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Moving to Sweden

Belka's, Millen's and Dodde's stories

Maria Petersson – adopter of Belka, Millen and Ziggy:

It was late 2018 when I applied for a 4 month internship in Georgia for spring 2019. I was very excited to be going as I knew next to nothing about the country, nor did my family or friends. Knowing how to prepare was a bit tricky, I was handed info kits on the country’s politics, on food to eat, places to visit and count on catching various stomach bugs apparently. However, the culture shock when I landed turned out to be something very different – for the first time ever I saw stray dogs. I had previously travelled in Africa and Europe but had never come across and now they were everywhere. This was the start of feelings of distress and powerlessness – how could the stray situation be so awful in the country? Even traveling to visit all beautiful sites became a painful experience as I saw starving, sick, suffering dogs everywhere I went.

I started googling what initiatives there were to try to help these poor animals and change this awful situation. Most people I met seemed to used to this scenery that it didn’t affect them to the same extent as I was affected – but I was struggling to go outdoors at this point as seeing the suffering strays was just too much.

In April I came across the Facebook page of an animal shelter located in Tbilisi called GSPSA. I texted them and they invited me to visit. On a rainy April Saturday I went to visit the shelter and met the founder, vet and two volunteers of which one was Mariam. She translated everything that was said into English and I continued talking to her and the other American volunteer, Arianna.

Arianna had decided to adopt a dog from the shelter and in June 2019 I was asked whether I wanted to do the same. I had not thought that far but still said yes and asked Mariam to show the dog that disliked shelter life the most. In a dog house on top of other dog houses was a three-legged, stressed, white beauty – Belka. She had been staying in the shelter since 2015 with no adoption prospects. So I adopted her and she arrived to Sweden in April 2021 – after delays and delays caused by the pandemic.

Belka was incredibly stressed and it took two months to get her to sleep at night, eat properly and feel calmer. Shelter life had given her permanently increased cortisol production and depression causing her to lick her paws and legs extensively. It’s now more than 2 years since Belka moved in and she is the most amazing, funny dog. I love her to bits and we have a strong connection. Belka loves her morning walks and being out patrolling in the garden all night during summer.

Even after leaving Georgia in 2019, I spoke to Mariam on a daily basis following her work with the strays. Whenever she was in her hometown Zugdidi she would send me videos of another Belka, a faithful stray dog who lived on the street outside Mariam’s house. Belka had been thrown out by her owner once she was about to have puppies. I really felt for Belka but Mariam said it would be hard to find someone who would want Belka – she hasn’t got the looks adopters often go for. In early 2022 I decided to give Belka from Zugdidi a home in Sweden, especially as there were threats to shoot her in Zugdidi. Mariam fostered her with another neighbour to complete the preparations needed to Belka to travel.

In October 2021 Mariam had also shown me a video of an injured male stray in Tbilisi. He was the kindest of dogs and she struggled to find a foster for him. Whilst in foster and trying to cure his injury, Mariam posted that he was up for adoption. The posts were shared in Canada, Europe and Georgia but no one was interested in the most beautiful little boy, Ziggy. I felt so sorry for him and decided to adopt him together with Belka from Zugdidi. Mariam came to deliver them to me in Sweden in October 2022.

Zugdidi Belka (now Millen) and Ziggy (now Dodde) settled in well with Belka and it took a few months of getting to know Millen and Dodde properly – their personalities, preferences and behaviours. Millen is going to dog courses on a regular basis and is such a people-dog. Dodde loves being in his dog yard looking at birds, people and bugs – just as Belka. We take long forest walks every day and when the season allows, they all run around freely.

All three are a true blessing and brighten my life every day! Adopt – don’t shop!

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