Stella Raycheva, Stanislava Stancheva, Robert Smith, Nadia Stancheva and Nathalie Klinge last year in Sofia

World reknown experts in the Catch/Neuter/Vaccinate/Return – CNVR methodology Robert Smith and Nathalie Klinge have come to Sofia for the second time after the very successful seminar we held together with the Ministry of Agriculture last year.

The experts came to Sofia to work together with the municipal authorities – the aim was to get their oppinions and suggestions on the new Program for the control of stray dog population in the city. Once again they suggested a nationwide military-style campaign, the purchase of mobile clinics/field hospitals, the running of strong educational and information campaigns. Robert and Nathalie had a meeting with the Mayor and her counsil and came to the Bogrov shelter.

There was a very strong message layed out to the municipallity – there is no chance a Municipallity can manage on it’s own – every municipality needs the NGO’s to work together with them, financed by the authorities. Robert also expressed his serious concerns about the endless building of shelters throughout Bulgaria, worrying that not only will there be a money waste, but the making of concentration camps often cruel to the dog inhabitants.

Our representative at the work group was Stella, who also made a presentation about the work of Animal Rescue Sofia and the necessary measures that need to take place in order to solve the problem faster. You can see the presentation here and read the text below, or simply DONLOAD it.

Animal Rescue Sofia – working to solve the stray dog problem in Sofia, 2009-2011

A presentation by Stella Raycheva, Animal Rescue Sofia coordinator

Animal Rescue Sofia – 3 years of work

Animal Rescue Sofia exists from the year 2009. Back then we were simply volunteers doing all we can to help the dogs in the Municipal shelter of Seslavci. We rehomed dogs in Bulgaria and abroad, neutered dogs on our own account, rescued injured dogs from the streets.

In 2010 we took over the running of the Municipal shelter of Bogrov. For this to happen we registered again, this time as a foundation, called Animal Rescue Bulgaria. We are a fully Bulgarian organization, although we do work with many organizations abroad. Animal Rescue Sofia is funded solely through personal and private donations from animal-lovers we call out to through the Internet and the Social networks.

We have been operating the Bogrov shelter since the spring of 2010. During this time we were able to rehome (both in Bulgaria and abroad) over 700 animals. We registered a medical clinic at the shelter in June 2010 and thus began our own Spay/Neuter program which has achieved over 1400 Spay/Neuter operations since then.

Besides the above activities we run our own educational program. We also work in the closed-down 25 square kilometer factory of Kremikovtzi, were over 300 dogs were starving and cannibalizing each other, stranded and without any food source.

Animal Rescue Sofia – 1 year in the shelter and Neuter center of Bogrov

Bogrov is a municipal shelter. It is the largest shelter in Bulgaria, intended for 500 animals. Although we believe that is too many dogs in one location, we are still forced by circumstances to presently keep over 550 dogs at the facility.

The shelter is co-funded by Sofia municipality; I will get back to that later. From our side the running of the shelter means finding the money to pay: 6 keepers and 4 vets; all necessary medications and materials for the surgeries; 4 tons of food per month; transport costs and etc…

It is important to note that the Foundation team itself works voluntarily, although 24×7, the only people on payroll at Animal Rescue Sofia are the people on the shelter staff.

We have 2 Spay/Neuter vets working full time at the clinic. At the moment we have a joint campaign with Sofia Municipality to promote the microchipping and neutering of pets. People can bring in their dog for a free neuter surgery and they get a free microchip as well.

We have signed an agreement with which Sofia municipality commits to provide the materials for 120 Spay/Neuter operations. Unfortunately the supplier procedures have taken very long, and we have not received the materials since May.

This means that we were unable to grow our neutering numbers, although we do have 2 extra vets at hand – we invited practitioner vets from the University of Utrecht in Holland, and they are already here.  Hopefully with the settling of the Spay/Neuter medicines contract, we will be able to dramatically increase our numbers.

Up to date we have no catching team of our own. The animals being neutered in the shelter are brought by their owners, or if stray –by compassionate volunteers. We also take in dogs for neutering from the Municipal Company “Ecobalance” every Wednesday.

Animal Rescue Sofia in Kremikovtzi

Our work in Kremikovtzi is lifesaving. There are over 300 dogs roaming the huge territory of the closed-down factory.  They are prisoners and have no food source anymore. Nevertheless, they had continued to breed, with the weak and the puppies cannibalized. That horror is stopped for the moment, our efforts are great, but we do need support.

Since October 2010 we have been on feeding visits at the factory at least 2 times every week. We distribute food and bring back bitches for neutering. Rehoming dogs from Kremikovtzi hasn’t been successful – we don’t have the necessary time to re-socialize the nearly wild dogs living there.

If Sofia municipality decides to pitch in by supplying the necessary materials for a huge Spay/Neuter campaign, we would be able to neuter the females left there in short notice. Unfortunately we do not have the money to be able to buy the needed medicines on our own.

