Yes, heroes are everywhere, but there are heroes and then there are HEROES. And for stray animals in Eastern Europe, these people are super-heroes.
Below are just four of the scores of international animal-loving workers who, unknown and unsung, slog tirelessly through the endless days and nights of often no heat, food, shelter or healthcare for their stray charges. They have no community, government or municipal support - in fact, these caretakers often face blatant and aggressive hostility inside their communities.
Always paramount in their minds is where will the next 1) meal 2) blanket 3) medication 4) spay/neuter come from? Where is the money to care for all these needy animals?
Take, Sasha Pesic from Nis, Serbia. He's singlehandedly rescued over 450 stray dogs, saving them from heaven-knows-what fate on Serbia's mean Eastern European streets or stuck inside their hellish pounds. He feeds, shelters and cares for these animals in a spectacular cage-free sanctuary where all the dogs roam free and where they play, eat and even sleep together on soft straw laid inside a former barn.
Yet just this past week Pesic survived a major crisis when the Nis municipality cruelly threatened him with expulsion and a round-up of all 450 dogs by dog-catchers on Christmas Day! A loud international social media campaign has put a stay to it, for now. But he'll need to re-locate his hundreds of dogs to another property soon, likely in about six months. How will all this happen? No one knows, really. Yet somehow he just keeps pushing forward. His animals need him.
Then there's Maria Tarmawska, a mother from the battle-torn Ukraine city of Donetsk. She cares for over 1000 animals left behind from the terrified fleeing citizens when Pro-Russian separatists seized the city. She and a group of women - along with some Crimean refugees they've taken in - care for the growing tsunami of dogs and cats on the make-shift shelter grounds. Some of the refugee orphans now take part in helping the animals which seems to bring some small sense of solace to these children of war, giving them a sense of purpose and comfort.
One of her security workers, Petro, even risked his life and was severely beaten when protecting the shelter from crazed neighbors who wanted to kill all the animals and who threatened to burn the sanctuary down. Tarmawska, like Serbia's Pesic, can't ponder how to do it, she just does.
Or Norica Prigoana from Gherla, Romania. Along with her husband, Christin, this woman - who has endured 15 operations for painful hip/leg/foot issues - rescues hundreds of dogs from the notoriously brutal Romanian 'shelters' where food and water are often withheld until the dogs are weak enough to be easily killed. As with many Balkan municipalities, they threaten her with expulsion, though luckily she was recently able to purchase permanent safe land for her sanctuary and animals via international donations.
Then there's Manuela Wroblewski, a German-born woman, who is cursed, threatened and even assaulted as she tries to discretely make her rounds feeding street cats in Avsallar, Turkey. Her daily walk shows the brutal abuse of stray animals inside Turkey, where they are sometimes starved, stoned, abused and killed. Facebook has connected her with some global followers, though the struggle sometimes seems insurmountable.
Massachusetts's The Harmony Fund donates many needed funds for these and other international animal heroes to do their work. It's run by Laura Simpson who says she loves supporting this 'under-dog' rescue work which so often flies under the radar. The groups she helps have no board of directors, take no salaries, have no multi-million dollar fundraising and marketing campaigns - "it's hand-to-mouth, all for the animals," she says. "We're for supporting the underdog, wherever they are."
If you'd like to help, to learn more or to just let these Heroes know you care visit:
- in memory of my dalmatian, Luther B. Freckleman ... -