Travel diary: Two working days inside the Bosnia roaming dog project

First diary entry

I finally arrived today in the tiny Bosnian city of Lopare, after a long journey and a longer mountainous drive from Sarajevo, and couldn’t wait to get out and look around. When I was here last October, I met a group of kids caring for a mama dog and her chubby puppies in an abandoned house.

The mama dog and her chubby puppies in the abandoned house.

The kids clearly loved the dog and her pups, and said that they’d take care of them as they grew up. But that dog and her pups have been on my mind through this long winter - there are so many street dogs here, and their life is not easy and not everyone is sympathetic.

But today, when I finally got out to look for those pups, imagine my delight when those same kids saw me coming and ran to show me two of those puppies now quite grown up – healthy…and both neutered!

Two of those puppies now quite grown up – healthy…and both neutered!

The most outgoing of the boys in the group proudly showed me the yellow ear tags that show to the community that this dog has been sterilized and vaccinated – it’s also a highly visible message that someone cares about this dog. Through a combination of sign language and these kids’ admirable English I asked where the Mama dog was. The youngsters, some on bikes and all talking a mile a minute, led us round the corner to see her.

The bold young man petted her until Mama dog rolled over and showed me the scar from her sterilization surgery.

She was in great condition, bright eyed and sleek and that same bold young man petted her until she rolled over and showed me the scar from her sterilization surgery. He was clearly thrilled and proud. Then he whistled for the Mama dog’s sister and showed me that she too has been ‘fixed’. My Bosnian is very limited so I just smiled and put my hand up - the energetic slap of my hand showed me that a ‘high five’ crosses cultures!

There were plenty of other dogs on the streets today, including two little fluff balls that can only have been six weeks old, and this is why we’re here. We’ve been asked to help this community, and several others in Bosnia, take the next steps to care more humanely for the dogs in their communities. We’re doing this by starting with the people – learning about what they want, what concerns them, and which humane solutions they think will work for them. We took the first steps last October, when Lopare founded its first dog club: “Happy Dogs.”

The author with one of the previously abandoned puppies.

Tonight, when the Mayor stopped by to make sure we were ready for tomorrow’s community meeting, he told me that since our first community workshop in Lopare he had instructed the municipality’s veterinary service to sterilize dogs for anyone, absolutely free!

He proudly informed me that the very first dog to be fixed was his own dog, Lesi. I can see that our work here has already had a real impact on both animals and people, and am feeling very positive about the two days to come.

Second dairy entry

I am exhausted but excited after two days working with an engaged group of community members here in Lopare, including representatives from the police, teachers, hunters, councilors and veterinarians.  Yesterday, the Mayor opened our meeting with a rousing encouragement to the group, but he didn’t need to force their participation. 

This group came prepared to work together to find solutions to the roaming dog problem on their streets, and to find ways to do so without relying on the long-term help of others.  Our Bosnian colleagues from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), whom we have trained to facilitate our specially-designed workshops to help communities like this, helped the community prioritize their concerns about dogs, identify practical solutions and develop an achievable action plan which the community themselves will implement with IFAW’s assistance.

Yellow ear tags show the community that a dog has been sterilized and vaccinated – it’s also a highly visible message that someone cares about a particular dog.

Ultimately, the community settled on two strategies to improve animal welfare: a public campaign targeting children and adults to increase the level of responsible ownership and raise the general level of compassion for dogs in Lopare; and a coordinated effort to spay and neuter both owned dogs and those that are roaming without an identifiable owner.  They will also foster a culture of adoption of dogs into homes, but they know this may take awhile. 

Although this may not sound like anything brand-new, the most exciting outcome is the commitment of this diverse group of people who came together and had detailed, sometimes difficult, conversations in order to find a way to walk forward together.  Incredibly, they also agreed on the following values:

  • Animal safety
  • Animal welfare
  • Clean environment
  • Setting a positive example for other communities

With values like these setting the agenda, we have high hopes for the future of people and dogs together in Lopare, and we will walk with them every step of the way toward reaching their goals.

--BB

For more information about IFAW’s community work, visit our project pages.

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Experts

Cora Bailey
Director, Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW)
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Dr. Ian Robinson, Vice President, Programs & Int'l Operations
Vice President, Programs & Int'l Operations
Gail A'Brunzo, IFAW Wildlife Rescue Manager
Wildlife Rescue Manager, IFAW HQ
Hanna Lentz, Program Officer/Campaigner, IFAW HQ
Program Officer/Campaigner, IFAW HQ
Jan Hannah
Northern Dogs Project Manager
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Companion Animals
Program Director, Companion Animals
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Nancy Barr, Program Director, Animal Action Education
Program Director, Animal Action Education
Rebecca Brimley, Program Advisor
Program Advisor
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters