Jelena Paunović, Animal Welfare Activist in Sarajevo
and Public Relations for Život BiH
Translation of an article and interview with Jelena Paunović on Bosanka.net (14.01.2013): Dogs versus the people? A Bosnian dilemma
Jelena Paunović – the girl who lives for animals
Article published October, 2012, in Gracija Magazine Bosnia, written by: Ozren Kebo
Photos by: Irfan Redžović and from the private albums
From early morning until dark, a twenty seven year old Sarajevan is devoted to animals and their rights. She feeds them, heals them, saves them, battles against unconscionable people, alerts the police and media. A hard and demanding life, but Jelena would not want it any other way.
They have made threats against her life three times so far. Once they threw bricks at her. They set her friend’s car on fire. Aggression and lack of understanding are part of their everyday lives, but Jelena Paunović (27), together with like-minded others, has no choice about her greatest passion and life: to fight for animal rights and daily hard work to save them, take care and of them, feed them…
“We are often faced with objections that our efforts are inhuman, because there are all these hungry and miserable people and yet we deal with some cats and dogs. I do not know of a more inhuman objection than this.” says Jelena. “If all those who think this way can help those who are hungry and miserable as much as we help animals and there will be no more suffering in this world. Animals cannot speak for themselves.”
Story of Oldie
This journalism undergraduate is in action every day. Jelena Paunović is one of the most devoted, most passionate and most dedicated activists for animal rights. She considers the action in Pruščakova Street her greatest accomplishment, when the public was alarmed because of the long-lasting molestation of dogs in an apartment there, when the police were finally forced to get involved in the protection of animal rights. Also, one of the more successful actions from August relates to the salvation of a dog that was dying under the bridge in Semizovac. The dog was old, deaf and blind, his owners left him for dead near the river Bosna. Oldie, as they would later name him, climbed onto the one of the bridge props, but the water was rising. Passers-by notified Jelena and she immediately arrived with a group of friends and activists. “The dog was without food for five days. We came at the last moment: Arijana Arifović, Edin Šiljković, Mirza from Semizovac and I. We owe the greatest gratitude to Edin, who got into the river, managed to pull out the dog and nearly got hurt himself in the process, due to the fast water and slippery ground.”
Jelena adds that Oldie was scared and on the verge of death, the water was already pouring over the concrete he was standing on. When the action was nearly over, water got to him. Arijana jumped in the river and took the rope Edin tied him with. When they pulled him out, he ate two and a half kilos of food, he was swallowing pieces of dirt as well, that is how hungry he was. He is currently at a private estate. Jelena’s Association for protection of animals “Život” pays for his pension and provides for food. “We doubt we will ever be able to find a home for him. No one wants a dog between 12 and 15 years of age, especially not here. Abroad there are centres dealing exclusively with these animals. We owe gratitude to donors from all over the world. This is the work I do over Facebook , which is sometimes my work place, my office, since I do most of the administrative work here.”
With goodness against insensitivity
Not all actions are successful and with happy ending. With great sadness Jelena describes a case from Vogošća: someone put a very small, completely helpless kitten in bleach, so one of his legs was burned to the bone, the stomach was skinned, and the other leg was covered in wounds. After it was reported to her, Jelena went to Vogošća, found the kitten and nurtured it herself for a day because it was Sunday. She took him to a veterinarian afterwards, but the kitten died.
We cannot fail to mention the story about the great snow in February, when packs of dogs came down town because their shelters were destroyed. Activists and numerous associations fed the dogs day in and day out, and they were joined by many citizens of Sarajevo. “What hurts the most is the fact that during those weeks I fed hundreds of dogs who were perfectly familiar with the commands. They did not learn them on the streets. People insensitively left them, and this makes me both sad and mad.”
