Desert island lessons applied to LIFE.


I wrote in Castaway that I learned to walk on my island in the sun. From a rushed scuttle in London, dodging and weaving in crowds to catch a bus, my gait changed to a tranquil rolling stroll. I had only to catch a fish and it was extremely hot. The new pace was part of a process of adjustment and not only to the heat. I was adapting in order to survive.

That was in the tropics on an atoll in the Coral Sea and I was 25. In Southern Bulgaria, where I live and work now, it’s not quite such a survive or perish situation – at least not for me – but it can also be extremely hot and I’m now in my mid-60s. Much as I’d like to use my desert island walk as a learned strategy to cope with heat I only can occasionally here, because hundreds of rescued animals depend on me and the Lucy Irvine Foundation’s other workers for their most essential needs: water, shelter and food - water especially at this time of year. No-one, whether they have four legs or two, should have to wait for water. Yet every summer neglected dogs in Bulgaria do and some, appallingly, die as a result of waiting too long in blazing sun. Shade for our rescued dogs is something we start working on as soon as winter turns to spring.

Year round, I rise before the sun. In summer this means 4.30 a.m. It’s the coolest time to work. First job is a rapid clean of the caravan I share with up to a dozen rescued cats and kittens. There’s night soil to deal with, including my own bucket and if even a trace of cat food is left on a dish it will attract flies. Then it’s out to feed the rest of the 40-plus rescued cats on site and 10 rescued horses. I do more cleaning, too, in other caravans used by cats and in the tiny kitchen next to the ruins of my house, destroyed by fire in 2009. There are generally around 15 cats in there sprawling dustily on all surfaces and demanding food the minute they see me. Young puppies also can't wait for LIFE’s local helpers to arrive before being fed.

Next I fill the horses’ water trough which they’ve often drunk dry overnight and as many other receptacles as are available, from our single outdoor tap. We have no running water indoors. I work rapidly because at any moment the water supply to the village could be cut off.

So it’s all go before my daily transport to hospital comes at 8.15 and I like to cram in a fortifying breakfast before I go, too. I'm undergoing 25 sessions of radiation therapy following chemotherapy and an operation for breast cancer. Ilia, our valued Roma helper, arrives to start work as I leave. Sonia, our lady helper, has Bernie, a calf with a cleft palate to feed before she arrives at 9 a.m - not to mention her 6 children, a few of whom then take out the family’s flock of sheep for the the day, so need sandwiches. Meanwhile, her husband is already busy at LIFE’s Haven where there are a score of dogs to feed, water and clean up after. He also always checks the well we use there but in the heat we’ve been having and due to lack of rain, we rarely expect –it to have filled up.

I catch up with anything the helpers need to tell me about any of the animals they're with by phone from the car which takes me to hospital. Also en route I check from dozens of notes what I need to do for LIFE most pressingly that day. There may be a new rescue case whose needs must be explained to helpers or a veteran needing special attention after routine chores have been done. There could be urgent cases for the vet or an awol cat, dog or donkey to look out for. In high summer everyone already knows that water and shade for all of the animals must always be at the top of our minds. While travelling and jotting I drink lots of water.

At the hospital while waiting my turn for therapy I plan animal food restocking trips and trips to vets, contacting owners in the community if needed to alert them not to feed their dog or cat before a spay operation and liaising with Ilia, LIFE’s driver, over which patients can travel together and when and where they are to be picked up and dropped. It’s only when I’m under the impressive radiation machine that I stop and deliberately float mentally. I may focus on a fishing trip with a homemade handline from an island far away in both space and time or memories of a picnic with my 3 sons when they were small by a tumbling river in Scotland. I’ve also visualised the Haven and walking round all the dogs there thinking of their particular needs and what can be done to secure a safe future for them whatever happens to me. I rather like the treatment for the absolute stillness that’s an essential part of it.

It’s hotter on the journey home. I think of the small team busy at LIFE checking that none of the horses tethered nearby while their stables are mucked out have tangles in their ropes or rubbing rosemary into Selim the donkey’s skin to keep flies off him. I may call to remind them to fix fly masks on the most sensitive horses as the heat rises. Sonia sometimes calls to say the water’s been cut off and they’ve started using the reserve supply. 55 dogs drink a lot of water and we also carry giant bottles in LIFE's car for dogs in need we encounter during Outreach work.

When temperatures reach 90 degrees the well-being of LIFE’s all-day workers is as serious a concern as the animals' needs. In the early 70's when I worked in watermelon fields near a soldier’s village in the Golan Heights, Israel, a man or woman watched over the workers to see if anyone wobbled in the heat and stop them before they fell. We don't have a spare person here to do that so take precautions in advance. Much of the work the lads and lasssies here at LIFE do is heavy. Hauling buckets of water or sand for puppies’ toilets or pushing barrow loads of manure is no doddle under scorching sun. We try to get these jobs done before mid-morning so they can do lighter work as the sun arches towards its zenith at midday. Sonia could gently exercise a partly paralysed dog while her son takes another dog into the shade to brush and the horse-carers pick out hooves. But sometimes there’s no choice but to harness Boshko or Bexlyin-the-Broad to cart bidons of water to the Haven. No animal must go without a cool drink there. When we do this, we take it slowly, walking beside the horse rather than adding to his load. Change of pace is key to avoiding stress in the heat, as I learned all those years ago on a desert island: adjust, adapt.

