To say that Serbia has a bit of a dog overpopulation problem is more than an understatement. Estimates given in a 2011 Washington Post article reveal that at least 50,000 stray dogs — probably more — wander the streets of Serbian cities and villages, suffering from hunger, untreated injuries, and disease.
In the Serbian capital of Belgrade, the number of stray animals has skyrocketed in recent years; the government estimates that while the city’s human population only numbers 2 million, more than 15,000 strays walk the streets or huddle together in chicken wire cages. Compare those stats to Moscow — while the Russian city boasts five times as many people as Belgrade, its population of homeless dogs is only around 11,000 greater.
These homeless dogs also often face intense prejudice at best and, at worst, severe cruelty and torture at the hands of a people who largely consider these animals a nuisance. Dr. Vladimir Terzin, the chief veterinarian of Belgrade, explains that there are many misconceptions when it comes to the stray dogs in his city.
“These dogs are frightened, not dangerous,” Dr. Terzin says. “Dogs respond to people’s behavior.”
As in many countries in the Balkan region, animal cruelty laws in Serbia often go unenforced, punishments undelivered.
“We are all responsible for such an immense number of abandoned animals,” admits Budimir Plavsic, a senior member of the Serbian agricultural ministry.
Ta Jadna Stvorenja (which loosely translates to The Poor Creatures), a documentary film about Serbia’s homeless dogs, was released in 2001, but more than a decade later the fate of Serbia’s strays is largely unchanged. There is much work to be done to curb the homeless pet problem, to provide humane care for rescued animals, and to sway public opinion when it comes to strays.
That’s why animal advocates like Sasha Pejčić are so important. Pejčić has always had a soft spot for dogs, going to great lengths to feed the strays that wandered his neighborhood. In 2008, Pejčić made a grim discovery — many of the pups he had been helping would turn up missing, and after a bit of detective work he realized the local pound was capturing and killing Nis strays by the dozens.
Determined to provide a loving and healthy environment for dogs in need, Pejčić started his own animal sanctuary in his hometown of Nis, Serbia. Pulling sick, injured, and abused dogs off the streets, Pejčić lovingly nursed all of his rescues back to health — and, firm in his resolve to end the pet overpopulation problem once and for all, ensured each dog would be spayed and neutered.
One day, a homeless man named Zoran noticed Pejčić feeding the dogs and offered to help. Grateful for the offer, Pejčić, who works a fulltime job in addition to caring for his rescued dogs, offered Zoran a job working part time at the sanctuary.
Amazingly, and with only limited help from Zoran and a few friends and family who volunteer their services, Sasha Pejčić cares for nearly 400 animals in a former riding school turned animal shelter.
As one could imagine, the cost of feeding these dogs is enormous. To provide enough sustenance for 400 dogs, Pejčić needs between 100 and 120 kilograms (220 to 265 pounds) of food each day. In Serbia, dog food is rare and expensive, so Pejčić tries to make due by mixing what kibble he can scrounge up with leftover meat and bread.
Despite the donations he receives from local slaughterhouses and bakeries, Pejčić is running out of food to feed his rescued friends, dogs he’d once promised would never go hungry again. It pains him to realize that last month, his pack went two whole days without anything to eat.
Desperate to help, Pejčić has enlisted the help of the Harmony Fund, hoping he can raise enough money to continue feeding his four-legged friends. The organization has set up a special emergency fund for Sasha Pejčić’s transformational shelter in Nis, hoping kind animal lovers from around the world will contribute tax-deductible donations to this important cause.
If you would like to learn more about Sasha Pejčić’s animal shelter in Serbia, please visit the Harmony Fund page.