… A kitten is climbing from the hand on the chest, then on the shoulder where it starts to smell a rescuer’s ear. It has no fear – it is just curious! The baby-kitten called Maki managed to make everybody presented at this photo session fall in love with it in just two minutes. Well, what minutes?! As soon as Ira took it out of her jacket – everybody was aaawww-captured.
“Yes, we have more kittens! Oh, choose any: red, black, with white chest,” Iryna Azizian, the head of the non-governmental organization “Barbos” (a common Ukrainian/Russian name for dogs) can offer a colourful range of models with tails and whiskers. The animal shelter in the suburbs of Uzhhorod is home for about 130 “tails”, each of them needs attention and love. Today, it is provided by rescuers of the Zakarpattia Rescue Service. No, they are not like famous Australian firemen: attention is, in the first place, to animals. For example, Maki…
The smallest character of the photo session is its biggest star. The kitten is even smaller than a rescuer’s glove. The rescuer seems to hold a kitten for the first time: he is ruffling the kitten’s fur quite clumsy. But in some seconds – his heart is melted. After some photos have been taken, I take the kitten form these huge hands (we have just made a photo which will become a symbol of the action in social networks) and find out that the baby Maki is purring as loud as its body can allow….
If I could whistle, I would be more helpful: the main task of assistants is to make animals be exactly in front of the camera because dogs and cats want to “flex their muscles” and study the room as soon as possible. We are trying to distract cats by saying to them “kitty-kitty-kitty”, Iryna is trying to make it with the help of sausage. She is whistling, clapping her hands to catch dogs’ attention, a photographer is not only slapping away with his camera but also snapping his fingers – everybody is having fun.
None of them is a professional model, but they show their emotions definitely more expressively than professional models. The rescuers have their own, “spicy” humour, while animals are just a pure joy with a tail.
But each of these joyful photos, in fact, has a miserable and tragic background. Several puppies and kittens have the same story which is called “a closed box”: this is how some people get rid of “troubles” – they just throw them as some garbage and leave to die slowly. There was another story with Bilka’s puppies: it had been homeless until was taken together with its puppies into the Barbos shelter. The rescuer is holding now two of them.
Rostyslav Hulei, a rescuer, specializes on animals as his friends-colleagues say. He more frequently rescues puppies when they fall in a manhole or get stuck in heat pipelines or somewhere in a neglected basement…
He puts down cats from trees, rescued a swan which broke its wing and was escaping from the rescuers’ boat through the Uzh river… “They are living souls, of course, we rescue animals as anybody else! Yes, I am happy to help such a small but sincere creature,” the man smiles composedly. Being a rescuer is a hard man work, however, it doesn’t forbid smiles and tender scratching cats’ ears beyond the cameras…
“Streetterrier” Dina is rushing out of the crate and it is ready to crash anything which stands on its way. What a joy – someone is ready to play with it! The dog is lying down on the ground inviting to scratch its belly.”
Black cat Richi is also looking for his new family – he is a proper royal prince who looks down at everybody, bright, with a perfect fur. It is hard to believe what a dirty and forever hungry he was just some months ago.
And this small kitten just like its neighbour Maki purrs to everybody who touches it: everybody is the mother for it. Everybody wants love! And they are ready to give it without limits.
“How do colleagues react? Frankly speaking, at first, they were a little bit suspicious about that saying they didn’t need that and that it was not their business – a photo session with animals… But when we come here and they see these wet noses and happy eyes, these tails and how they joyfully wag them – they change their minds, the colleagues smile and they are happy to give a piece of kindness. Of course, I hope some of the participants would like to take an animal to their homes!” Natalia Batyr, a spokesperson of the Zakarpattia rescuers says. She says that her heart melted several times, but her cat Semen wouldn’t be happy to get a neighbour.
It was Natalia’s idea to launch a collaboration between rescuers and the shelter, “Frankly speaking, starting this project we were not expecting such a fast and tangible result – that people would take animals from the shelter to their homes. Because people sometimes treat homeless animals as homeless people, they ignore them and try to get rid of. And when an animal gets into a mess, into a danger or is hit by a car, they just pass by it. Our rescuers often help animals, particularly when Barbos calls, when an animal is in a trap. That’s how we met Iryna. And I thought it would be a great idea to make a photo session and help, in the first place, to catch attention to homeless animals, to the fact that they exist and they need our help and love.”
“We made this project to show people these animals, their beauty, that they are not worse than pedigree dogs and cats and their love is even bigger. They are more sincere because they have already experienced coldness and cruelty and they are ready to give their gratitude and love instead of kindness to them. We want to invite people’s attention to the shelter, to show them that they can support it. We also want to highlight that people should take animals from shelters instead of buying expensive animals. They should give a home to such animals and they will give them love instead.”
“We share photos and tell about animals in social networks. We are going to publish a calendar, money from sales will be invested in the Barbos shelter, of course. The shelter needs many resources! When you speak with Iryna, you realise that each animal has a sad background. For example, an old Herda – it was betrayed, left alone with traumas to die on the road. There is not a big chance for her to find a new family, but perhaps, some kind people will give it to her [unfortunately, the dog died before the article was published – ED.]
“Girls-volunteers deserve respect, they have big hearts to make it, to help those who are forgotten by the society – they have sincere souls and a huge endurance. It requires much routine work: to make the order, to warm and feed all the animals, to vaccinate them, they heal and desex them… We do our best to help and – we are looking for people who share our values and ideas. I hope that our customs and police officers will agree to help. I know that, for example, my colleague from the town of Chop took a dog from a shelter,” Natalia says.