Animal Rescue Sofia – Educational Program

Since we ourselves needed to be educated on education and needed to create many supporting materials our Educational program has truly began only recently in comparison to our other activities. Still, we can proudly say that we have begun a very large project. Also, the end of this September Animal Rescue Sofia is hosting a Dogs Trust Educational Seminar in Sofia – we hope to have as well as many international, many Bulgarian NGO representatives.
We have created a school lesson for children in 4-th and 5-th grade on dog welfare and the stray dog problem. The beautiful booklet you see in this slide is made through the ideas of the FPCC booklet and is printed with the help of Sofia Municipality. The lesson has been approved by the necessary authorities and practitioner teachers will be presenting it to kids in schools starting this year.

With the help of other organizations to fund the printing (all donations to Animal Rescue Sofia go to the dogs directly), we managed to print a number of educational and informational brochures such as: “It’s easy to be a responsible owner”, “Castration is not a scary word”, “Adopt your best friend” and so forth.

We make children’s events regularly, where parents bring their young ones to meet homeless dogs in our care. We talk to kids about the ways to treat a dog and responsible dog ownership.

Animal Rescue Sofia – Working together with the Municipality

Sofia municipality supports our work at the Bogrov shelter by taking care of all overhead expenses, as well as the rent. Through a contract agreement we receive about ¼ of the food we distribute, as well as Rabies vaccines. As already mentioned, we also take in dogs from the municipal mobile units every Wednesday and also work together on larger Spay/Neuter campaigns such as the one we did for the Roma neighborhoods.

The contracts we have signed with the municipality (besides the Shelter Agreement) are the previously mentioned ones: For the provision of materials for Spay/Neuter materials already mentioned; as well as the free microchips in question.

Animal Rescue Sofia – Overview of the main factors of the Sofia stray dog problem

To be able to completely understand the stray dog situation in the city, some very important points need to be made:

The counting of the dogs that our work is based upon (as well as previous 2 counts on 2006 and 2009) hasn’t been done in a proven methodology. This means that up to date we are working in an unclear picture.

We need the counting to take in account not only the roaming stray dogs, but also all those animals that have not been neutered and live under some form of human care in unclosed yards, factories, warehouses, building sites etc…

As there is no official record on the numbers of owned dogs in the city, we can only quote unofficial data, stating there are approx. 150 000 owned dogs in the city (not “responsibly”, just “owned”). If we use the Netherlands numbers of dumped dogs (and we can be sure they are much higher, but just for illustrative purposes) – 10% of dogs dumped every year; that would mean an influx of 15 000 new dogs on the streets of Sofia every year.
Our current legislation states that all dogs need to be cleared from the streets and placed in shelters until 2016. Would a strong and rich municipality such as ours, be able to offer shelter to new 15 000 dogs every year? I honestly doubt it.

Besides the locally dumped adult dogs and puppies, there is one more factor to consider – and that is dogs being dumped in Sofia from other neighbor municipalities. This problem will grow in time, as the deadline for the solving of the problem grows near.

Working with dogs, we must never forget the human factor. People, and people only are responsible for the huge population of stray domestic animals – cats and dogs. Even in a big city such as ours there is no proper culture of owning pets. There are too few educational campaigns being held out. We tried a joint campaign with the Sofia municipality in the city’s subway, but it was too short-lived.

As a Foundation our main problem with campaigning is that we work through the Internet and Social Networks mainly.  So the target groups most in need to educate are beyond our reach currently – we lack manpower to be able to educate on the spot in the more distant suburbs.

Animal Rescue Sofia – What needs to be done to improve our current line of work

Many efforts have been made already, but what is still to be done yet in the process of solving the stray animal problem? (The term used is animal, not “dog”, because as soon as we decrease the dog population we will witness a rapid growth in the stray cat population – it has already begun.)

Much has happened on the way to increasing the numbers of neutered dogs. The municipality has signed neutering contracts with NGO’s; the new stray dog Program has a clause for increasing the numbers of the mobile units; new Spay/Neuter centers are being built.

It is necessary however to begin working on a massive informational campaign. We need to convince the public of the necessity to register and neuter their pets. Still, there is much that is unclear in the registration issues, and if we don’t have a common database to sign the dogs into, our efforts are useless.

Meanwhile it is of great importance that the control organ of the municipality – Sofia Inspectorate lay out a tight control also outside the central areas and parks were they currently roam for the checking of documents. The problematical spots in the city are the suburbs and poor neighborhoods at the edge. We need mobile operational units to go door-to-door, enforcing registration and offering free microchips and neutering.

And of course, we must immediately make ten times the efforts we are already making in order to educate our most important target – the children. If we do not invest efforts into education we will live with this problem forever. Changing attitudes and the way people think has always been the major issue and task of solving a stray animal overpopulation problem. Educating the children in responsible ownership is the most important step to make in an effort to durably solve the problem.

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Thank you for your attention,
Stella Raycheva

08 September 2011 | News

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