The story of Street Hearts BG: a free run dog shelter
Updated: Oct 4, 2020
It's hard to put into words the feeling when you arrive at Street Hearts BG: the shelter is located in the countryside in Northern central Bulgaria, and there are hardly any neighbors for a few kilometers around the houses. I felt instantly relaxed and at peace. Moreover, the shelter is designed as a free-running space for dogs. This means during the day, most of them are let free to go wherever they please within the compound fenced areas. In fact, as I witnessed the dogs interacting with one another and roaming around in nature, I would call it a dogs' heaven.
The early days of the shelter
But let's start first with the story of Emma & Anthony, the founders and front-runners of this amazing endeavor called Street Hearts BG. When they moved to the small village of Glushka (municipality of Dryanovo) in 2013, they had planned for a simple, relaxing life in the nature. However, they were very quickly saddened by the amount of stray dogs and the state in which these were.
It was clear there was no neutering program in place. They decided to lead by example and try to improve the situation, talked to the local mayor and started a small Trap-Neuter-Release program (for more information on the benefits of TNR, check this former post).
Unfortunately, many of the adult females spayed already had puppies. It was difficult to release them without neutering their puppies, keeping in mind these puppies would then become sexually active a few months later. Furthermore, the aggressive behavior of the humans towards these stray dogs was also problematic. That's when Emma & Anthony decided to go beyond the neutering program and start the rescue shelter so the dogs would have a safe place to get rehabilitated after neutering. You can read more details about their story on their website here.
A simple way to represent the benefits of spay/neuter are also summarized in the image below: for each female you spay, you potentially prevent thousands of unwanted puppies to be born over the years.
Would you have guessed 67'000 dogs after 6 years?
Fast forward to 2020
It's incredible to see how much two dedicated souls can achieve in a few years. Not only has the stray dog population in Dryanovo been drastically reduced, the local mindset has also evolved and word-of-mouth has had a significant impact. Emma & Anthony both speak fluently Bulgarian and engage with the local community to find solutions together. It's not as easy as it sounds; yet it proves successful over time, as more locals realize that neutering is an alternative to killing unwanted litters of dogs.
That said, becoming "locally famous" comes with a price tag too! Each day, Emma & Anthony receive phone calls or messages about new dogs being dumped nearby or in need of re-homing. The shelter is licensed to house 70 dogs and they are often over capacity. This is extremely frustrating as they often have to say no to suffering dogs, knowing that taking more in would mean jeopardizing the welfare of those already in the shelter. It's heartbreaking and each situation is assessed carefully.
Since last year, Emma & Anthony purchased a van that they fitted with all necessary equipment to enable dog transport and re-homing; it is accredited by the state vet. The van has been nicknamed "Frankie the furever bus". Every month, they set on a 2'000 miles journey to bring 20 lucky dogs to their forever home into the UK - check out the video below to watch the recent departure in September. The journey is well defined and takes 3 days and numerous stops, to ensure the dogs can be walked, watered and fed as necessary. To ensure the success of each dog adoption, Emma & Anthony work with 2 reputable organizations in the UK - Dogs 4 rescue and Wild at heart foundation - who do home checks of the potential adopters and support them throughout the dog's life thereafter.
[Video credit: Tom S-N animal portrait photographer]
The future is bright, and you can contribute to it too
Now Street Hearts BG has reached the point where they are running at full-capacity all the time. Two days ago, 20 dogs left on the bus; we thought we could breathe a little. But within one day, 9 new dogs - most of them puppies - were brought to the shelter... Each month the story repeats and many dogs are on the "waiting list". So Emma & Anthony made the bold move to think bigger and decided it was time for a second bus. Another bus is crucial, so that more puppies can leave the shelter for adoption once appropriately socialized and trained. More dogs adopted would also mean more space for dogs in needs. But such a customized bus for dog transport doesn't come cheap!
Because they do not have the funds and run as a not-for-profit organization, Emma & Anthony started a crowdfunding last month to gather the required 25'000 GBP, To date (September 18th), 40% of the total amount has been raised. UPDATE 04Oct2020: the crowdfunding is at 46% so your help is still very much needed!
The target is to repay their loan by end of this year and have the bus ready before end of October, so more dogs can be transported to their loving families & warm homes before the harsh Bulgarian winter starts. Would you help them save more dogs in need too?
If you'd like to support the acquisition of a furever bus #2, you can do so in a few clicks via the JustGiving campaign.
Many thanks for reading and for your generosity! The shelter would not run without the amazing donations, and also volunteers. I'm grateful to be here in such a beautiful environment, with passionate people such as Emma & Anthony, Dan their long-term volunteer and almost adoptive son ;) and several other dedicated souls who make the life of each dog meaningful & full of love.
Next week, I will share more about how my volunteering experience has been here.