It all started in September 2004 with Babe, the dog who should have been a rose. My Croatian isn't that good, despite my being a member of Dalmatia's oldest surviving noble family. But it wasn't due to linguistic failings that I set out to buy a rose and came back with a black labrador called Babe. The scorn that was heaped on me for my poor grasp of the language after this incident was unjust. No, I wasn't looking for a dog-rose. And rescuing Babe wasn't all my fault either.
It happened like this: my distant relative Igor Skelin runs Jelsa's garden centre, a place where one could buy plants, including roses, but not dogs. Babe belonged to Branko, one of Igor’s staff, and was generally to be found in the hot-house sitting quietly under the table or wandering around, causing no trouble to anyone. She was a beautiful, nicely mannered and contented dog, as labradors tend to be.
On this particular Saturday morning she was sitting under the table looking unusually morose. No sign of Branko, so I asked after him. Igor told me that he was very ill in hospital, and had asked Igor to find Babe a good home or have her put down. Babe had been in the care of one of Branko’s relatives, but had run off and gone missing for several days. Today she had reappeared at the garden centre, totally unexpectedly.
The news was a shock. I digested it for a few moments. I had a sense of some inescapable destiny. I looked at my brother, another Branko. He looked at me. Dog-lovers both, the pulling on heart-strings was almost audible. We had a short silent consultation, and he willed me forward. Easy enough for him, he would be leaving shortly for the UK, leaving me holding the Babe. “Well,” I said slowly, “If you really can’t find her a home, let me know, perhaps I…” Igor was on the case like a shot. Announcing there was no chance of anyone else taking her on, he opened the car door and Babe hopped inside.
Roses were forgotten and we headed off home. I was musing, rather late in the day, on whether Babe would fit in. I had brought with me two dogs from the UK when I had relocated to Dalmatia earlier in 2004. They were both females, and used to having their territory to themselves. How would they take to the new arrival? Would they fight? And what’s more, one was called Beba, there could be a confusion of identities. The chain of command would be difficult to maintain. Oh dear. My low spirits sank another notch when Bella and Beba greeted our arrival with resounding hostile barking.
To my surprise, all went well. The barking subsided when the two realized Babe was coming in. Babe entered, there were introductions all round, tails wagged, and she settled in without a hitch. Perhaps Bella and Beba recognized a kindred spirit, as their mother Connie was a labrador, albeit golden rather than black. Babe lived on happily for several years in Pitve, and eventually died naturally and peacefully in her sleep. Happily her former owner Branko recovered from his illness and returned to the island, although he was unable to take Babe back.
So began the influx of canine intruders into our peaceful home in Pitve. And, yes, my Croatian has improved in the interim. No, I have not set out to buy a rose since. But every year there are homeless or unwanted dogs wandering around the island, and I have taken in as many of them as I could manage at any given time. Sadly, I have been forced to leave even more to their fate.
There are just too many unwanted dogs being born on the island, or in some cases being brought here. There is no organization on the island responsible for caring for these poor animals. It seems this is a problem throughout Dalmatia. The obvious thing to do was to establish a framework in order to carry out projects which would address the problems. This is how ECO HVAR for Animals, now a registered charity, was born.
© Vivian Grisogono 2013