St. Francis is the patron saint of animals, among many other attributes. World Animal Day originated in Germany as the brainchild of Heinrich Zimmermann (1887 - 1942), who was totally committed to promoting animal welfare. Although he envisaged October 4th as the day of choice, the first World Animal Day took place in Berlin on March 24th 1925, because there was no suitable venue available on the October date. It was 1929 before the first World Animal Day was held on St. Francis' feast day. Thousands of people from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia supported the movement, which became a worldwide celebration after being adopted in a Resolution at an International Animal Protection Congress in May 1931. World Animal Day inspires a mutlitude of different events, large and small, in aid of animal welfare. It is estimated that participation has spread to around a hundred countries in recent times, with something like 1000 events organized to raise awareness and funds, and to give people the chance to see how they can help improve the lot of animals of all kinds on our planet.
Good as it is to have a day reminding the whole world of the need to safeguard the animals on our planet, animal welfare is a year-long necessity, day in, day out. Every year, Eco Hvar is contacted ba people who need help with animals, mainly cats and dogs, but there have been birds and even otters in the mix. We do what we can. All too often, we are powerless to help. In August, two visitors in Milna on Hvar found, to their horror, ten very small puppies dumped in the local rubbish bin. Six were already dead, but Petra and Đenaro rescued the other four, and then asked Eco Hvar for help. Despite our best efforts, after several days of bottle-feeding, they all died. They were simply too young to have been separated from their mother.
We were also concerned for the mother. It is the worst tragedy for any mother to lose her young, especially at the time when her hormones are all set to nourish them. We wanted to help the owner, in order to prevent a repeat of the horror of dumping new-born offspring. Sadly, our inquiries and internet appeals failed to produce any result.
However, 2016 also had its success stories. We helped re-unite several visiting dog owners with their runaway pets. In each case we had to take the dog to the vet in Stari Grad to read its chip, which of course involves the time and expense of getting there, and can only be done during the surgery's working hours. Eco Hvar strongly recommends that dogs should always have collars with a tag giving the owner's contact number. An alternative, which is a really helpful innovation in Croatia, is the owner-finding service through a dog tag with a special code. Buying the tag, which is on sale at various outlets including DM stores, is the only cost involved. Once you have registered your details, a free phone number allows anyone finding your dog to contact you by quoting the code. Working hours are from 09:00 to 15:00, and callers can leave a message after hours if necessary. The tags can, of course, be used for cats as well as dogs.
There were several cases of abandoned dogs roaming around during 2016. Holidaymakers were rightly shocked to find there is no official facility for taking care of them. In one case, some visitors tried to help a lost dog, and then complained to the press (picture above) when they failed to make headway through official channels. However, to our knowledge, most if not all of the strays were accounted for through finding new owners to take care of them. Some went abroad, mostly to Germany, some remained on Hvar. As we do not yet have an animal shelter on Hvar, it is difficult to provide for all the homeless or unwanted dogs on the island. In 2016 Eco Hvar started a successful collaboration with the Animalis No-Kill Animal Shelter at Kaštel Sućurac just outside Split, run by Dr Zdenka Filipović.
Over the years, dogs accumulated around me in Pitve, which is of course what led to the founding of Eco Hvar. Pitve was viewed by many as the dumping ground for dogs and cats from the whole of the central region of Hvar Island. Some people brought the unwanted animals to me personally, showing some courtesy and consideration. Others simply abandoned them around the village, having been advised that there was someone in Pitve stupid enough to care about animal welfare. As the dogs multiplied, the problems grew. More space, more food, more dog handlers were needed. Much as I love animals, I knew I could not care for all the ones in need in my area, never mind the ones who were brought in from further afield. With no easy solution in sight, it was a godsend when I realized that the Animalis Centre was willing to help. It was especially heartening to know that the Centre has a very successful relationship with German animal charities, including Streunerglück in Munich, who are especially committed to finding homes for unwanted dogs both from Germany and elsewhere. My first priority was to reduce my collection of male dogs, who were in constant, often violent competition with each other for the accolade of Top Dog.
Benđi was transferred to the Animalis Centre in February 2016. He had come to Pitve in August 2008, not dumped there on purpose, but wandering as a young innocent following his mother as she roamed the countryside looking for adventure. The mother was on heat, so there was noisy havoc when she first cavorted around the compound where my dogs are kept in the middle of one hot summer's night. When she visited again a couple of days later, a neighbour took her in. She was then re-united with her various siblings and their mother Renči who had already been given shelter with me in Pitve. She was named Sweetie in honour of her happy temperament. As soon as circumstances allowed, she was sterilized, like her sisters and mother.
