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Interview with founder of 'Animal Friends Foundation Burgas', Miglena Ivanova

Quest Bulgaria has been fortunate enough to speak with the founder of the Animal Friends Foundation Burgas, Miglena Ivanova. In this interview, she talks about how the foundation began, the challenges she has faced, and how we can get involved to help and support this wonderful cause.

1. Can you describe what the organisation 'Animal Friends Foundation Burgas' is?

 "Animals Friends Foundation Burgas" is a young organization that is trying to change the reality for homeless animals in Bulgaria. Except for taking care of the consequences caused by our country's irresponsible approach for so many years, we also try to work at the root of the problem. We help animals in need but we also inform people on why such things happen and how we are able to change it together. People need to realize that this is not a problem of NGOs, but of society as a whole.

2. How did this project begin?

Up until a few years ago I tried to help animals in need on my own. In Bulgaria there are animals in every corner, under each pile of boards. You can see kittens without eyes and with crushed spines; dogs dragging on the street; paralyzed, hairless, naked animals desperately searching for shelter in the cold winter and many others...

I've always helped animals but one year I had to rescue newborn kittens tied in sacks several times and also some dogs with no chance of survival... I just couldn't pass them by and I wasn't able to adopt all of them. A completely ordinary story; probably every person involved in animal welfare could tell such a story. It was then when I decided to found this Foundation, in an attempt to help more of them and connect the efforts of people like me.

3. Have you always been interested in helping animals?

Yes. Since I was a little child I kept taking all kinds of animals home and tried to help them in any way I could back then. For my entire life I have been in close connection with all kinds. I am a psychologist by education but I would never choose anything else over animals.

4. What kind of animals are there at your shelter? What happens after you take in a stray animal?

We deal with and rescue mostly dogs and cats, but sometimes we help other kinds of animals. For example, we've helped donkeys, ferrets, and birds. We come across mainly strays but also often abandoned pedigree cats and dogs.
What happens when we take an animal from the street? Well, we start writing their story. We often tell people that the journey of a dog or cat from the street to their happy adoptions is really long and hard. It's often full of many problems; sorrow and hard decisions. But having our experience now, we try to make the best of each particular case. Sometimes the animals are seriously sick and they go through a few months of treatment. Even if an animal looks healthy at first sight, they hide diseases inside that can be seen only after a number of tests which we always carry out on each animal. According to their specific needs, we place the animals under foster care until we find the best adopter. Every animal that has been taken over by the Foundation becomes part of our family. We treat each one with love and care. They realize how much they are loved, restore little by little their trust in humans and pass that to the next animal. In many cases, the animals are frightened, scared, abused, and mistrustful. Except for working on their physical health, we also treat them emotionally well but this just happens as a natural process because for us this is simply a vocation.

5. What are the biggest challenges you have faced?

Oh, there have been many challenges. I could separate them into three main groups. The main challenge is connected to the Bulgarians' attitude – hardened thinking, lack of awareness and lack of information and even the refusal to find out information. The way a huge percentage of Bulgarians perceive animals is caused by our past when they had to benefit from raising animals. In the moment, the animal ceases to satisfy certain requirements; it will be neglected, abused and thrown away. The idea of treating dogs and cats here is utterly different from those in developed countries, unfortunately. And most of the time, people don't take into consideration and don't respect the responsibility when adopting an animal because there is nobody to sanction a person if they throw out their dog, for example. Trying to change the way of thinking of that group of people is perhaps the most invincible challenge. And that group is not small at all. Keep doing what we are doing, despite the lack of understanding of so many, is really difficult. We have many situations where we help but get accused.

The main challenges are those we come across in the very process of our work, related to rescuing, treating and re-homing the animals. Bulgarians are not people who are willing to help... in any way at all. This makes it difficult for us to do what we do because there are no volunteers, no resources, no adoptions of breedless /non – thoroughbred/ animals. Most of the time we just improvise; this is unthinkable for people in developed countries but we just don't have a choice, and if we don't do that there is almost zero chance of helping. With almost every animal we take, we know nothing about what will happen. We know exactly what to do but we are not able to accomplish it in a strict organization. I don't want to use the word "improvisation" but it's exactly that. Despite all of this, we are trying to work professionally. To take under your care an invalid dog or a dog with a visible need of surgery without knowing how you can pay for this, how long you would have to take care of the animal, without knowing if it would be adopted at all – well, that is a real challenge. And last but not least – the emotional attachment we grow to them. After all, together we go through everything with them. To find the best adopter for each of them is really a huge challenge.

