Whenever I visit my family in Hungary, I try my best to help out at a local shelter, to contribute what little I can contribute in one or two days out of the year.
Although a shelter is never a ‘happy place,’ Hungarian shelters are unlike anything you can see in the Netherlands. Not because the volunteers don’t put their heart and soul into it, not because they don’t care but because there are simply not enough resources to help all the dogs in need.
Even if you visit one shelter here, you can never fully understand the sheer magnitude of abandoned, homeless, sick, abused dogs in the country. A shelter with 100 dogs is a small one, as I have been to a few with more than 250 dogs to look after on a daily basis.
The shelters are filled with dogs who were born in that cage and are now turning grey and a decade later have not had anyone interested in them. This isn’t the dog’s fault, or the shelter’s fault, but simply there are so many dogs to choose from that there is a huge chance one gets overlooked every single time. So many dogs are born in the shelter and die there without ever seeing the outside world or knowing what it’s like to have a family.
Although these numbers are not totally reliable, but they are the closest estimates we can make at this point. Keep in mind the size of Hungary, these numbers are extremely high. In 2012 there were 100,000 dogs without an owner in Hungary. 114 officially registered shelters but a significant number of volunteer based organisations run by civilians are unregistered. There are 3200 government pounds where roughly 150,000 dogs are pts. every year. In 2005 14,441 dogs were shot as strays on the street.
These numbers are so incredibly high considering they do not include the ones who find homes!
I will discuss government pounds in another post, but even the shelters are depressing. As you enter, you are immediately deafened by hundreds of dogs barking, crying and howling. Some are jumping three meters in the air to get your attention, some have gone slightly crazy and just spin in one spot. There are dogs defending their kennel with all their strength because it’s the only place where they have ever felt safe, what they can call home.
But perhaps the saddest of them all are the ones who have already given up. The dogs, who lay in the back corner, void of emotions as they already know they will not get noticed. For years they jumped high up in the air, pressed against the cage and wagged their tail for any attention. But now that they are old and sick, they have given up. They know exactly what time they will get food, they know what day their favourite volunteer shows up, but other than that they just lay there waiting for it all to be over.
The people who run these shelters put so much love and devotion into it, but there is only so much that civilians with limited funds can do. Dog walking volunteers are few and far between and there is no way a handful of people can satisfy all the needs of more than 100 dogs!
These shelters are depressing to go to and can be very heavy emotionally to deal with. But, that one depressing day for you can be the highlight of a dog’s entire week! Today, we took 9 dogs for a walk each and every single one of them was so grateful and happy. Some old, slightly blind dogs loved rubbing their face in the grass, to be reminded what it was like to be free. The younger ones pulled like a tank to see every sight and take in all the smells. A little shy girl called Bodza just wanted me to hold her and stroke her, to tell her it will all be ok.
The reality is that many of these dogs will die right there in the shelter. They will live out their lives behind metal bars, outdoors in the cold winters and boiling hot summers. The reality is that many of these dogs will never know what it’s like to be a part of a loving family, so the least we can do is to take them for a walk, give them a treat and tell them how special they are. It’s sad, but it’s the best we can do.