Jelena’s Facebook profile is in fact a daily herald devoted to animals, filled with activities, calls for donations, fury because of people’s cruelty, pictures of animals that need help or home. One of the most memorable Facebook stories is that of Jupi, that was abandoned as a puppy in the City Park. “A foreigner and his wife took care of her for months. Jupi was never hungry or thirsty. They bought her collar against fleas. She slept with them when it was cold. And when she would wake up, she would go to work. She was on the watch for the entire day at the plateau in front of BBI Center. Then Melina Jusufović posted her picture and her story on Facebook. She spent a month with me, and then she went to Slovenia where a wonderful woman, Nataša Belcijan from Ljubljana, adopted her. Nataša is a designer for collars and coats for pets, and Jupi is her model, so she now works as a model in Slovenia. She never lacks work.“
Jelena lives with her boyfriend, computer scientist Danijel Potocki (32), and they have three dogs in their apartment. “Dogs come and go through our house all the time. It is hard for me to say, this one is mine, because it was with me for a year, and this one is less mine because it has only been there for two months. All dogs we take care of are ours in a way. Flekica is four years old, she was saved on Otoka because she was barking at the cars, and it was only a matter of time when one of these cars would hit her. Papica is a year younger, she was saved from City Park, had a difficult form of skin disease, and she has been with us for two years. Youngest member is Vule, who was bitten by a pack during the harshest winter in Nedžarići. He had a hard ear injury and was found in the pool of blood. They are permanently with us, and other dogs are passing by, until we find a home for them.”
When asked about how she manages to organize her life with three dogs, Jelena answers: “Well, women mostly practice aerobics, fitness, gym, and I have all that right here at home, with three of them.”
Jelena wrote the following on her Facebook page, 13 November 2012. Perhaps it will help you understand why most of my work in Bosnia is to support her.
US AND THEM
I am not certain how I should begin this story… Perhaps I should first say that Bosnia is a country of abandoned and forgotten people and dogs. Or perhaps I should say that in this poor Balkan country, a country of forgotten people and animals, there are enthusiasts who rescue animals. We receive no paychecks, we work day in day out, we alarm the international public about the problem of abandoned animals, we often don’t have enough money for ourselves.
Bosnia is a country where you can see an abandoned dog or a cat on every street corner. Yes, we have the best Law on Protection and Welfare of Animals, but it is not enforced. Those in charge of implementing laws use dogs only to win elections and steal the money intended for abandoned animals. You can pressure them, call them out in the media, but they simply seem to be untouchable.
And while you walk down the streets, every 100 meters you will see an abandoned dog. You will feel sorry for every one of them, you will cry for every single one (if you have a heart!), but you will not help every dog. The way we chose which dogs to help is strange. We choose those who are in greatest jeopardy: sick, mutilated, those whose life is threatened.
When you find a dog in a pool of blood, a dog sick with canine distemper or an entire litter of puppies with parvovirus… when you see those eyes – yes! You feel the need to save them! Sometimes you encounter dogs you know will be dead by tomorrow unless you do something. And so, one by one… All the cases are difficult… You find yourself in a situation where you have 17 dogs, and their monthly living expenses are 1720 KM.
Funds are raised for vaccination and pensions, good people contact us, but we never know how long it would last: will someone donate another 5 EUR, or we will encounter a new case of a badly disfigured dog that needs our help… And so, we both, us and them, live one day at a time: they – unaware that their life costs, and us – me in particular – mad with worry whether I would collect donations for another month, and then the next one, and the next… with no end… Dear God, will I be able to buy food for the people who take care of dogs in their neighborhoods.
And then I go to visit the pension… Then those dogs stop being numbers (those 17 for 1720 KM)… They are just dogs who are incredibly happy to see me and show their gratitude in their own way. I stopped long ago counting the clothes I tore and the shoes I destroyed… Come and let us go to the pension: you will be greeted by happy and grateful little snouts who know they would not have lived until this day, had it not been for Facebook and us.
They owe us their lives, and I guess we owe them devotion, and we owe it to them to make it all the way – until we find them homes. I know that not every dog will have an opportunity for a great home with a wonderful family, but please share my albums, so at least we know we are all doing everything we can for these noble creatures.