Most people know that Jeff and I love our dogs. Our Beasty, a huge black lab-shepherd mix rescued as a stray from West Virginia, recently died. We had a long goodbye with him, gave him a great life, and are ready to adopt again. We'll rescue another stray, but this time an even needier one. Our next stray dog will come from Sarajevo.
In Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country that not long ago experienced the tragedy of war, many of the dogs look like Beast—beautiful shepherd mixes. Many of them are also descendants of former pets owned by residents who were forced to flee their homes in the early 1990s during the Bosnian war. These pets became strays which then multiplied in the streets and surrounding forests, and like many of the people who remained or returned to Bosnia, struggled (and still struggle) to survive.
As a result—and as is common in many Eastern European countries—many strays are routinely poisoned, tortured, or abused by individuals battling their own internal horrors and life circumstances. Obviously, few condone such occurrences, and fewer still can help.
Over the past five years, I’ve become aware of a Bosnian woman who has started a now internationally recognized movement to help that stray population that mushroomed in her midst in Sarajevo. Her name is Milena Malesevic and she is the founder of Saving Suffering Sarajevo Strays (Facebook page Saving Suffering Sarajevo Strays Facebook page ).
The rescuer, Milena Malesevic
From a distance through my Facebook account, I’ve watched her feed many a stray dog. I’ve watched her take injured dogs to the vet, post receipts for dog food purchases and veterinary care, pack her flat full of dogs plucked from certain death on the streets, build dog sanctuaries in the countryside, and watched as her volunteer network of helpers grew alongside of her on-the-ground efforts. Several documentaries (here and here) have been made about Milena, another one features her, she’s been written up in numerous media outlets (here and here ) and her efforts have garnered the fundraising support of English actor Peter Egan . Yes, I’m aware of scammers abroad who play on the emotions of others, but this lady is not one of them.
Milena and Peter Egan
A recent rescue, an emaciated senior beagle who was being stoned by locals
A typical night for Milena: rounds in the area to feed strays
Her kennels outside of the city
I’ve also watched as individuals from all over the world participate in volunteer vacations with her in Sarajevo. Soon, I’ll join their ranks, journeying to Bosnia in mid-June to help Milena do heavy lifting at her rescues, feed street dogs, scoop poop, and anything else with which she needs assistance. I’ll also be choosing our next family dog.
Last weekend, Jeff and I had a home visit from one of Milena’s U.S. volunteers who has brought dogs back from Sarajevo several times. A woman name Ana from Maryland, who was raised abroad and knows the plight of international strays firsthand, came to our home to make sure a dog we rescued wouldn’t be moving from one nightmare situation to another. We were approved to adopt. Ana helped my husband Jeff—who’s not travelled outside of the U.S.—to better understand the significance of helping a street dog abroad: these dogs are largely regarded as pests, have no protection under local laws, and if they can produce a financial benefit they will be used and discarded as trash. Plus, dogs in Sarajevo are part of a culture that often frowns on dog ownership and even despises those who attempt to care for them. Ana told us that on one of her trips, an old woman threw stones at her and Milena for feeding the strays.
Dogs in the U.S., meanwhile, have organizations that rescue, re-home, and spay and neuter, humane euthanasia is a norm, and in general, Americans love pets. (For those who don’t know, statistics show that Americans spend $70 billion annually on our pets.)
A common sight in Sarajevo: abandoned puppies
Another recent rescue, a shepherd mix
Many folks might think, “Why go all that way for one dog? What difference will that make?” It will make a difference in the life of this woman who helps some of God’s creatures that can’t help themselves. When others look away, Milena rushes in with no expectation of gain or reward simply because it is the right thing to do. That kind of thing speaks to me, makes me want to be a better person, and reminds me that for all the negativity in the world, God has definitely placed a few angels among us. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to be inspired by this one.
So, Jeff and I will pay for our own dog and transport, but we would like to raise money for the broader efforts of Saving Suffering Sarajevo Strays. There are kennels with one employee to help feed and care for about 175 dogs. Some dogs are flown to the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and other European nations for adoption, but most remain in Milena’s care. There are vet bills and food to pay for, among other expenses. I’ll be documenting my trip on social media and hope you will follow along.
Milena with a gorgeous rescued female that Jeff and I are seriously considering bringing home.
The other dog we're considering for adoption
More specifically…Want a dog? Seriously…reach out to me. I can bring more than one home. (Only folks in the Northeast, please.) See the entire list of dogs available for adoption online.
If you’re thinking, “Oh, it’s somebody else asking for money for something,” I hear you—the requests can be overwhelming.
But that’s why I’m not simply asking for a donation—I have something to offer in return. For my jewelry friends, I am willing to give ad space on my Jennifer Heebner website and in my daily newsletters in exchange for a donation. Reach out to me at [email redacted] to discuss.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Nice ones are welcome. This is a positive mission with one goal in mind: trying to improve the lives of Sarajevo street dogs in the best way that I know how.
Thanks for reading.