Lydia Petrova was dealt a rotten hand when her husband died and her sister-in-law sold the house leaving Lydia on the street with her dogs. And though the social service agency offered to place Lydia in a nursing home and a couple of acquaintances offered to let her stay with them, no one wanted to help the dogs. For Lydia, that was simply a deal breaker.
Lydia began living at the garbage dump near her former Ukrainian home in the city of Dnepropetrovsk. She could see the house, she even walked past it from time to time, but the locks had been changed and now it belonged to someone else. This was confusing for the dogs as the weather grew cold and they sought the comfort of their former home, but like Lydia, they were loyal and not one of them strayed. In fact, while living at the dump Lydia began taking care of a few other dogs who were homeless too and a couple of cats as well. Lydia would go out and find food for these animals daily. At night this circle of vulnerable souls would huddle together for warmth and sleep on the ground laying their heads on each other’s backs as they breathed the cold air and closed their eyes on a world that offered them nothing more than the love of one another.
A “FRIEND” Comes Along….
Across town, Marina Bolokhovets was busy sorting out a shipment of food for the animals at the FRIEND animal shelter which offers refuge to seriously injured and homeless animals. Accommodations here are not five star. There are dog houses tightly packed with straw. There are tin roofs to offer protection from the rain. Volunteers and two shelter workers feed, socialize and clean up after the animals each day while they work endlessly to place them in good homes so they can offer sanctuary to the next round of wanderers. When Marina heard of Lydia’s plight she paused for a moment, and despite the overwhelming demands already on her shoulders, Marina simply couldn’t turn away.
“Poverty, corruption and inhumanity are so common here that you don’t know what to do,” Marina said. “Do you help the woman? Help the dogs?”
Marina began reaching out to help Lydia and her animals.
Feeling pulled toward the crisis, Marina offered to place some of Lydia’s animals in a treatment centers while they received treatement for the sarcoptic mange that could contaminate every animal at the shelter if they entered. The plan was to bring all the animals in so that Lydia could leave the dump and move in to a small apartment or nursing home. And while Lydia tried briefly to carry on this way, she simply couldn’t move past the heartbreak of being away from these pets who were truly the dearest members of her family. So in a desperate attempt to help Lydia, Mariana offered for Lydia to move onto the grounds of the shelter to be close to the animals. All they could offer at first was a tent, but Lydia was absolutely delighted to be living with her animals again and she used her small government pension check to pay for her own food and for that of her animals. She never wanted to be a burden on anyone. She simply wanted to stay with her animals.
Within weeks Marina made arrangements for FRIEND animal shelter to extend their aid to Lydia, and with the help of a special supporter Petra Petrikova, they were able to rent a small summer cottage for Lydia and her pets.
“By the time the frost arrived, Lydia had taken in so many dogs that you could say that she had created her own animal shelter,” Marina explains.
Because the cottage had no heat, it was far from an ideal home for the bitter Ukrainian winter. But before the first heavy snow, out of the blue one day, a blessing of immeasurable proportions landed at Lydia’s feet. Irina Belaya, a supporter of the FRIEND animal shelter, offered to give Lydia a place of her own. Indeed, Irina, a total stranger, was more of a sister to Lydia than the one whom had left her on the street many months ago.
Lydia now lives in her new home with her original pack and a few other dogs whom she “adopted” while living at the shelter. They are safe. They are warm. And best of all, they remain together.
Ironically, FRIEND is Now Facing Homelessness Too…
Right now the FRIEND animal shelter is gathering massive quantities of pet food, fuel and straw to care for the animals through winter because the roads become impassible for long periods of time. They are caring for puppies and elderly dogs, paralyzed cats and even a dog with no eyes. All of these refugees are counting on them to make sure there is enough to eat and that’s a mission they simply can’t fail. But when spring comes, ironically, the FRIEND animal shelter is looking at their own homeless situation and will be forced to move from their present rented land. They too have a dream of having a better shelter, a true shelter where the animals can sleep with a roof over their head, with heat in a building. For them this vision feels farther than the stars in the sky, but maybe, just maybe, a stranger will step forward for them too.