Not many people know that Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived in XIII century, was the first environmentalist and animal protector. He was taking care of animals, buying them from merchants and letting them free. He respected life in all of its aspects. In the memory of the Saint, the world celebrates the Animal Day at the day of his death - October 4.

On this day in Ukraine a number of events took place. In particular, a marathon "Day of Happy tails" was held in Kyiv. Within the marathon the pet owners could demonstrated their pets in all beauty, to talk to vets and dog specialists, and all comers could take a four-legged friend. The youth animal protection league has been organizing this event for six years already. ForUm had an interview with the organization's president Iryna Tereshchenko and learnt how the life of animal protectors is and why thousands of cats and dog keep appearing on the streets.

- On the eve of Euro-2012 the topic about stray animals was very popular. Why?

- On the eve of such large-scaled event, animal protectors knew that stray animals would be slaughtered. We gathered for protest actions to prevent mass extermination of the four-legged. However, we failed to prevent poisoning. I speak only about Kyiv, as our organization works in the capital only. We do not have proofs who was spreading poison, but we suspect it could be communal services and dog hunters.

However, thanks to our efforts, the problem was heard in the EU and US, and officials had to take humane measure to solve the problem.

- Today this topic is not under heated discussion. Does it mean the situation has improved and is under control?

- No, of course not. This problem cannot be solved so easily. Do not believe politicians who say that stray animals can be removed from streets for some events - elections, Euro. The only merit of the Euro-2012 is the adoption of the city control program on maintenance of stray animals for 2012-2016.  Stray animals get sterilized, but still not in sufficient amount. 

- Our society treats animal protectors either as saints or as "city looneys". How do you work under such conditions?

- In any organization, be it a parliament or animal protection community, the human factor has the decisive role. We started working in 2005. You know, back then the situation was worse. There were many fanatic people. Nowadays the situation is changing thanks to young and adequate people in the organization. Nevertheless, we often hear, like, people have nothing to eat and you feed dogs. But if a person wants to help, does not matter whom, let him do it. In fact, the voluntary work trains a generation of active people, who learn to fulfill their potential in various directions.

- You have to deal with so many abandoned dogs and cats daily. How do you manage not to fall into depression

- We are pretty miscellaneous people. We have jobs, children, hobbies, and voluntary work is one aspect of our lives. Some people can manage the stress, others cannot and thus leave. Indeed, it does not take much to fall into depression. You have just found homes for five animals, and tomorrow you will have another ten. The problem is that our people are not used to deal with problems. They prefer to call an animal protector or a shelter and shift responsibility. They say: "I cannot help, I have to work, I have children..." We also do have work and we do have children. The difference is that we are ready to meet problems and solve them.

Every day we see these poor animals and hear about cases of animal abuse. Sometimes, it's difficult to resist, but we have to. I will explain. Some people take 15-20 dogs or cats. Every animal requires proper care, but a person cannot give such care to each animal. We do not reproach, we just want these people to understand that their approach is wrong. If you are ready to take responsibility, take one or two animals, cure them and find new homes. Even if you manage to help only five animals in one year, this help will be qualitative, and you will be sure these animals will not return to the streets.  We want people to take as much responsibility as they can bear.

- Do western colleagues help you a lot?

- In our organization we stand for the idea that we must deal with our problems by ourselves. It's ridiculous to carry out animal protection activity under the slogan "West will help us". Some foreign organizations may help financially or share experience, but they have enough of their problems to solve.

- In US there is a reality show about animal cops, who investigate cases of animal abuse and can bring offenders to criminal responsibility. Do you think similar idea in Ukraine will promote the activity of animal protectors?

- We do have our events, like "Cup of the mongrel" or the "Day of Happy tails", which are aimed at promotion of humane and responsible attitude towards animals.

Doing this work for some time, we have realized that the problem is not stray animals, but irresponsible pet owners. Some people believe it is normal to kick out a dog or to give away newborn kittens on the market. People do not know basic things, like how to feed or why to sterilize. Thus, first of all we must work with pet owners.

- Do you try to bust certain stereotypes or myths? What are the most harmful?

- The first and most unpleasant one concerns sterilization. It is important to control birth, and if the animal is not of pure blood, it's better to sterilize it. If the operation is properly made and if owners provide proper care to their pets after sterilization, there will be no fat cats or fearful dogs. 

The second popular stereotype concerns the breed of animals, especially dogs. Breeders keep 'producing' Yorks and Labradors because it is the latest craze. But then some pet owners realize they were not ready for such responsibility and abandon the animal. Sometimes it happens that people buy allegedly pureblood dog, but then it turns out it is not. There are many half-blooded dogs in the streets. Besides, don't buy a pureblood puppy when you can save a stray dog, which is as talented and loving as any other.  The breed does not matter for friendship.

And finally, the third stereotype we want to bust is that animals are not toys. Don't give animals for weddings, birthdays, March 8. The decision to take an animal must be well considered. Moreover, it is important to choose the right animal.

- Do we have many responsible pet owners?

- A few, unfortunately. But when we learn about strong friendship between owners and their pets we understand why we do what we do. My favorite story about such friendship started in 2007, when we were helping one of the shelters and took a three-week-old puppy from it. The puppy had only one eye, and it was my first dog with disability. I found a very good family for it. This family already had one dog and a cat.  After some time the family was invited to move to the US. I was afraid they would abandon the pets, but they took all three. We are looking for such people constantly.

Alina Yeremeyeva, photos by Maxim Trebukhov


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