Sarah’s Story; the Plight of Abandoned Hunting Dogs in Croatia

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Two months ago, I arrived at the NO KILL animal shelter Animalis Centrum, in Kastel Sucarac, on a rainy day to pick up my foster dog, Sarah. While we completed the required paperwork, Sarah sat on the floor in the middle of the office, soaked from the downpour and shaking like a leaf under the towel draped over her. I had been hoping she might remember me and already trust me a bit due to our last encounter. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and it was heartbreaking to see how terrified she was. 


Sarah and I had met a week earlier, on a dog walk the shelter had organized in Split. When the transport van arrived carrying 13 dogs, they were all eager to jump out of their cages to explore and receive attention from the group of humans who awaited them. All but Sarah, that is. 

Zvone, the manager of Animalis Centrum, held the shaking Sarah in his arms, as she fearfully took in the scene around her. Zvone asked if there was someone in the group with a lot of experience with dogs who could walk Sarah that day. Having grown up with shelter dogs, I raised my hand. Zvone handed her over to me, and once her feet hit the ground, all she wanted to do was run away. I took her off to the side to let her adjust, where she found some bushes to half hide, half cower under. 

I spent 3 hours with Sarah that day. We would begin to bond, and then something would frighten her; another dog, a loud noise, a broad-chested male passerby. Every ten minutes or so, she would simply refuse to go any further, and I would have to pick her up and carry her for a while to keep up with the rest of the group.

As she shook on the floor of the office on that rainy day I had come to take her home, it was obvious that it was going to take much more than a 3-hour walk to win the trust of this former hunting dog. But I knew with time and patience it would come.

Sarah, an Istrian shorthaired hound mix, was owned by a hunter before she came to the shelter. I can’t say for certain how her former owner treated her, but she seems to fear men much more than women, especially tall, broad-chested men, and has a general mistrust of strangers. Whether this is a part of their personality or a result of her history, I can’t say with any certainty. 

What I do know, is that the number of hunting dogs at Croatian shelters is increasing. There are currently more than 25 former hunting dogs in residence at Animalis Centrum, almost half the current population of rescue dogs the shelter is searching to find homes for.

Last week I was contacted by Zvone, asking for help in getting together a group of volunteers to assist in an awareness campaign. Sixteen of us came out last Tuesday to walk the dogs and help raise awareness of this issue through social media and news outlets. 


We spent the afternoon with Sarah, Celine, Lola, Tilly, Duga, Mila, Rex, Bailey, Johnny, Bobby, Bobi, Apollo, and Matthew, and there were still more than a dozen others that we couldn’t accommodate on the walk that day due to our numbers. Numerous breeds were represented on our walk, including the Istrian shorthaired hound, Posavina hound, tricolor hound, German shorthaired pointer, Breton spaniel, and French pointer. While a few of these dogs are shy like Sarah, most were simply hungry for the love and affection they received that day from the volunteers. 


Most hunting dogs come to the shelter as adults, lost during the hunt, abandoned, neglected, or abused by irresponsible and sometimes unlicensed, and therefore illegal, hunters. They are almost always found without a microchip, unvaccinated, wounded, and exhausted. These breeds are rarely ever bought by locals as pets, instead, the vast majority of these dogs are procured, smuggled, or the result of illegal breeding by irresponsible hunters. 


The hunting associations in Croatia have specific and stringent rules in place when it comes to keeping dogs for the hunt, but in the case of the dogs at the shelter, none of these rules have been adhered to.  More effort needs to be taken to enforce these rules, and it would be wonderful to see local hunting associations step up in this regard, as well as to see local authorities crackdown on illegal, unlicensed hunters. 

Until that happens, the shelter is a place of refuge for these dogs until they can be placed into safe homes with loving families. They are first microchipped, vaccinated, castrated or sterilized, and receive any required medical attention to get them to a healthy state. Then the search for a forever home begins.


As for Sarah, she no longer cowers in the corner. She is a playful dog with a sweet disposition, who has brought endless joy to my life over the course of the last two months. She is still shy around strangers, but every day she gains more confidence and becomes more curious about the world and the people around her.


On February 12th, Sarah will travel to her forever home in a rural area of Germany, where she will have the room to run and play and use up all that energy a hunting dog is bred to have.  I know I will cry like a baby for days once she is gone, but the moments of joy I have experienced seeing this former hunting dog learn to trust in her own moments of joy is well worth that pain. I am grateful to have been able to play my small part in helping to alleviate the plight of one of Croatia’s abandoned hunting dogs. 

If you would like to support the NO KILL animal shelter Animalis Centrum, support is given through the non-profit organization, the Bestie Foundation. The Bestie Foundation works to promote and protect the rights of animals in Croatia and improve the quality of animals’ stay at the shelter. They are always in need of volunteers, donations, supplies, foster homes, and, of course, loving forever homes. You can follow the Bestie Foundation on Instagram @bestie_split and on Facebook Zaklada Bestie. And keep an eye out for their website, which will be launched soon,

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.


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