Translation of an article and interview with Jelena Paunović on Bosanka.net (14.01.2013):
Author: Hana Kazazović
The occasion for this interview and a few articles that will follow are the media reports reactions of political parties which use the story of stray dogs to gain political points. Honestly – I am a little sick of it. So I read with great interest the text Jelena Paunovic published on protest.ba – Dogs are victims of human actions. On that subject I recognized in her a person with whom I can do something that was on my mind for a long time. And that is a series of articles about animals, their problems in BiH, solutions to some problems, etc. (the list of topics can be found at the end of the text).
I have been following Jelena for some time over the Internet – Facebook, portals, etc. The reason why she caught my eye and what exactly separates her from the large number of others who also generously help animals is exactly the way she operates. Everything is transparent and with a high degree of professionalism. Only she has a web page with announcements in English, constant and thorough communication on all activities carried out and ways of collecting funds that have a level and are not the usual begging that is generally seen in others. I think anyone could learn a lot from her, no matter what they are doing.
Basically, to begin with, there is this interview where we talk about the currently most pressing subjects, and from which I am sure you can get a realistic picture of what the real issues in BiH are – for people and dogs.
Tell me something about yourself. What I do know is that you have been caring and helping animals for a long time. Since when have you been doing this, how did you start, are you doing anything else besides that?
I was born in Sarajevo 27 years ago. I write actively but I do not have a permanent job. I finished high school, studied literature and journalism. I also completed a number of courses within programs of informal education. Finding employment in Bosnia is next to impossible.
When people ask me why I am involved in protection of animals, I believe you can choose to drink coffee all day with your friends or do something good and useful for the benefit of your community. I chose the second option.
Although my whole life I have really been engaged in the NGO sector, in the end I decided to help animals. I have had a dog or cat as long as I can remember.
Throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina the state of animals is disastrous. A huge number of cities have no accommodation, asylum or shelters and a large number of dogs and cats are in the street. Is the law is to blame for this?
It’s not so much that the state of the animals is disastrous but rather the country is disastrous. I don’t know how BiH functions as a country. There is no consideration of the laws implemented and their consequences. The animals have no voice in this. There is well orchestrated propaganda for the purpose of their own interests. People who work against us are not for a legal or democratic country.
Thanks to what the government creates and publishes in their media, people have the impression that the construction of dog shelters will solve the problem. Shelters, however, are only one link in the chain of problem solving. Our biggest problem actually is irresponsible ownership. In our country, anyone can leave a dog wherever they want and not be punished. Sarajevo has a large number of formally owned purebred dogs. Also, the issue of rural areas is rarely mentioned. When a farmer has a female dog, it’s normal for him that she constantly breeds and he then brings puppies to urban settlements. The problem of dogs in the Sarajevo neighborhood of Vraca is huge. There, people in the RS, when they accumulate a lot of dogs, drive over with a van full of dogs, leave and dump them. Then, local and new dogs fight over territory, and the media reports about “aggressive” dogs.
Under the applicable law, all municipalities are required to create local dog shelters within one year of the entry of this law. Canton Sarajevo has opened its first official asylum just last year.
This is actually a series of failures. In Sarajevo, no one has paid the penalty for animal cruelty yet, and they have thrown firecrackers in dog’s mouth, lit them, sprinkled acid and boiling oil, cut paws, raped, and other atrocities. When you call the police, most police officers do not even know what to do exactly in such cases. Few are familiar with the Criminal Code of FBiH.
The blame for what is happening lies in the lack of connection in the system and poor governance.
My assessment is that there are five groups of people in Bosnia: 1, Those who love animals and help them actively 2, Those who love animals or are indifferent to them (they do not bother them, and do not touch them, do not help nor hinder) 3, Those who are afraid of animals, primarily dogs 4,Those who do not love them and are advocating their extermination and 5, Those who do not love them and harass them, but poison and kill them. Do you agree with this?
