He’s white with brown elements on fur. On the head he has a brown patch and it makes him look like a pirate. Together with My friends we named him Sparrow. He is always happy when he sees me and ready to follow me anywhere I go. He is adult but still likes to play like a puppy. Sparrow is one of the thousands of stray dogs living on the streets of Skopje.
The view of groups of stray dogs is something natural on Balkans. Alright, even in Poland you can find wandering dogs but comparing what I have noticed in Macedonia, it was just individual cases. Unlike here, when you find a lost dog in Poland, you can just call the police or a local guard if you don’t have the time to bring the pet to the closest shelter by yourself. In Poland they are obliged to make an intervention. The same when we are eye witnessing someone abusing animals, it’s social and moral duty to report this to police.
Overpopulation of stray dogs in Macedonia is a fact. Influence of activists and organizations that work on animal protection is still too small to get attention of local authorities and make a real change in society.
The situation of dogs in Macedonia has worsened over the past 2 years. Especially spring 2017 was hard for animals. When 4 year old boy died in hospital after being attacked by stray dogs near Kicevo, people started killing animals in several cities in the country. Hundreds of dogs were poisoned, shot with guns or strangled with traps. Poisoned food being placed everywhere on the streets or parks so even pets have been killed. Unfortunately, animals were dying slowly and in agony and it was very difficult to save poisoned dogs and cats. Later on, a dozens of organizations and citizens went out on the streets to protest against this terrible action. Activists and volunteers were patrolling the cities to catch perpetrators and collect as much poison as possible in order to prevent further deaths. It was not possible to clean all the cities. In my opinion mass killing is not the solution to decrease the number of stray dogs.
My very first question that I ask while talking with locals about animals is: “Hey, what about the dog shelters?”. Many people answered, that it’s better for the dogs in Macedonia to be free than in the type of “shelters” that are in here. Usually dogs are caught by unqualified catchers who often treat them inhumane. As I spoke with Julia Matthews from organization “Saving Macedonian Strays”, the conditions in shelters in Macedonia are horrible. Activists from SMS also try to rescue animals from places like that.
Despite all difficulties that Macedonia struggle with this issue, there are groups of people who care about the animals. One of them is Animal Voice and already mentioned before SMS – Saving Macedonian Strays. Everything started from one dog. In September 2014, Maggie, young women from Macedonia rescued very sick dog Pepa and during 3 months she tried to bring her back to health. Thanks to the dog, she met many people who were supporting Pepa in her fight. Also, plenty of people from abroad wanted to contribute to treatment of Pepa. Julia was one of them and she shared on Facebook page the story of Pepa with Dogs Today Magazine and the post went viral. During one night their website got over 8,000 ‘likes’ overnight. Unfortunately Pepa died and Maggie was brokenhearted. Then she realized that losing her dog can’t be pointless. Maggie dedicated her time and life to help the stray dogs in Macedonia. Because of that she launched the charity and gathered together more animal lovers who were ready to help stray dogs by giving them shelter, taking to vets and finding new homes. Julie started spreading information in UK and doing some fundraising campaigns for other dogs. In past years they rescued more than 500 hundred animals (dogs, cats, donkey, lambs and chickens).
Later on, their supporters from United Kingdom wanted to be more involved and they decided to registry their charity in November 2016. They also have a German organisation “Hilfe Fur Straßentiere in Mazendonien e.V” who supports both NGOs in their work. Their team is a core group of 15 people.
Team in Macedonia is five fully active members and three semi-active, other four members live in Germany and three in England. Charity is running shelter in Veles.
“The conditions at our shelter are very basic but we do the best with what we have. We have been promised land from the municipality in the past but this haven’t happened so far. We are stuck renting land in an unsuitable location with no connection to utilities or drainage. It is a real problem and we are desperately trying to raise the funds to buy our own land and develop a purpose-built shelter with onsite veterinary centre. We are currently caring for over 200 dogs and receive no help from the municipality. Our Vets bills are on average 171,000 MK and our monthly food bill is 137,000 MK. Most of our support comes from the U.K., France and Australia” – says Julie from Saving Macedonian Strays. We also talked about potential solutions that could enhance the situation of stray dogs and cats: “A national roll out of a humane spay/neuter campaign organized and run by the NGOs to finally reduce the stray population and stop future suffering” – says Julie. “We are currently awaiting the signing of a memorandum by the municipality in Veles that they will no longer support the use of poisoning as a solution to reducing the overpopulation. Once we have this we can apply to Dogs Trust International for funding for a spay/neuter campaign for Veles – a project to neuter all the street dogs and also offer free or heavily subsidized neutering of people’s pet. We would also like to cooperate with vets from other countries to work alongside Macedonian vets encouraging better veterinary practice and skills sharing”.
SMS does their best to find new families for animals. Rehoming dogs in Macedonia is quite difficult (especially with disabled animals) so most of dogs/cats are going abroad, mainly UK but also France, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. Organization helps in whole procedure of rehoming, like filling application form, home check of candidates and arrangements to transport the dog/cat to new home.
A lot of things need to be done to brighten life of dogs and cats in Macedonia. However, any kind of help is needed now in Veles. Especially SMS is seeking for new volunteers who would be able to take care of dogs and make shelter improvements. Except that, supplies for animals such as food, bedding, medications, cleaning products or building supplies are always welcome. All the time, you can donate some money to support activities of charity. People like Maggie, Julie and other volunteers are the ones who actually make a change in the world.
To all others who still have doubts about this issue I would like to recall the quote of Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
To find out more I recommend to check on your own their website and read the stories of animals, see the photos and amazing work that these people are doing.