Renči had had four litters before her 'owner' got tired of her and dumped her. She was a small, gentle, good-natured little mongrel, worn out by constantly producing puppies. She recovered well in Pitve, and lived happily until her peaceful death. Sweetie was born in the fourth litter. Benđi inherited all the good characteristics passed on by his mother and grandmother. He was just a few months old at the time of his arrival in Pitve, and grew into a loving, playful, healthy canine specimen, just like the other members of his family. He can be seen playing with Mala in the video below, while Čorni jumps all over Izo, the dogs' best friend.
It was not an easy decision to send any of the dogs away, but the situation had become unmanageable. Benđi was loving and lively, and clearly needed a home where he could have individual attention. To my intense relief and joy, it turned out well: Benđi was transferred to Germany in July 2016, and his foster home became permanent a few weeks later. He even had a new companion to share his life and play with.
Benđi was not the only Pitve rescue dog to find his way to Germany. In April 2015, just before Easter, seven abandoned puppies were to be seen, at one time near the Pitve tunnel to Zavala, at another in the Jelsa car park, then scattered around over a wide area. They were probably about 6-8 weeks old at the time, just capable of some independence, but understandably bewildered at being separated first from their mother and then from each other. One was tied to a tree beside the Pitve-Zaval tunnel, and had the good fortune to be found and adopted by a German family.
As they have a holiday home on the south side of Hvar, he comes back to visit regularly, and even stopped by to visit us in Pitve in May 2016. Having found such a good home, he has obviously recovered from his early trauma.
The puppies came from Vrbanj. Shocking though abandoning young dogs is, at least their mother was not deprived of them too early, and they were big enough to have a chance of surviving. It was also heartening to know that the owner had the mother sterilized once she had fully recovered from the birth. And it became clear after a few weeks that all the puppies were accounted for in new homes or at least foster homes. So the situation could have ben a lot worse.
One of the abandoned puppies found her way to Pitve, and sought shelter in a neighbour's wine-cellar, on April 3rd 2015. Although the children would have loved to keep her, there was no room for her there, so Lina was passed on to me. Then, five days later, a German family came pleading with me to take on yet another of the puppies, who had turned up at their holiday home in Donje Pitve. With about a dozen dogs already, I was overloaded. After a few phone calls, I was promised that the local council would finance transferring the puppy to the Kaštela Animal Shelter, so I took Bobi in, confident that it was only temporarily.
And then, the very next day, a third Vrbanj puppy was brought to me, having turned up in Svirče. So Tina joined the merry canine throng.
They were all beautiful, good-natured creatures, with a happy disposition. I had no doubt that they would easily find new homes, given the right opportunity.
They were happy to be handled, and were quick to learn the house rules. They got on well with the other dogs, and they loved to play, just as young dogs should.
Delightful though they were, it was impossible for me to keep them all. I was disappointed, not to say shocked, when the local council reneged on its promise to help out with Bobi. So I had to make my own arrangements, and bear all the costs myself. Difficult though this was, I was not disappointed with the outcome. Of the Vrbanj puppies, Lina and Bobi went to the Animalis Shelter in May 2016, and both moved on within a few weeks to new homes in Germany. The photos and reports I received were pleasingly reassuring.
I am extremely grateful to Dr. Filipović and the Animalis Shelter for their care for these and all the other dogs that come their way. I am equally thankful to the German charities which are doing so much to help our unwanted animals, and especially to Stephanie Grabs, who is one of the main driving forces behind the rescue efforts, not only in Croatia, but in Bosnia and Hercegovina, where the needs are even more pressing.
THANK YOU ALL! YOU ARE HELPING TO MAKE THE WORLD A KINDER PLACE, AND WE LOOK FORWARD TO EVEN MORE SUCCESSFUL COOPERATION IN 2017
© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2017
The video below features Čorni, black and curly-haired, jumping all over his best friend Izo; Čorni's 'nephew' Benđi (black, short-haired) playing with Mala (small, mainly white); Čorni's half-sister Nada, blonde and tactful, hovering around the centre of interest; and towards the end Čorni and Nada's half-sister Tati (black and scruffy), always ready to turn upside-down in the hope of having her tummy stroked.