Vesna Prokopjevic, a Serbian dog-lover, has had a busy and emotional time in recent weeks. She is seeking to reunite bedraggled pooches with their owners after they were separated by devastating floods in the Balkans.
"The dogs were traumatised, scared, wet and muddy. We gave them food, water -- and a hug," Prokopjevic told AFP at her noisy makeshift dogs' home in her garden in the small village of Drazevac outside Belgrade.
AdvertisementSince Saturday, when the floods forced half of the 20,000 population of nearby Obrenovac to be evacuated, rescuers have brought at least 70 dogs of all shapes and sizes to her shelter.
"We were the closest and they knew I would take care of all of them," the 55-year old Prokopjevic said, fielding constant phone calls by people searching for their four-legged family members.
Helped only by her family, a few friends and volunteers and a local vet working for free, Prokopjevic has been working like mad providing basic care "until the owners who lost everything in this horror settle somewhere."
"Each owner who comes to pick up the dog gets food, medicine and a leash for the dog, the basics just to set them up," she explains.
Human visitors, greeted by a cacophony of barking, get suspiciously sniffed by the boarders when they arrive before the dogs, having established they are not going home, return to playing and digging.
Some of the older ones don't even bother to come and investigate, raising a weary, greying head to see if their human has come before slumping back down for another 40 winks.
"They are all hoping to see their owners," Prokopjevic says.
- Cats, dogs and a mink -
Aside from the humans of course, it is not just dogs that have been affected by south-eastern Europe's worst natural disaster since records began more than a 100 years ago.
Many farm animals that didn't drown -- thousands have, posing a major potential health risk as their carcasses rot in the summer heat -- have been left with no one to look after them.
Austrian animal welfare group Vier Pfoten ("Four Paws") has sent a 20-strong team to the region, using boats to distribute animal feed such as hay and setting up a mobile veterinary clinic in the village of Zvecka.
"In such a situation people don't have any resources to support their animals. Our relief mission has a dual purpose as we are helping animals and humans at the same time," said team leader Amir Khalil.
"When a natural disaster strikes, a few days can make all the difference between life and death."
Meanwhile, Belgrade's vet institution has organised rescue teams to pick up pets left behind in Obrenovac's apartment buildings and houses. Owners leave their keys and address and teams go collect the animal, if they can.
"Only this morning we brought four cats, eight dogs and a mink," Sreten Kostic, a veterinary technician, told AFP.
"More are yet to come, but we also fed 22 dogs and some chickens," he added.
A website has also been created by private individuals where pet owners can leave information on their animals, addresses and chip numbers so that rescuers can try and pick them up.
Back in Drazevac, everybody claiming to be the owner of a dog has to prove it, Prokopjevic insists. "Nobody can take a dog from here without a proof of ownership."
"If the dog is chipped it is easy, we match the data, but even if it is not, dogs recognise their owner, it is so emotional, you can hardly mismatch them," said her friend Milan Cosic, a retired policeman.
"One woman burst into tears and her dog yelped when they met."
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