Defending animals well being in Belgrade.

Some months ago, I wrote this post about the Vracar pack, a group of dogs that lives near the Temple of Saint Sava, in Belgrade. I met some of these dogs in May 2006, the first time I travelled to Serbia. Since then, I’ve been observing as I keep returning. I can now say that I know them, and I have the feeling that they know me too, although I know that’s not possible. After I wrote that post, I have returned to Belgrade twice.

In July I had the chance to understand why is it that these dogs manage to survive. Their human neighbours take care of them very well. I remember once I was walking in one of the streets surrounding the temple and I saw two of them walking together with an old man, as you they were his dogs, but without the leach. When I tried to take their photos, the man called them so that they would stand still for my camera. They approached me and sniffed me, and since then I have have this feeling that they do know me. I used to call one of them, that I identify as the leader of the pack, the ‘elusive dog’. That was because he was always around observing me, but it was almost impossible to get a decent photo of him, because he would turn his head, or go away, or move. Well, after we established contact, he stopped being elusive. Now my presence doesn’t bother him any more. I sometimes even get the impression that he smiles at me and poses for my camera. It’s probably just an impression, I know that, but those are the things that make one feel at home.

In February, I noticed a new dog living in the park around the Temple, a beautiful black dog. He doesn’t seem to be integrated in the pack. He is sweet and young, and I wonder who could have abandoned such a nice dog. Then in September I noticed a new dog there, a puppy, funny and sweet. He has been accepted by the pack.

One of the dogs, the dark one with short hair and big ears, seems to have adopted him, although the others don’t seem to have much patience for him and don’t allow him to approach them too much. He has clearly recognized and accepted the established hierarchy within the pack because he immediately backs of when he realizes that the others are not too happy with him.

Belgrade is full of stray dogs. They belong to the city as much as its people, its trees and gardens, its crows and pigeons. They are either friendly or indifferent to people. I have never seen any dog that looked aggressive. Many of them like to be caressed but they all are independent. They are not asking to be ‘owned’.

Belgrade is a dog-friendly city. Not only the stray dogs are tolerated, but we can also see that many people have dogs as pets, and they usually look happy and well cared. For me, this is one of the most attractive aspects of Belgrade, because I happen to live in a city where dogs and people with dogs are very badly treated by my co-citizens.

But I don’t want to create the impression that the situation of domestic animals in Serbia is good. It’s not. In fact, it’s appalling. I have had the opportunity to spend some time talking to animals protection NGOs and other people who care about this, and the picture is not a good one. Many animals are abandoned or mistreated.

Cats and dogs get abandoned every day, and it’s very difficult to convince people to adopt dogs with no pedigree, because there is a culture of appearances that is very strongly rooted. This permanent display of status (real or merely desired) which is also apparent in the way young women dress and behave, this showing off leads people to pay big money for dogs with pedigree, some of which will eventually be abandoned. This in turn stimulates the irresponsible breeding of dogs by people who want to make some easy money. Then there is the problem that it’s expensive to have one’s pets sterilized, not to mention those who are born in the streets.

In the centre of Belgrade it’s very common to see either people selling dogs or Animal protection associations trying to give cats and dogs and to raise awareness about this problem. I was very happy to know that there has been a positive change in this problem, because many young boys and girls are volunteering to help these associations. You can see by the behaviour of the animals in display that they are well taken care, because they are well fed and clean, and, even more important, they are not aggressive neither too nervous, which means that the volunteers who take care of them manage to give them some emotional comfort.

The commitment of these people is admirable. They are working in a poor country with many problems to be faced, where the rise in the cost of living is impressive. It’s not easy to get funds to support their work. The political situation and the levels of corruption also affect negatively their activities. The fact that it’s so difficult to travel abroad makes it very difficult to find partners in richer countries and to engage in networking. Even when there is money, the bureaucratic obstacles to projects such as the construction of shelters are enormous, while the elected local authorities hardly make any significant effort to support the activities of Animal protection NGOs.

(Maja here in the picture is a lucky girl. She has been adopted by a nice family. On the photo above Paris Hilton seduced by a puppy).

On my last week in Belgrade this October I had the chance to meet everyday a group of people who were giving animals in Slavija Square. They belong to Noa. They also have a project to build a shelter for horses so that old horses don’t end up as sausages.

Unfortunately, although they already have the necessary funds, they don’t have a space where to build it, due to the fact that the local autorities have failed in keeping the promise to provide it. Life is definitely not easy for those people who want to contribute to the progress of Serbia, but still there they are and they need and deserve to be supported.



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16 responses to “Defending animals well being in Belgrade.

  1. Great post Sarah!

    My adopted pack is called “The Dogs of Dorcol”.

    I have a flicker set devoted to them…

    Lady and the Tramp 2

    Kind regards,


  2. Sarah Franco

    Jonathan, Belgrade wouldn’t be Belgrade without its stray dogs! It’s one of the essential elements that give a human dimension to the city that makes her so pleasant. I hope that things will get better for the dogs as for the humans.

  3. It is sad to see them on the street. Dogs are special and highly intelligent animals. But it doesn’t happen only in Serbia. I bet, there are stray dogs in Sarajevo, too. Hopefully governments in Serbia and Bosnia (and other countries) start “cooling down” and invest some precious time and resources into animal welfare, environment, and social programs.

  4. Sarah Franco

    Daniel, the place where I thought the conditions were worse for animals was in Kosova. Obviously this is a symptom of the wider degree of poverty in which a society lives. In Portugal too there are lots of abandoned animals, I have the feeling that here the situation is even worse than in Serbia.