In my opinion, we have: activists divided into several groups: one group helps dogs only (and are unable to see the problem in its entirety), others help dogs, but also deal with legislation, lawsuits, lobbying in political circles, the third help dogs, doing all the second group is doing, but also deal with the media. I’m in the third category. People not engaged in activism in this manner I would divide into the intellectual elite (very few of them!). Then there is the majority which fall under the influence of propaganda (the story that says “giving money to dogs while the people go hungry!”), those who nonetheless love and feed their neighborhood strays and have a good heart. Finally, there are those who live in their own world and do not see what is going on.
Unfortunately, the majority of people are under the influence of propaganda which is not surprising. Politicians use the media so when they no longer have any valid arguments, they win elections with the help of dogs, and the people, whom are poor and hungry and forget where they’re living instead of discussing the low standard of living (if it can even be called such) to just talk about dogs. If people had a job and we were living in a normal country, everything I have stated would not be a problem and everyone would be thinking about where to vacation and not whether tomorrow they will be able to buy bread and “how to kill all the dogs “.
How critical is the situation? And what is the most critical thing in BiH regarding this issue – the fact that a large number of animals are left to fend for themselves and the people who help them on the streets, or that there is no will, desire and knowledge necessary to solve this problem?
The situation with the dogs is critical to the same extent as is the situation with maniacs, thieves, pedophiles, violation of basic human rights etc. If people speak out publicly on the issue of abandoned animals, I wonder if everyone would also rebel against the fact that prisons are overbooked subsequently allowing prisoners to walk free.
If the laws were implemented we could be a civilized country but this is not the case with us. And it certainly is not about whether RS should secede, start a Croatian TV channel, etc. If we hadn’t allowed politics to destroy our life, we might have respect of animals. Dogs are the problem of society regardless of dog shelters. In my humble opinion, in terms of solving this problem, nothing has been done so that politicians would fight for this cause.
In Zenica, there is no dog shelter. For the last 4 years since the Law has been adopted, the Municipality still hasn’t found the will to construct a shelter for animals, so all the animals that are saved in this city are actually saved by individuals organized in the association Paws or independently. In Sarajevo, there are several shelters, but there are big problems. Why hasn’t the situation improved in Sarajevo?
I am not familiar with all activities of “Paws”, but I know that they do a lot of work in terms of spay and neuter programs Zenica. I believe in “Paws” and its activists and if I can help-I am here. I know how hard it is to fight for anything in this country, so I wish luck to colleagues from Zenica to persevere in what they do.
As far as Sarajevo shelters are concerned, as I said, people think that it will solve the problem which is far from the truth … Shelters are only one link in the chain. We need education, responsible ownership, honest media, adoption of abandoned dogs and regular enforcement of castration and sterilization funded by the appropriate municipalities.
What are your activities – how do you help animals and do you have a record of how many you have saved?
When I was about seven years old, I received a gift from a neighbor: a cat which I named Lula. Lula was the best and the most beautiful kitty in the world! When she was seven years old, a monster put her in a sack which he violently struck with a pole until he thought she was dead. Lula came back to my house and her heart stopped beating on the mat at the front door, where I found her that horrible morning.
Another animal that marked my childhood was a dog Zarko. He was a very smart country dog that I found in the village where I spent part of my childhood. When he began to bother the local priest, the maniac pushed him into a septic tank in which Zarko drowned.
Everything I’ve ever done later, I did with the goal to avenge each and every Zarko and Lulu. The exact number of animals that I helped is unknown to me, but I know that I certainly would not have achieved this much without the support of activists from Bosnia and abroad. Thank heavens for them!
What is your usual day like? I assume you have a certain number of animals under your care every day?
After morning coffee and a walk with my three adopted dogs, my day is mainly determined by writing in the daily newspapers, portals and postings on social networks. No matter how many commitments I already have planned, I never know what might “hit me” when I wake up in the morning.
The activists of the association “Zivot” (“Life”) whose PR I am, currently have 50 dogs in pensions and feed a few hundred on the streets. As all of this is expensive, some of us collect donations for the payment of pensions, veterinarians, and transportation every day. Animals housed in pensions are visited and photographed; we publish their stories, and try to find them temporary and permanent homes.
