The Lucy Irvine Foundation Europe, LIFE, aims, by becoming an international team effort, to consolidate, continue and expand Lucy Irvine’s ongoing projects to help animals and their owners in poor areas of Bulgaria.
As well as caring for rescued animals on her home patch and haven site, Lucy reaches out to other needy cases in local villages and Roma ghettos. This work brings her into close, often daily, contact with members of both Bulgarian and Roma communities, their horses, cats and dogs. In over 8 years of increasing involvement she has gained an understanding of how animals are perceived and treated by these communities, and identified areas requiring action to make their lives less grim.
There are encouraging exceptions but for the most part, custom, tradition and (arguably) poverty and the influence of the communist era, have made Eastern European standards of animal care strikingly low compared to that in neighbouring countries. Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU, is no exception. Unfortunately, plenty of brutalities are commonly meted out to dogs and horses. Thankfully many of these animals have since had their lives transformed through Lucy and her friends’ efforts. With a larger dedicated team, LIFE can do more.
In Bulgarian villages it is common to see puppies chained as future guards to inadequate shelters from an early age, never leaving that rarely cleaned spot until they die, often after just a few years, of neglect and a diet of bread only. It is more common for dogs to run free in Roma areas but disease and abuse are rife, and the catalogue of suffering among puppies, heart-rending.
Horses are primarily regarded as beasts of burden, used as transport with their carts for fetching firewood and scrap iron among the Roma. They are kept in hazardous, shanty-style stalls, adjacent to their owners’ own often inadequate dwellings. Little thought is given to a horse’s particular physical and social needs. It is not uncommon to see 18 month old colts and fillies harnessed, covered in sores and worked to the bone, their delicate frames ruined, eyes full of pain.
Lucy’s policy, now LIFE’s, is to come at the suffering of horses and dogs in Roma ghettos, and to a lesser extent in Bulgarian villages, from several angles:
Rescue, for the most desperate cases, is undertaken where possible, with sick or mistreated animals moved out of the environment in which they have suffered, and into care. This is not always easy. Owners may not co-operate. Sometimes a letter from a lawyer must push matters forward. Lucy also uses such letters to highlight clauses in Bulgarian and European law, which exist to protect animals but are often ignored. LIFE plans to work more, in the future, with all relevant Bulgarian authorities to make these laws, and the fines liable for ignoring them, better known to the people, and more actively enforced.
Intervention and support are key tools in LIFE’s multiple strategies to improve conditions in which animals are kept. Where possible, sponsors are found to fund food, anti parasitic treatments and shelter for animals in need. Sponsorship is popular with owners and allows LIFE more access to individual homes in Bulgarian villages and Roma ghettos than would otherwise be the case. When a member of LIFE’s team visits to deliver dog food, or salve for a horse’s harness sores, conditions of care can be checked, and problems addressed as needed.
Education about the needs of animals happens spontaneously at every encounter with owners and their animals, be it on the road when Lucy is out in her own horse and cart, or when a home visit is made. LIFE also works with local schools in which presentations about animal care – and laws relating to treatment of animals – are made, with the approval of local police and the mayors of villages concerned. One of LIFE’s key missions is to expand this aspect of its work.
Spay/neuter campaigns for dogs and cats are pursued year round with local Bulgarian vets via a limited municipality free scheme, and twice yearly at Spayathons conducted by a renowned Romanian team.
Vaccination campaigns are also vital to LIFE’s drive to prevent suffering.
Experience has taught Lucy that, in the poor areas were LIFE works, it is important to take into account when helping animals, the struggles their owners often face too. For instance, if a LIFE team member takes a dog to the vet for sterilization or treatment for disease, and we know the owner or their child is ill, we try to stretch funds to help with the medicine they need. Or, if we are treating a horse for minor injuries and the owner asks for antiseptic for his mother’s bedsores, for example, we try to supply it. In this way we find LIFE’s intervention in animal care is not resented, and people welcome us and tell us again if their horse, dog or cat needs help. In cases of extreme poverty or need, i.e. where people have lost their flimsy home to high winds, as has happened, we find funds for care packages.