How it all started – Karin’s story...

One day in the autumn of 1991 the phone rang in my office at Animal Rights Sweden. On the phone was Elena Bobrova who at the time worked on one of the ferries going between St Petersburg and Stockholm. She phoned on behalf of the reinstated animal protection organisation of St Petersburg, where she was a member. Independent organisations were not allowed during the communist regime. There were great difficulties in St Petersburg. The perestroika had given the people of Russia back some of their freedom but there were problems with the infrastructure. It was difficult and expensive for people to get food, electricity was erratic and hot water was only available at certain times. You had to do your shopping on the day you were paid – if you were paid at all; one day later inflation might have reduce the money worth by half…

As always, the poor were suffering the worst; the sick, the old, children and animals. If difficult to find food for humans it was almost impossible to find any for animals. Often, the only food available to feed cats and dog was old bread and cereal mixed with water. People let their animals out on the streets to fend for themselves. Before, the municipality “collected” animals, only to kill them in an inhumane way. Now animals were left everywhere to suffer and die in the streets.

The animal protection organisation had established one shelter in the city and one outside to take care of animals; but no food, no money to pay the vet they had employed and no medicine.

We had had similar requests from various organisations around the world at Animal Rights Sweden. Through our contact with WSPA in England we had been advised to be very careful when deciding on helping an organisation. Many organisations lacked in basic knowledge in animal care and made matters worse by collecting animals; diseases spread and animals got hurt in fights over food. Sometimes money was not delivered to the right people – help never reached the animals. Another problem was that Animal Rights Sweden did not have any structuread plans to support foreign organisations in need – it was always a long process to present the issue to members of the board and at the odd occations when the board agreed to provide support, it was only with a few thousand SEK.

Elena`s phone call was different though; she did not ask for money but for food and medicine, and help to educate people. Also, she could deliver the food and medicine to the organisation herself. She took note of my questions and said she would get back to me.

Later that day I mentioned the phonecall to Lotta Svedberg. She was involved in a campaign against bull fighting that was coming to an end. “Let’s go to the ferry and meet Elena.”, was her immediate response. Lotta gathered some animal feed and medicines and filled a couple of carrier bags full, and the next day we met with Elena. That was the beginning of years of support to St Petersburg, and the beginning of Baltic Animal Care.

Lotta and I went to St Petersburg many times and we were appalled by the standard of the shelter in town, but impressed by the standard of the shelter outside; it had been turned in to a well functioning shelter with quarantine and young, enthusiastic staff, full of ambition.

Unfortunately the animal welfare organisation was not to be trusted. Through Elena, who was our link to them, as well as our guide and interpreter when we visited, we learned that the foods and medicines we supplied were sold on the black market. She also discovered that the organisation received aid from other countries, something they had neglected to inform us of. Elena organised for us to meet with us delegates from animal welfare organisations in England. This way we could coordinate our actions – but it was soon clear to all that it was impossible to support this organisation. When a container from England, with medical supplies and X-ray equipment, were held at the harbour for not having the right documents we had had enough. We were even asked to pay in order to get the right papers – of course we refused and when the container was finally released it was almost empty…

With sorrow in our hearts, We had to realize that state corruption and mafia interest in our shipments made it impossible to continue. It was a difficult decision to make; we knew how badly needed the supplies were for the animals, but decided to end the cooperation.

But Elena persisted – when the ferries between St Petersburg and Stockholm were stopped running she decided to stay in St Petersburg and work for the animals, if we could help financially. During the years she had established contacts with good and reliable vets, lawyers and other professionals in St Petersburg. They now got together and formed the organisation Baltic Animal Care Russia. Our support was resumed and we have worked together ever since.

Karin Gabrielsson Morton