his happy old age days. It's often that older person takes a kitten or a puppy. Argument of these people is that his dog has just died and it has been sad experience, and he or she no longer wants to experience it. Because they think that by taking the animal now it will die again in a couple of years and there will be a great grief again. From this point of view, you can understand them. But there's the other side of this story, where that puppy lives for next 16 years, and will this person will be able to work with dog himself by taking him for a walk and take care of an animal? Shelter workers are always trying to tactically deflect a person to the right decision, not to take a puppy at once, but an adult and still a young dog. There are also more rare stories, when a person especially drives after senior animal to give him happy few last years. People who choose such option are usually young people. For seniors homes are found rarely, and when that happens, it's a beautiful moment.
At the end of the conversation, I asked Elīna, what she might wish to us: “I would like to wish understanding that the animal is a friend, a member of the family. Not thing that needs to perform a particular function. People should understand that the animal is a friend."
While this new postcard project was aroused, in which half of the proceeds will be donated to “Astes un Ūsas”, one of our inspired photographers met his animal. In her neighborhood, was announced that, if no home will be found for street cats, they would be sedated. Arta Joma wanted to save at least one cat. Her ginger friend is a real king of the street jungle, and it is difficult for him to make friends. That is why, at the end of this interview, I want to share with Arta knowledge, which makes even more respectful look at the work of the shelter.
“We gave home to a street cat whose future was question mark. Born outside, growing up outside, how he will live life, we'll see it. Domestication is like riding in the hills. There are high peaks and low valleys, we have even revealing the weak points in our nervous system. For a moment, there is a sweetest cat, the other one he has changed to a wild tiger who does not know the borders.
I also learned another lesson. If in animal shelter you hear or read phrase “sweet, domesticated, socialized animal”, then you NEVER take this phrase self-evidently. If you've got from the shelter animal, who is sweet and accustomed to premises, YOU DON'T TAKE it for granted. In fact, there's a great deal of effort, work, lost nerves, and scratched hands - that's the price of trust.”– Arta Joma, the photographer of charity collection “My Friend.”
Help, which you can provide now:
|Intangible help:||Money donations:|
|It is always useful when people come for a walk with dogs. (at the
moment it is not limited, a person is not admitted to shelter, but can take
animal for a walk)
Blankets (for puppies) and pillows (for kittens) ·
Sand for cats.
The shelter needs financial
support to be able to cover its current bills. This was a cold winter, and so
the electricity and heating bill is quite big. No one helps to the shelter to
pay for these things and bills are paid only from donors' money.
Details for settlement: Receiver: Biedrība Astes un Ūsas Registration number: 40008179114, Account number: LV74UNLA0050020042047