Written by Maria Varentsova and Nelly Mihill

This winter turned out to be extra cold in Astrakhan, Russia; some days it was -30 degrees C. We remember how we started to feel cold before we even left the building, even though we were wrapped up in so many layers. We were a regular witness to so many stray animals covered in frost trying to dig anything remotely edible from under tens of inches of thick Russian snow. They would run up to us and stare at us with their eyes full of sadness and so much hardship they have to go through every day. Dogs would trustingly start to wag their tails, hoping for some compassion from people.

Some people would feel affection towards the poor souls and buy some food for the animals. Unfortunately, some would kick the animals or even worse, they’d come across one of the Russia’s many dog hunters who wish nothing but death to homeless animals. This is why the eyes of these animals are not only filled with hope, but also permanent fear of humans.

There are so many homeless animals in the streets of Astrakhan, and not many people like it. It really is a huge problem in our country. Our society is divided into two groups that take two very polarized views on how to solve the problem. We all agree that a pack of feral dogs is as dangerous as wolves in the wild, and we must protect ourselves from this danger. But how do we do it? Some think that local authorities should euthanize the dogs and that’s the only solution, but some are strongly against killing the animals.

A True Friend for the Animals

One of the volunteers at the ‘True Friend’ Foundation (NGO Vernii Drug) in Astrakhan has been a witness to a dog being killed by local authorities. When a dog is shot with a dart, it doesn’t simply fall asleep. They use poison that causes indescribable pain and suffering to a dog for 30 minutes. Sometimes the vulnerable members of the society — children that play nearby, pensioners and handicap people — have to witness this horrendous spectacle of unspeakable cruelty towards a live being. This could cause nothing but emotional and mental trauma to people.

There used to be no alternative to this method of control of stray animal population, but now we can see light at the end of the tunnel. It was almost sensational news when we heard about an animal shelter being built in the Astrakhan Region. There are many people who try and help the animals by bringing out scraps of food to feed cats and dogs, but not everyone would take the burden of building and running an animal shelter, especially when there isn’t any materialistic profit to be gained from it.


First Animal Shelter

Svetlana Marchenko, a famous journalist from Astrakhan, is the pioneer and founder of the new Vernii Drug (True Friend) shelter. One day, she realized that she could do this. She loved and cared for homeless animals all her life, and even when she was a child, she realized how unfortunate and mistreated they are by humans. Around 30 years ago, she started to pick animals from the streets and foster them in her flat. Her children would help her to feed and look after the animals, and then they would try and find a good home for them. Her flat was constantly filled with injured dogs and cats that had been mistreated, who she couldn’t possibly pass by.

A mother dog cares for her pups at the shelter

Three years ago, Svetlana made the decision to organize a construction of a shelter for homeless animals of Astrakhan Region, Russia, and in March of this year, after all the official paperwork was finally approved, construction began.

We have already re-homed 300 dogs and cats and have another 100 dogs at the shelter, not to mention the hundreds of cats in our foster care program. The animals need all the support that they can get in terms of building materials, food, medicine and warm blankets.

Written by Maria Varentsova and Nelly Mihill Source

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These street dogs have brand new lives ahead of them.

newborn babies...

Vernii Drug (True Friend in English) is a place of hope and healing. Photo by Svetlana Gushina

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