Most people have very loud and very negative reactions to the fact that “we pay for mutts”! What they do not know is that we collect the money to pay for our “mutts” through social networks, that hundreds or thousands of people from home and abroad are involved in all this, and that eventually all the money is given to people who take care of the dogs. Some of these people have pensions and for a minimal fee, take care of the dogs, while the other category of people agree on keeping a dog on private property for a fee because some of them are not able to work with a university degree due to the economy. It is time that everyone understands that, when it is about dogs, it’s always as twice (at least!) about people.
You perform a large number of activities and actions with the help of the internet and social networks. As I have seen the largest number of animals is saved thanks to help from abroad. You have a website which is in English. Do the people who live there have more feelings for animals or more money to help? And is it true that foreigners will adopt as many dogs and cats that are brought to them (and we often hear such stories here, that’s why I ask)? And how do you comment on the story that appeared the other day – the greatest number of animals from our area end up in laboratories?
If it was not for the Internet, we would not be here. Without the help of people from all over the world, specifically my association would not be able to take care of such a large number of dogs and give salaries to people who do not have jobs and take care of these dogs! Bosnia is a country of desperate people and dogs. After years of explaining to people abroad, they now have realized this. It is not uncommon to form associations and foundations in European countries or even in America to help our abandoned animals in BiH.
Thanks to my, for now, online Facebook friend Sandra, hundreds of animals were rescued in Bosnia.
Thanks to politics and the stupidity of our people, I often feel tempted to post of all my future announcements regarding abandoned animals in English.
As far as smuggling dogs goes, the media tends to write all sorts of things based on unverified information from the Internet. If someone sees that some dog “costs” 200 EUR on a German site, you’ll have the title “Dog from Bosnia is being sold for 200 EUR.” However, in civilized countries, there is something called the “adoption fee” and this represents payment for adopting a dog. If we know the dog is six months old, was completely processed by a veterinary and that it’s healthy, for two months, at a dog shelter, this sum will be charged to the foster parent so the same shleter can cover the costs of the dog and that they have the money to take care of the next animal. In particular, Germany has a problem with old dogs in shelters, therefore our young, happy and playful dogs are easier to adopt. Reportage on “Where dogs from Serbia end up in” was filmed by RTS.
Recently, I was in Ankara. The reason for my trip was to take our tortured kitten Zossy, who was found with injuries in Zmajevac to Turkey so she could continue her trip towards a permanent home in Las Vegas. All travel expenses were paid by virtually the entire world by donating money via ChipIn. Zossy is now one happy kitten living in the USA!
Smuggling of animals definitely exists, but I’m not familiar with that. You should contact the Border Service and the competent veterinary institutions issuing EU certificates. I have housed only two dogs in Slovenia and receive regular information about them.
What is the solution? How to solve these problems in BiH to everyone’s satisfaction – animals, but also people who are afraid of dogs? How would you solve it if you were given that kind of power?
If it was personally up to me, I would first establish a country: construct prisons put the criminals there, use the natural resources, build factories, hire people, increase pensions, child allowances and maternity benefits, improve conditions in hospitals, and nurseries. I would place juvenile delinquents in educational institutions and introduce a strict criteria for admission to the university, undertake a very rigorous review of teachers at all levels … In parallel I would fight for all formally unemployed animal rights activists to be employed in the shelters where there should be no kinship ties, bribery and corruption. Giving a proper pension to the aging population would also be one of the top priorities. And finally, remember that the poor dogs are not to be blamed for the state in which they are. Our so called country is to blame for the situation of unprotected and defenseless people and dogs.
This site is dedicated to Vučko. Read his story and don’t let him have suffered and died in vain. Please help the stray dogs and cats in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The situation there is utterly dire, Vučko is but one amongst many horrifically abused animals. Go here to find out how to help them. Money is needed for food, medicine and foster housing. Even just one dollar or one euro will help.