6. What are your main goals for your organisation?

Our main goals are directed to changing public attitude related to responsible treatment and raising of the animals, spaying/neutering and decreasing the populations of stray animals. Because we are an organization people think of us and expect us to handle all the animals on our own, alone. But we are far away from the image of foreign organization. We never have a planned monthly budget because we don't have enough donators/sponsors and also because there are too many homeless animals and animals in need in Bulgaria. It's extremely hard to respond to every appeal for help and even harder to refuse.

7. How can people get involved in helping Animal Friends Foundation Burgas's mission?

In order for that "wheel" to keep rolling and to make things happen in the best way possible for the animals, we are trying and struggling almost 24/7. The "more colorful" our team is, the bigger number of animals would have a chance of a new life. Although this sphere is specific, we need a large range of services – webmasters, lawyers, accountants, translators, volunteers for transport, volunteers to search for new homes; designers; people to organize different campaigns; creative personalities, who can make different things - we make jewels, decorative trees etc - ; ideological projects directed to popularizing and developing the foundation's work and so on. We welcome every new member with great enthusiasm because these days, very few people are ready and willing to donate their time.

8. What will their donation go to? How will it help?

We put the donations into two main directions – treatment, spaying/neutering, prevention for certain diseases and caring for the animals until they are adopted, which includes mainly food, deworming, defleaing, vaccination programs, and hygiene. However, we also have a lot of other costs that are not accounted for and they are organizing adoption and informational campaigns, making advertising materials, transportation when responding to signals and to the homes of the adopted animals abroad. All I have mentioned is those of prime importance and I wouldn't be able to grade the things, but if we don't have resources for treatment, all the other steps wouldn't be possible.


9. Tell us about your events and campaigns over the years. Are you currently running any campaigns?

We've had all kinds of campaigns. Our main campaigns at the moment are our spaying/neutering campaign which we organized 2 years ago and the campaign for finding homes – adopting campaigns. The rest of them have the purpose of linking people – recruiting volunteers, informational events for raising food and some others where we offer food. We called them the "FACES" club – every person who loves animals can meet new people and share the experience. We try to make new campaigns every season; we try to be useful and varied.

10. How can people adopt or foster an animal from your shelter?

All they need is willingness and desire, good intentions and to convince us that the animal will be treated well. We have a few requirements concerning adoptions but they are not at all new or hard to cover. All we insist on is for the people to be well aware of the responsibility of having an animal and for us to choose the right dog or cat for them. For that purpose we have a standard questionnaire form for adoption – candidates and adoption contracts that must be signed by the future owner.

Foster parents are really important to us! They are the crucial link in our activity and they are people who literally save the life of the animal under their guardianship. If they wish, they can contact us to discuss what exactly they can offer and which animal would be the most appropriate choice for them.

11. Tell us about your Virtual adoption project?

Virtual adoption is a project that is aimed more at people living abroad. It gives you the opportunity to "take" an animal without taking them physically home. Many people want to have a pet, but for many reasons it's not possible. We offer them a way which is ideal for both sides because the animal they choose to support financially would be given the chance of treatment and care till their adoption. We let the virtual adopter choose what their finances will be used for on the animal. Virtual adoption can be made by a few people together; for example, by friends, classmates etc.

12. How can we all make a difference?

All the effort must be directed to the root of the problem and that is the attitude of humans towards animals, and the responsibilities and obligations coming from it. If we change the way we think and we approach the homeless animals' problem adequately, things would change for the better. There are working programs in other countries that have already proved that practice; we don't need to think of a new solution. Basically, it can be put this way – awareness and adequate actions would solve the problem we are dealing with because that is exactly what the base of our cause is.

13. What do you hope to achieve by the future?

We would like to see a future where kids take care of animals and there are no longer strays. We want to see less resistance in people when discussing animal subjects. We want people to be good, responsible owners. But most of all, we hope that the laws connected to that sphere will be abided and the animals will have their rights.

If you would like to support this excellent organisation, please visit the Animal Friends Foundation Burgas.