Croatian Dog Shelter Posts “No Vacancies” Sign

Total Croatia News

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Joseph Orovic

December 14, 2018 — On a road leading away from Zadar, bound for Vir and Pag, an unholy chorus of yelping, barks and howls echoes from a forest.

Somewhere in the woods, around 300 dogs anxiously await an uncertain fate. Their cages are full; their bowls quickly empty.

The town’s shelter faces an increasingly-common problem: dogs outnumber willing adopters.

“You know how the process goes? You find homes for five dogs, and 15 more arrive,” said the shelter’s director Davorka Šopić. “We had to stop it. We do not accept any new dogs.”

The shelter once had a fruitful working relationship with a German adoption association. Expats and German citizens supported the shelter via donations and adoptions, mainly driven by a potent social media presence.

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Deda, one the shelter’s oldest dogs.

That connection broke for unclear reasons, according to Šopić. Since then, willing adoptees have nearly evaporated.

The only solution, she decided, was to close the shelter’s doors to new dogs. Until a new organization decides to collaborate with the shelter. Until the hundreds of dogs currently in the shelter’s makeshift pens find a home.

Zadar’s shelter is a decades-old pet project of a handful of volunteers, done in a typically-Dalmatian fashion: ignoring rules or laws. Better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission.

It emerged on an anonymous thickly-wooded plot of land along a road leading out of town.

It was never meant for inhabitants, on either two or four legs. To this day, it lacks electricity and water.

When asked who owns the property, Šopić shrugged, saying several individuals own it privately but nobody has complained in decades.

“This is nobody’s land and these are nobody’s dogs,” Šopić said.

Šopić’s days begin early, cleaning the dogs’ pens and filling their bowls, administering medicines along with her colleague Stella.

“I’d love to find a job with health coverage and benefits,” Šopić said. “Nobody can guarantee me that one of these dogs won’t bite me or something. But I’m here out of my own free will.”

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Davorka Šopić [Source: Facebook]

The two don’t work alone.

Zadar’s shelter has developed a cult status among locals with a soft spot for pooches. It has almost 10,000 followers on Facebook, and regularly posts calls to action.

The volunteers may not be able to take the dogs home, for various reasons, but they do show up in droves to help walk the pooches, clean their cages or built dog houses.

A recent windstorm, for example, lopped off branches and toppled pine trees, destroying several pens and doghouses. The ensuing weekend, volunteers showed up with chainsaws and tools to help clear the detritus and rebuild the pens.

Students also show up in groups, emptying out one pen at a time and taking the dogs for a walk as far away as nearby Paklenica National Park. Their work is commendable, but nothing beats a home.

Šopić has worked at the shelter for almost half a decade now, and admits one has to develop thick skin to be there every day. She’s effectively tuned out the chaos and depressing scenes around her.

Still, she’s not a robot. Šopić pulled out her cell phone and flipped to a photo of an emaciated American Stafford found roaming around a local garbage dump. Its ribs and spine poked out from under its skin.

“You see something like this almost every day,” she said. With no room at the shelter, the pup was on its way to Zagreb for a check-up and uncertain fate.

The shelter could always use more: donations of food, toys, over-the-counter pet medications and dog-related knick-knacks are always welcome. The shelter also has a de facto propane tank exchange program, where donors bring in full tanks and get empties.

The shelter’s future remains uncertain, but that’s been the case for almost two decades now.

“Everyone is always welcome here,” Šopić said. “We always need all sorts of help.”

Check out the Zadar shelter’s Facebook page for more information.

TCN regularly features Pets of Croatia.


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