THE PATH OF THE MESSENGER OF GOOD
Helping animals during the war is the main objective, the strong must protect the weak! These people do everything so that there are less stray dogs and cats on the streets of Chernihiv: they take animals from the streets to neuter them, they treat injured animals, and also look for new responsible and loving families for them. All of this is the work of the Step Towards the Animals Center of Veterinary Aid and Neutering, which has been operating in Chernihiv, Ukraine, for four years.
As we spoke with the head of the center, Tetyana Didenko, we were accompanied by the tumultuous sound of barking due to the presence of over two hundred dogs in the institution.
The corridors of the center have photos of cats and dogs that “graduated” from the center. Every picture has a story. It contains tragedy and pain, cruelty and indifference, but also care and warmth that made it possible for them to find a new life in a new family.
“We try to give animals to responsible people only,” Ms. Tetyana says. “We take some photos when they are bringing our animals home, and we ask them to send us some of their photos later. It’s so nice to see a happy, well-groomed pet when we remember a maimed, frightened animal in a cage.”
Ms. Tetyana can tell some impressive stories about homeless animals, with and without a happy ending, for a very long time. She knows not only the names of all the “wards” of the center, but also their character and the circumstances that led to them being there. Some had careless owners, some were saved from an inevitable death, some were taken from the street or a park. They all have one thing in common: they need care, love and attention, and here they get it all in full!
How it all started
Step towards the animals
– Ms. Tetyana, you have been the head of the Center of Veterinary Aid and Neutering in Chernihiv for more than four years…
– I have been here since the first day, and maybe even a little earlier. I was part of the center since it was founded, and I was heading the animal volunteering public organization before that. During these four years, over seven thousand animals passed through our Center of Veterinary Aid and Neutering, and over five thousand were neutered. We have been dealing only with neutering homeless animals, but now pet owners turn to us for this as well.
As for me, I started really taking care of animals in 2011 when I decided to get a second dog. I bought the first one, but a year later, after having some experience already, I realized that I was ready to adopt, to take home an adult dog that for one reason or another didn’t have owners. That’s how I found my first ward: a volunteer was giving her up for adoption via an OLX website. The dog was going to be euthanized, so I actually saved her life by taking her home. That was how it all started.
Then I took part in founding public organizations for animal protection, and set out to change the lives of homeless animals for the better. Every day animals living on the street risk dying of cold and hunger, of the cruelty of people and other animals, or being run over by a car… So, we need to help not just one, two or several dozens or hundreds of animals, we need to change their situation fundamentally. It requires a comprehensive approach. In fact, we are currently working on it. If only we could make the townspeople more aware. They often don’t want to be responsible for taking care of the pets and their offspring, and throw kittens and puppies, as well as adult animals, out into the street. After all, homeless animals do not fall from the sky, they appear as the result of people’s ignorance and often cruelty.
“When you want to make global changes to the situation, your actions must be global as well.”
– In your opinion, what are the ways of solving the problem of homeless animals?
– When you want to make global changes to a situation, your actions must be global as well. There should be a plan developed, that includes neutering, implanting microchips, imposing fines, working with owners… Feeding and treating animals is good, yet neutering is even better because it shows a responsible attitude. The task of a person engaged in adoption is to make sure that there are at least no more homeless animals. I always say that if you take care of an animal or a group of animals, make sure they are neutered first, and only then can you look for the families for them. However, adoption should also be responsible. You should not thrust puppies or kittens into the hands of the first person you see and congratulate yourself and mark it as a closed case. It helps neither animals nor society. Of course, it is impossible to predict everything and perfectly analyze a person. But at least you should try. More than once we got back the animals betrayed by their new owners, and believe me, this was greatly traumatic and stressful for them. In addition, over the past nine months, the number of homeless animals in the city has grown: some of them ran away from their owners, frightened by the explosions, some were “forgotten” during the evacuation or simply thrown out into the street because it became more difficult to keep them. Thus, helping animals during the war became an extremely urgent problem.
What will remain in the memory
Ordinary heroism in extraordinary circumstances
– Your work is extremely difficult in peaceful times, but it is real heroism in wartime…
– You know, in March, some guys from the Armed Forces of Ukraine visited our center: they brought to rescue a dog that had been staying with them and was hit by a car. When they found out that I was here alone with 250 dogs since February 24, they started talking about my heroism… [She laughs] I told them that it was not heroism but my work, my conscious choice. But they are real heroes for me because the things our defenders do are indeed incredibly heroic!
It was my conscious choice to stay at the center. Back in mid-February, when the possible Russian invasion was just being discussed, I decided for myself at once that I would not go anywhere because, as its head, I was responsible for the lives of the animals that lived at the center. They depended on me; I tried to save them, and it would be very wrong to leave them to fend for themselves in such a moment. Therefore, I did not think long: during the first hours of the full-scale Russian invasion, I went home, took my own nine animals to the center, and we were here all the time, without electricity, heating, communication and with limited supplies of food and water.
The first weeks marked with the horrible battles were the most difficult; there wasn’t a single day that something didn’t fly or whistle over our heads. It was always dangerous. I was not scared, but I was afraid for our dogs, and there were emotionally difficult moments, terrible moments when one of them died… One day, a drone was flying near us, and a bomb landed in the center in the evening; the occupiers knew for sure that there were only dogs here but dropped it on us deliberately anyway. Fortunately for us, it fell a little to the side from the center. It caused severe destruction, one dog was killed by the debris, the others were injured, but survived. At that moment I was outside, by the dogs, and the debris flew literally a few centimeters from me. I had no chance but to hide, it was only a matter of seconds, and my only thought was “Not the enclosures!” I didn’t even think about myself at that moment because most of the dogs were in the enclosures, and if the projectile got there, all or almost all of them would have died. We can say that we got lucky, although the bomb caused a lot of destruction.
Power of Thought
“It doesn’t matter how many animals you left behind, several hundred or one; betrayal is betrayal.”
– What was something most difficult for you back then, and what, on the contrary, supported and made you stronger?
– People were telling me, “Why are you sitting there with them? Open the enclosures, let them run out, and get out of there yourself. Go to a safe place…” Such a thought didn’t even occur to me because it would mean destroying everything that was done during the past ten years, giving up on all those principles of responsibility that I stuck to and that I tried to convey to people, becoming the same as those people who had abandoned these animals before. It doesn’t matter how many animals you left behind, several hundred or one; betrayal is betrayal. If you took responsibility for them, then you must be responsible.
Yes, it was physically difficult to provide two hundred animals with food and water alone: it took me several hours every day, and cleaning and calming animals took even more… I went outside the center for the first time only in the first weeks of April. But there were people who found the time and opportunity to come and bring water and food for the animals, even under fire. I am deeply grateful to my friends and relatives who called and supported me. I am infinitely grateful to all those girls and guys from our staff, acquaintances, and volunteers who were bringing necessities and helping as well. An incredible number of incredible people came to our center during that most terrible March! Thanks to them, we survived this most difficult time.
Helping those who help
– What are the greatest challenges that the Center faces right now, what do you need most?
– Every day, we have about a dozen calls that demand us to take an animal that people don’t need anymore. And there are also animals left on our doorstep or sometimes even thrown over our fence (most of them do not survive the fall). In such circumstances, the greatest challenge for us is to continue loving people.
As for the needs, they are always the same. We lack volunteers who would walk the dogs and communicate with them the most — the animals really need it! And there could never be too much help with cleaning!
Speaking of things, the greatest need now is for sawdust litter for cat litter boxes and wood shavings for the floor of dog enclosures. We are grateful to Goodacity for the animal carriers, as they are always relevant!