Interview between Cloud7 and Robert Altermoser, founder of the registered animal welfare organization EVERYDAYSTRAY
How did you come up with the idea to found the organization?
After living in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece for a few months to do voluntary work in animal shelters, I realized how big the need really is. Every day, more and more street dogs were brought to the shelters so that every staff member was supposed to look after more than 100 animals a day. This task is simply impossible to accomplish in the long term, so I wanted to get to the bottom of the problem more intensively.
Why are the street dogs in Eastern Europe in such great need?
The original problem, as so often, is unfortunately the people. They abandon their dogs when they no longer want to feed them, unwanted puppies are born, or their "job" is done. There, on the street, they are completely left on their own. It is cold and there is hardly any food. But the dogs we know today are made by humans, so there are hardly any wild instincts left, so that many of them, especially the puppies, die after a short time. The street dogs are also often met with hatred and anger. Due to their increasing number, they increasingly seem to be a kind of dirty plague, which is doing its mischief on the streets. The status of the dogs within the society continues to decline; accordingly they are treated badly.
Where is the focus of the organization?
We would like to improve the human-to-dog-relationship as well as the life of the street dogs in the long run. This is only possible if we find and "defeat" the origin of the many street dogs. Our approach is educational work and on a very large scale the castration of strays. Because the ignorance about the subject of castration leads to a massive problem, which is the root of any population of street animals: If un-neutered dogs are exposed further and further, they will quickly meet other un-neutered dogs and multiply massively. That is why we have created a program that focuses on the castration of strays free of charge, as well as on the castration of free running domestic dogs of Bulgarian owners who have few financial means themselves. For many people living in Bulgaria, it is considered a stigma if their own dog is castrated and thus impotent or infertile - even though they neither want to keep nor mediate the puppies resulting from free running around. Therefore, besides neutering, a lot of educational work has to be done to make people change their minds. In addition, the program also includes chipping dogs and issuing a passport. This procedure makes it more difficult for owners to simply abandon the animals.
Why don't you build shelters so that more dogs can stay there?
Of course every dog rescued is a gain for us. But we want to go further than that, because even though shelters offer many dogs better options than life on the streets, unfortunately these shelters also reach their limits very quickly. If as many dogs were taken in as necessary, the shelters would quickly reach their logistical and economic limits. A long-term solution to the problem is therefore unfortunately not the construction of shelters alone. An example: a gigantic shelter for 10,000 dogs can be filled within one year without any problems. This home requires an enormous amount of resources. But have we now changed something about the original problem of street dogs? Unfortunately there would still be new puppies on the streets every day, which would continue to multiply in the wild. In the long run we would not have found a solution. We would like to take a different approach and make sure that more and more street dogs are not born and exposed to this problem.
Do you also re-home dogs?
For our current size, we are already re-homing a very high number of dogs. Again and again we find abandoned puppies and strays that we simply cannot leave on the street. We then try to find a permanent home for these animals as soon as possible. I love each and every one of these dogs and therefore I do my best to find a good home for them at all costs. These mediations mean however a large expenditure of time, which we try to keep really small. For a country like Bulgaria the placement is a rather short-term solution, but for the individual dog an extreme improvement means no lasting change or improvement of the general situation.
Do you also take care of dogs that are medically ill?
We now have a good network of veterinarians and helpers who take care of wounded and disturbed dogs. We would never just leave a suffering animal lying around. Even before the dogs go to their new families after a successful placement, they are cared for in a healthy way.
What exactly are the donations needed for?
The donations are mostly used for veterinary expenses. In addition, we buy food for the dogs and pay the fuel costs. In order to make the participation in the neutering program as easy as possible for the dog owners, we also offer the free collection and delivery of the dogs. The long distances of course cost their price. Furthermore we are permanently renovating the places where the dogs can stay after the operation or where the dogs that we place in a new home can stay.
What are the goals of EVERYDAYSTRAY?
In most countries it has already been established that the dog is a social partner and not just a means to an end. They need to be cared for and given affection. Meet them with empathy. Take care of them so that they can continue to enjoy their freedoms. We are of the opinion that animal protection is practiced in a particularly sustainable way by every neutered dog, so that every individual has a future with a better standard of living ahead of them. In the best case, the dog population would be minimized within the next five years, so that all parties involved would be better off. Together with permanently employed veterinarians and volunteers, we will make rapid progress towards our goals.
Since May 2020 there are big news - would you like to tell us about it?
Yes! we bought a property in Sevlievo to build an official and fully licensed shelter. It is the perfect base for the free castration program with 2000 square meters of land, space for an office, a clinic and accommodation for dogs and volunteers. During the day, the four-legged friends have enough space to walk around freely. Of course the area needs to be completely renovated, but we are motivated and are looking forward to the work.
And how did this come about?
In the meantime, there are more adoption requests than we actually have dogs to re-home. And that is just great. However, Neil and I live on private property so we can only rescue about 25 dogs at a time and let them live with us temporarily. With the new shelter, we will have a capacity of about 50 dogs. In simple terms, this will allow us to support far more street dogs in need.
Will the neutering program still continue?
The neutering program is becoming more and more popular among the locals, so more and more dog owners are having their pets neutered. However, just as with re-homing, we are very limited in this issue, as we spend a lot of time on the logistics of getting the dogs from A to B, to the vet and back again. We are now also developing a solution for this: There will be an in-house veterinarian within the shelter who can perform surgery on dogs every other day. There, the dogs can also stay overnight to be treated even more efficiently. This should increase the number of strays neutered by us significantly over time.
Will you still be working on the streets?
Yes. To be honest, we have been taking care of the strays for years without official Bulgarian licenses. In the meantime, we have changed this issue in order to be able to work without problems. It was a long way to get all the documents, which I'm sure everyone who follows us on social media has noticed. However, it is extremely important for us to act 100% legally in order to expand the NGO even further and to be able to help many more dogs in the future - according to the law, we would need to be employed in a shelter for this. For this reason, we are now building our own, which is completely in line with our ideas of how the dogs benefit most.
Are you looking for volunteers sometimes?
Since founding everydaystray, we have been receiving regular requests from volunteers who would like to support us. However, I have to say that Neil and I don't exactly live up to "Central European standards", so unfortunately we are not able to accommodate guests. This is extremely unfortunate, as any helping hand could do a lot. However, we are also planning two small houses for helpers on the new property, so that up to four volunteers can be accommodated there.
This interview has taken place on 18th February 2020. An update was added 31st May 2020.