It’s probably unsurprising that animals not my own feature fairly prominently along my travel journey. What is surprising is that it took me over three months in to the trip to add another member to the menagerie, especially after we lost Sami and, as Travis liked to remind me on a regular basis, our numbers had become uneven. In fact, on the very same day that we would pick up our first rescue of the trip, we had barely managed to talk ourselves out of adding another bunny to the crew. Has anyone ever seen a LionHead baby rabbit? Then you know the strength of will it took to walk out of that pet store with nothing but the dog food and new mastiff collars we’d gone in for. Ok, so no bunny. But the temptation was there, which was probably a clue that my heart was feeling pretty vulnerable that day.
Before I get in to the specifics of our first rescue, its probably worth mentioning to other animal lovers that are looking to travel in the Balkans that the street dog “crisis” if you will, is very prominent here. I have quite a few friends back in England with Romanian rescue dogs, and we were jokingly warned in advance by a Serbian friend that all the puppies milling around were going to spot us as suckers in seconds. So we were prepared for what we’d see while here, and had hardened our hearts appropriately in anticipation. For myself, I had drawn a line in the sand: I did not need, want, nor could I afford any additional animals. Period.
Mostly, being prepared worked. We cooed over the kittens at the rest stops in Croatia, but left them easily after admiring their ability to convince every driver that stopped for a bite. We passed ragged looking mountain dogs in the hills and reminded ourselves that those dogs were likely actively working on guarding a flock just over the rise. In the towns and cities, we watched packs of dogs work together to monitor territory and beg for scraps. All in all, it is actually a fascinating part of our travel experience to see how these animals survive on their own.
Then, two weeks ago, we were driving up a mountain pass between Zenica and Bugojno, on a road called Kovacica. It was early afternoon and we were making our way towards Kupres and the riding holiday ranch we would be volunteering at there. As we entered one of the hairpin turns climbing up, a movement in brown caught our attention. I turned my head and made eye contact with the saddest, skinniest, most pathetic looking dog I’d yet seen on our trip. My heart simply stopped beating for a moment. And then we were through the turn and the dog was behind us. Travis and I went back and forth for a few moments, before he drew my attention to our petrol situation, with was fairly severe. I subsided in to silence, reminding myself of my line in the sand. As we neared a pull out area, before I’d even realised the words were thoughts in my head, I told Travis to turn around.
We named Kova after the road we found her on. When we went back for her, she was sitting at the side of the road, waiting for us. She came running at my first whistle. She was covered in fleas and ticks of course, and had minor mange. She was starving, and cold, and grateful. We took her to the first veterinarian we found, got her treated for worms and parasites, gave her a microchip and a Rabies vaccination, and paid for her Passport. Within three hours, Kova was entirely ready to be adopted out to a forever home. I had readjusted my line in the sand: if an animal was clearly starving and in a condition where they would not survive the environment (as short coated Kova would not have survived a winter on the mountain), we could attempt to assist. And if they proved as willing to be rescued as our little red haired girl, we would search for permanent homes for them with the help of our followers.
Kova has a home in Italy lined up with an American military family there. Our network and a good friend made the connection possible within 24 hours of us picking her up. While we wait to be able to transport her, we’re fattening her up and giving her lessons on what it means to be a house dog. She’s a willing student if you ignore the fact that she’s constantly on the counters, in the trash, and begging at meal time… ok, so she has some things to learn still.
I’d be lying if I said this will be a one off thing. We can’t rescue all the animals, but Kova’s reminded me that that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try when the timing is right and our heart tells us to stop. I imagine they’ll be other rescues on this journey, and though we won’t go looking for them, we’ll be open to them if they come along. This is one thing that I’m really, really good at; and one that has so many rewards for so little risk. After all, what’s one more animal when you’ve already got a menagerie?