Twelve models of the photo session have already been taken to new families. Natalia and rescuers, who were quite sceptical and then very engaged, are very happy about that. The kindness action became “viral”. The idea of the Zakarpattia rescuers has been supported by other Ukrainian regions.
Daria Hrechyshcheva, a spokesperson of the Dnipro Rescue Service says, “We started this action to commemorate the Day of Rescuers. Our specialists often rescue animals, and these are not only dogs and cats, but these are also parrots, racoons etc. And there is a problem – where we should take these animals to. We collaborate with volunteer organisations who care for animals and have shelters. So, we decided to make this action to remind people who want to take a pet that they can actually rescue one – to give it a happy life. We chose a shelter which one volunteer made in her house. There are blind animals, animals who used to live in a limited space so they are afraid of people and open space, they can’t trust. We saw that these animals mostly lack communication – when we came, they as well as we had incredible emotions! We made a photo session and shared stories of those animals via social networks and media. The first owner to have taken an animal was one of our volunteers of the Fire Emergency Service, the girls took a kitten home when she saw it on the photo with a fireman. The cat is called Major and it feels great! Our rescuers and other people who care help to the shelter with food and other essential things.”
Oksana Machak, a spokesperson of the Kirovohrad Rescue Service, says, “I saw the photos of the colleagues, and I know a local shelter Bim, I help them from time to time. Our rescuers were happy to join the initiative. When we came, everybody was very touched: pets there have other eyes, not like home pets have… Speaking about a particular story, I would like to tell about a dog Karat. He became blind because his owner got the dog as a present and had some health problems so he couldn’t treat the dog the right way. That’s how he found itself in the shelter. During the photo session, our boss chained his heart to it, he can’t take it home because he lives in a dormitory but he visits it each weekend, brings porridge with meat and communicates.”
“One Central Asian Shepherd Dog also lives there, it feels and looks great now, but when he was taken to the Bim shelter for the first time, it was just like a bag of bones (we saw photos). At some moment, owners stank it out because they didn’t need it anymore, – he lived in the streets, had nothing to eat and was very cold… Now Emir will be given only to the family which won’t use it as a guard dog. It needs to get a right treatment,” Oksana tells emotionally.
In the town of Poltava, it was Yulia Kravets, an employee in the Informational Department of the Regional State Administration, who initiated the project, “We saw those great photos form Uzhhorod and decided to join the action. We offered it to our rescuers and they agreed, we called Natalia Oskar, a volunteer, and came to the Lira I Ralf shelter. It was very interesting especially when participants were choosing an animal for a photo. For example, girls got afraid of a big and furry dog Rex but Andrii, a rescuer, liked it and they became friends. The husky dog Max was the star of the photo session. It has a tragic story: owners poured boiled water on it and then brought to the shelter saying that the dog wasn’t good-looking anymore. Each participant wanted a photo with Max! There are more than 100 hundred animals in the shelters, those who were chosen for the photo session were extremely happy! They craved for attention for so long!”
Meanwhile, in Uzhhorod, a funny and hyperactive Bim is making a circle in the shelter’s yard at first, and only after a nice run it starts to communicate with its “photo session partner”. The dog was very neglected when it was found, however, it had a collar, it means its owner just stank it out,” Iryna says.
Today, Bim which adores children is already a member of a family together with a cat Hreia: the family took the second pet from the Barbos shelter. Volunteers are the happiest when there are photos with a new family!
Iryna Azizian jokes about the project photographer in her everyday posts about the shelter’s animals: Serhii’s camera seems to be magical – many animals after the photo session found new families. Iryna has been the head of an animal protection volunteer movement in Uzhhorod. She helps animals with some more people who are not indifferent. The shelter exists only due to the help of people who care and give donations. The shelter also gets money via participating in fairs where it sells hand-made stuff, tea and different treats. Volunteers also arrange actions like “Generous Tuesday” when citizens are offered to donate the money which they would pay, for example, for a cup of coffee the shelter’s needs. They also arrange lessons of kindness at schools, making post-cards workshops etc. Besides, they need to do a routine work and give an urgent help – while rescuing animals in the streets, night visits to a veterinarian…
A co-author of the project (however, he says he is just taking photos) is Serhii Hudak, a photographer. He had no doubts he would find time for this project and do his best and – do it with love.
That what he says about the project, “There is not so much kindness as we would like to have. The life stories of animals from the Barbos shelter prove it: abandoned by their owners adult dogs, thrown into garbage small kittens and puppies, abandoned and beaten with traumas Herda, Slippy without eyes… The point is that doing kind things is easy. Not everybody thinks how easy it is to increase the amount of kindness in the world. You can visit a shelter and find a friend there, change an animal’s fate for the better, or maybe – just bring some food and a warm blanket – and the Universe will become better. These photo sessions are created to invite people’s attention not only to homeless animals but to shelters, to the fact that it is easy to make some creature happy, to make yourself happy, and finally, make the world better. Everybody can do it. Yes, I feel happier when I find out that some pet I have taken a photo of was taken into a family. I am very happy when adult animals are taken home. I respect such new owners, they do a great thing.”
A cat with a strange name which was given it due to its black “moustache” was also taken home being an adult cat. New parents came to the shelter and said, “We came here to take Hitler home!” As for small Maki, it was taken home by a military man put a purring and contented kitten under his army jacket. Any time is time for love.
Text by Alla Khaiatova
Photo by Serhii Hudak and Happy stories by the Barbos shelter