In the afternoon, when I’m back from hospital and Sonia’s left for home, the men find shade on the hill, watching over the rescued horses as they graze. I try to do admin work from the caravan but it’s sweltering despite wide open windows, so I don’t work as fast or efficiently as I’d like. But I’ve learned to accept this, using the very hottest hours for a deliberate rest and jotting notes with my feet up. This suits the cats lolling beside me and my varicose veins perfectly.

Action starts again around 4 p.m., when I call Ilia to bring down the first horses from the hill so we can fit in a little Outreach work in local Roma communities before its home time for the lads at 6.00. While we’re away his colleagues brings in the rest of the horses and settle them for the night. They also refill all water receptacles emptied by thirsty animals during the day.

My evenings alone with over a hundred rescued animals tend to be short but delicious as the temperature finally drops around 7 p.m. I feed the puppies and cats again slowly, rechecking all water bowls, buckets and troughs at the same time. Then I carry water warmed by the sun into the ruins kitchen where I ablute joyously in a bucket, my chemo-style hair conveniently short for dipping my head in. And my desert island stroll finally has a chance to come into play as I head over to a now pleasantly cooling caravan saying nite nite to 4-legged loved ones all the way.

Adapt, adjust, survive.

A personal Message from Lucy

The driving force behind LIFE - Lucy Irvine Foundation Europe is the founder and biggest donor of the foundation, Lucy Irvine. On her birthday she wanted to share her personal message with all of you, our wonderful supporters, volunteers, sponsors and followers. Please take a moment to watch this video message and share it widely. THANK YOU!

Meet Violetta

LIFE's new motorised chariot! (Our horses and carts cant take us everywhere we need to go, alas..) And one of our best horse-handlers will be chauffeur :) Just 70 horse power to handle in this case;) And please note the lovely tartan seats, which make me smile.

Enormous THANKS again to all who contributed to Violett

Car Appeal Update

We are delighted to announce that through a combination of the amount raised via our JustGiving campaign and some very generous private donations, we have reached our target and will be able to buy the much needed car!

Thank you all so very much for donating and sharing the campaign. We have decided to keep the fundraiser open for now in order to cover the car related running costs, so do keep on spreading the word.


Much of our work here at LIFE depends on being on the road. But the battered old car that we have used up until now is no longer roadworthy, and needs to be urgently replaced.

Ilia, pictured here, is LIFE's main employee, and driver. He not only drives Lucy on essential Outreach rounds but makes frequent trips to the vets, stocks up on animal food and uses the car to visit and walk dogs in the community and in foster care. It is fair to say that without him and a vehicle, LIFE simply couldn't continue to do a lot of the work we currently do daily.

We need to raise 3000 BGN for LIFE to get a 'new' decent second hand car up and running and on the road. This converts to 1350 GBP. This is a large amount of money to raise in one go but we hope you can support us by donating as much as you can and sharing this post. Lucy is back in hospital for more chemotherapy soon and needs to know Ilia can get about and cover for much of her work in her absence.


Due to restrictions on the number of rescued dogs allowed on any one private property, LIFE has to cut down and we need friends to help.

If you are in Bulgaria could you consider fostering one or two of LIFE's dogs while we continue to search for a home for them? Support for care of the dog/s would be available if there is a sponsor to help spread costs.

if you are not in Bulgaria please consider sponsoring a dog in foster care. 20 pounds per month is usual to cover basics.

We have over 30 dogs needing foster care asap.

LIFE and Horsemanship Journal magazine...

Lucy writes regularly for Horsemanship Journal magazine, sharing her experiences of the horses she helps and rescues. Read her articles below...

The full article available in the current issue of Horsemanship Journal UK

L.I.F.E’s role: to relieve the suffering of animals whatever their destiny …

What sweeter sight for horse lovers than that of a foal gambolling in the spring, flexing budding muscles as she prances and shaking her tufty tail as she tucks her head under the dam to suckle. Others, seeing the same, might think: ‘’What sweet meat on the hoof,‘’ and reach for a calculator to check for cash yield possibilities before contacting potential clients.

I first learned of the Christmas foal meat market in rural Bulgaria when a contact in a Roma enclave led me to look at three small foals roped tightly together in a dark shed. One had a pronounced hernia and the owner wanted to know if it could be ‘’got rid of’’. I offered to send a vet, mentioning that if he could not treat it but considered surgery an option, it could be done at the equine hospital in Stara Zagora, but that could prove expensive. The owner laughed when I quoted a figure for transport on top and made a dismissive throat-slitting gesture in the direction of the foal. If it wasn’t attractive enough to be offered whole, he’d simply make it into meat first and sell it that way.

Winter weather in Bulgaria is full of contrasts

Days after my house burned down in November 2009, I washed my hair in a bucket under blackened vines in a courtyard jolly with pompoms of snow melting under bright sun. During the blaze, my one thought was to get animals to safety......

read full story here

Amber - LIFE's First Rescued Foal

My mission that day was to treat dogs in a rough Roma area against ticks and fleas. To this end, I was walking between mud-brick hovels, followed by a mob of barefooted children dragging dogs on leads made from string......

read the full story here

Horsemanship Journal have been looking for a charity that they can partner and support on an ongoing basis. We are pleased to announce that they will be supporting the LUCY IRVINE FOUNDATION EUROPE.

You can help by purchasing a copy - please visit theIr website here.