    The way we treat our animals tells a lot about us,

  5. Muito interessante, este post!

    (Eu sou um exemplo de um cão com sorte… mas aquele que me levou para casa, também não ficou nada mal servido!)

  6. Sarah Franco

    lá isso é verdade, caniche!

  7. Sarah, this is an excellent post. The Belgrade ‘city’s dogs’ phenomenon is something I noticed when I was living there, but I’m not sure if anyone has written about it before. I also befriended a family of stray dogs back in 1999; they were a male and a female with a litter. One could see that they genuinely comprised a family, of which the male was very protective; when I tried to approach the female and the litter (who were hidden in a hole in the street), he tried to deter me by gently biting my shoe. He had been abused by one of the neighbours, and was rather nervous of people, but once one gained his trust, he allowed himself to be petted.

    The residents of the building were quite divided about these strays; one of them, as I said, cruelly abused the male dog, but there were two young sisters who fed and tried to protect them. But eventually, another neighbour called the stray dog collectors who came and took away the male and all the puppies – the mother only escaped because one of the girls had put a collar on her, to disguise the fact that she was stray.

    More than anything else in my life, this incident convinced me that animals are more sophisticated creatures than they are often given credit for.

  8. Sarah Franco

    Marko, that’s a very sad story, how easy it is for cruelty to go unpunished… I have many photos of Belgrade stray dogs, maybe I’ll work on this and write a bit more about that. I’m feeling like doing it.

  9. Owen

    Street dogs in Belgrade (and Tirana) seem to be relatively well behaved, but their counterparts in the Eastern Balkans don’t seem quite so amenable. Last year a British woman was killed by a pack in a village in Bulgaria.

  10. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Serbia: Belgrade’s Street Dogs

  11. Hi Sarah,

    I saw a dreadful sight at Bajloni Market yesterday on my way to work. A poor dog with mange attempting to scratch its back on an awning to get some relief.

    I was just about to call a friend who might know a vet I could take him to, when an old man befriended the dog and led him off by the collar.

    As he passed me I asked him where he was going and the man said simply in Serbian “I am taking this dog to get help”.

    It was sad to see this poor creature in such a state, but it was very heartening to see this old guy do something about it.

    If in future I see something similar I would like to have the names and numbers of any vets or animal welfare charities who might help.

    Would you be kind enough to mail the contact details of your animal welfare contacts in Belgrade?


  12. jonathan, I’ll email you with the details.

  13. Radovan Jelani

    I live in Vracar and I know exactly what pack of dogs you’re talking about, and I used to think they were friendly as well.
    However, one night, I was walking home late on some weekend night, and similarly thinking “hey, it’s my furry friends!” I walked up to play with them for a bit.
    They were not in the mood to play, and in one moment the “leader” snapped and started charging me, with all of the others instantly following on instinct.
    It was not a fun moment and it was serious, I had to kick to largest one to make them all back off and they still kept hounding me and barking after me for two blocks, all of this at four in the morning.
    So, while they’re cute, beware, they can occasionally be really territorial and nasty.

  14. Sarah Franco

    Yes, you are right, they are very territorial…I have seen them sometimes chasing motos or barking to people…

    Usually I don’t touch stray dogs, or in fact, any dog that is not my own, unless the dogs themselves approach me and ask me, but that’s an important advise that you leave us here!

  15. Joanne

    Hi Sarah, At present I am living in Belgrade with my partner, we too have a family of stray dogs by our building,or did have, mother had 6 pups,were not sure what happened to 3 as we didnt know where she was keeping them to start with,the 3 that we did see growing up for a while were well looked after by mum and by people,we ourselves would take them food and drink but we also had a great view to see people coming from allover with treats,I have taken many pictures.A man even brought kennels for them,mum was very protective and sometimes caused a fuss when people were walking there dogs, I noticed a woman pretend to pick a stone up one day while we were out walking and that made the dog back off,but then some people actually pick up stones and throw them for real,I have seen a man with a german shepherd being surrounded by a pack of stray dogs,I was quite frightened for him.
    Recently two of the pups vanished,I found this very upsetting as Id grown very attached to them,although its impossible for us to adopt one,we think about them often and pray to god that they were adopted into a loving home,now there is only one pup left,for awhile him and mum went away but now hes back,hes very friendly and seems to want to keep out of trouble but at present mum is on heat and there are lots of dogs following her,many are becoming aggressive with eachother,this morning I witnessed a nasty attack by the bigger males,roughly about 6 were all attacking one little male,his crys alerted me and it was terrible to see what was happening,I shouted etc but nothing stops them when they are in this frenzied state,luckily he got away but they gave chase,the little pup however I watched how he sat across the road and wouldnt go back to his kennel.
    I found your write up really interesting,watching the family growing up,being free,playing,loving eachother has been wonderful and seeing how most humans are caring towards them is very comforting but when bad situations arise I feel very helpless here and its a constant reminder of how bad the situation here acutally is.I would be greatful for any contact numbers you can also email me.Thanks Jo

  16. hey guys i live also in belgrade.
    DOGS? ahhh these dogs that are so loud that you cant sleep during night? yes we have them, but go to india or egypt there is much worse….

    by the way i make some movies about belgrade. if anyone is interestet you can have a look here. if you have any ideas what i should film next just let me know.
    In addition to that i look for a job as camera man or editor. maybe someone can help me here .

    Regards Dennis