It’s almost summer and animal rescue groups in Albania are bracing themselves for tourist season.
It’s a double-edged sword. Foreigners can greatly help. The simple act of taking stories home about the situation for stray animals in Albania can increase awareness, funding, and aid. It’s how NGOs can grow – many volunteers are foreigners who came to Albania, saw the situation and got involved. After all, the personal is the political. But foreigners can also expect NGOs in Albania to function as organizations in their home countries, with resources and support from large donor pools, governments, or corporations.
That just isn’t the case in Albania. Most organizations are funded solely by donations from individuals. If lucky, the NGO may have a small group of foreign organizations giving for specific purposes, e.g. sterilizing X number of animals or donating to the creation of a shelter. The Albanian government is rarely supportive (barring a few local municipalities) and rather than act as allies, they become unnecessary enemies. After all it’s not only local business owners who poison stray animals before tourist season, it is often some governments.
The number of emergencies simply outweigh the available financial resources. So what can a tourist do to help?
Two German visitors, Silvio and Lea, are a great example. In early May, the couple arrived in Gramsh. They dropped their van at the mechanic and Lea took their dog Selam, who was rescued from Bali, for a walk. Right in front of the mechanic was an exhausted puppy.
As regular rescuers (they’re up to 8 rescues!), they knew to look for the puppy’s mother first. There was not a dog in sight and based on her condition and the location, it’s unlikely she could have made it to that spot on her own. Though dumping an animal is technically a crime in Albania, it is rarely enforced, and happens regularly. Silvio and Lea took the puppy with them, giving her water and shelter. After an hour, she started to have stools with blood and worms.
At that point, they knew a veterinarian was needed. And, as I experienced, finding a veterinarian and feeling confident in their skills can be daunting in a foreign language and country. So, they contacted JETA: Tier und Mensch to ask for veterinarian recommendations close to their location. JTUM recommended a veterinarian in Elbasan, an hour away. Since the van was being serviced, they called a taxi and rushed the sick pup to the clinic.
Tests confirmed the puppy had Parvovirus. Though Parvovirus can be deadly, there are treatments, and those were started immediately. The sooner the treatment is started, the likelier the puppy can recover. Rather than asking JTUM to finance the treatment, Silvio and Lea started their own fundraiser for the puppy on their great YouTube and Instagram channels (follow them!).
They didn’t stop there. They kept in touch with the vet and when the van was ready, rented a campsite nearby so they could visit the puppy. Things seemed to be looking up. As often happens with Parvovirus, the puppy unfortunately took a turn for the worse and passed away one morning. But she did not die in a ditch and had the experience – albeit brief – of what human love can look like.
And while this ending is not happy, the lessons it teaches – that we all can do something to help – hopefully inspires other tourists to take action.
Here are some ways to help:
1. Leave water out and carry food. There wasn’t a day in Albania where I didn’t meet a thirsty or hungry dog!
2. If you do need help from an organization (e.g. a vet recommendation, transport advice), offer to pay for all costs from the beginning. Or, like Silvio and Lea, fundraise for it!
3. Have a list of animal-friendly taxi providers handy. Expat groups on social media can offer advice.
4. Speak to business owners and locals. If you see them mistreating a stray animal, ask them what they are doing. If they’re not open to discussing and it’s a business, write a review so other tourists who care about animals know not to support the business. Tourism is important in Albania, and letting them know you disapprove may seem punitive but could also make a difference in future behavior.
5. Reconsider your destination. Though controversial, I’m not ashamed to say, I won’t return to Albania until current laws protecting animals are better upheld; new, more modern laws are passed; and animals are treated with more dignity.
6. Volunteer or fundraise. As mentioned before, these organizations need help, and it’s exhausting and depressing to only receive requests for help, all of which they can’t possibly fund. You can visit the shelter to play with the animals. Or if you’re traveling back to your home country, see if any animals need a lift to their forever home.