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.