Issue 5, 2011. October-November

   

HELPING THE STRAYS OF TBILISI

QVESATAURI

Fiona Coxshall

Desiani Haf cares for dogs at the shelter as a volunteer


For locals and foreigners who have lived in Georgia for a number of years, the sight of stray dogs wandering around is a familiar one. For the most part people are indifferent towards these animals and while some are kind enough to feed the dogs a few food scraps, that is usually the extent of the care. In Tbilisi alone, despite various dog control programs being declared, it is estimated there are some 25,000 dogs wandering the city's parks and streets fending for themselves, struggling to survive and stay out of reach of the ‘dog catchers'.

More importantly for the general public are the health issues: cats and dogs that have not been immunized may carry disease and without sterilization programs the street dog population gets out of control - dogs gather in packs that can potentially become dangerous and then mass rounding up and culling takes place.


Like other developing countries of the former Soviet Union, Georgia has numerous ‘people' issues to address and animal welfare is not seen as a priority. This became even truer during the worldwide financial downturn and following the August 2008 war with Russia when most of the focus turned towards assisting the homeless IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons).

In some ways Georgia is lucky - millions of dollars in foreign aid has flowed into the country over the past few years and there is a huge number of charitable organizations helping people in need. But who helps the homeless animals?

Arriving in Georgia in 2008, Dutch businessman and AmCham Board member, Ivo Bakhuijzen was astounded at the number of stray animals lying around the streets of the capital and shocked to witness car after car simply driving past a semi-conscious puppy that had clearly been hit by a vehicle; only Ivo stopped to help. From that moment, Ivo decided something had to be done and so established the charitable foundation - Dog Organization Georgia (DOG) to provide shelter and food for homeless animals; prevent unwanted and uncontrolled births of stray animals and stop their abuse together with the reported use of inhumane culling methods.


After extensive fundraising and overcoming numerous obstacles DOG eventually opened Tbilisi's first western style dog shelter early this year. Located near Lisi Lake, the shelter currently houses around 20 canine guests rescued from the streets, saving them from the city's dog catchers. They are guests because it is hoped that for most of the dogs and puppies their stay will be temporary as the organization tries to re-home these adorable animals.

However this is a difficult task when it is not viewed as fashionable to have a pedigree-less pooch. Clearly attitudes towards mixed breed dogs need to be changed. - DOG aims to educate the population: showing not only how loving, fun and loyal these animals can be but also the rewards of owning and caring for one.

The Haf family are already reaping the rewards of adopting a dog. Shortly after returning to Tbilisi for a second contract, Alex and Desiani Haf's dog died. To help their two young children cope with the loss, the couple visited the shelter and adopted first one young dog (Ladi), and then a playmate for her (Flecki). Within just a few days both dogs were playing happily together and gently with the two toddlers and Desi now talks happily of her ‘four precious babies'.

Adoption frees up space at the shelter, enabling the organization to care for and hopefully re-home more of Tbilisi's stray dogs. DOG shelter has a dog to suit everyone: lively or calm - puppies from just a couple of months; small dogs of 1 or 2 years or larger and older dogs. To view photos of dogs that are looking for loving homes, visit the Dog Organization Georgia Facebook page.

Dog Organisation Georgia not only cares for and vaccinates the rescued animals but also neuters them to prevent more unwanted dogs. However the long term solution for controlling the stray population lies in changing the attitude of the public, which is another of DOG's goals: to educate adults and children alike to appreciate the benefits of sterilizing animals (including their own pets who are often allowed to wander the streets). While a few dogs and puppies enjoy the sanctuary of the shelter, the facility is small and there is still much that needs to be done - water is currently pumped out of the ground and the site needs proper drainage, for which funds are required. This is in addition to the everyday costs of caring for the dogs. DOG is totally reliant on donations.

To achieve its long-term goals and to finance the ongoing care of the dogs at the shelter, Dog Organization Georgia is in great need of more funds. In addition the shelter welcomes gifts of dog food or bowls along with any unwanted pet beds/baskets, old blankets, old towels, collars and leads or dog toys. Or perhaps you would like to volunteer some time to walk or groom a dog or play with a puppy.

To find out more about how you can help support the dogs and to donate, please visit the Dog Organization Facebook page or website: www.dog.ge (originally in Dutch; English translation available) or email dogshelter@live.nl