A trembling Tamara Tarnawska (left in picture above) held her breath in the bitterly cold air outside a utility factory in Pyrogovo, Ukraine as tears spread like vines down her face. A frosty glove pressed against her lips helped to bottle a scream as she peered wide-eyed through a hole in the concrete wall. She and her fellow undercover journalists had been secretly laying in wait for days, hoping to gather undercover evidence of a 50-year-long crime.
As motion inside the building began, no words were exchanged among the investigators. Though this would be one of the most excruciating days of their lives, they held their boots to the ground and let the cameras roll for the sake of the thousands of animals who depended on them and them alone. Little did Tamara know that this moment, right here in the cold, would soon become the lightning rod for the rescue of some 20,000 animals.
Inside the factory stray dogs were being sorted into two groups. The dogs and cats with plain or imperfect fur were moved to one area where they were dispatched with blows from a metal pipe. The dogs and cats whose fur was sleek and nicely colored were moved across the floor in a separate direction and their coats taken from them in a manner one dares not describe. The factory workers here were the worst form of monsters, collecting stray dogs under the guise of ‘public safety’ and selling their pelts for profit.
“That same day we showed the film to the authorities of Kiev, and they accused us of fabricating it,” Tamara explains in an exasperated voice that hints at the longevity of her struggle for justice. “After that meeting, we showed the footage on all channels in Western Europe.”
A global uproar erupted overnight with thousands of letters of protest sent to the mayors in Munich, Leipzig, Edinburg, Vienna and Geneva, all asking for diplomatic intervention. And despite various attempts to urge authorities in Ukraine to abolish the unofficial fur factory, the cruelty continued.
It wasn’t until a series of fiery protests in front of Ukrainian embassies throughout Europe that there was a shift in sensitivity among a handful of Ukrainian officials in March of 1997.
“I received an invitation from Mayor of Kiev to visit and meet him,” Tamara explains. But what happened when she arrived was beyond her wildest dreams.
Turns out that the mayor had a plan to turn the killing factory in nearby Pyrogovo into a place of refuge for homeless dogs and cats. He brought Tamara back to the very spot where she had filmed the cruelty and offered the animal welfare society the property to create the country’s first official animal shelter.
With help from a legion of animal charities across Europe, Tamara and her fellow rescuers did indeed develop that animal shelter, which has been growing strong for 17 years and taken in an astonishing 20,000 animals during that time. Many supporters are moved by the fact that, were it not for Tamara’s intervention, many of those same dogs and cats would have entered the factory for its original purpose.
Given this sobering contrast between dark and light and a profound perspective on Tamara’s legacy, shelter volunteers recently reached out to the Harmony Fund animal charity asking for help. Increased political instability has led to a dramatic increase in homeless animals in Kiev and the shelter is having difficulty meeting its monthly costs, which include: $1,500 for food (the rest is donated), $1,200 for winter electricity, $850 for wood and coal for heating, $500 for medications and $400 for fuel.
Shelter SOS Kiev has launched major rescue campaigns to protect dogs during municipal poisoning campaigns. They’ve hosted free spay/neuter clinics on a wide scale and they’ve even begun an education program to try to create the atmosphere of responsible pet ownership in the community. While Tamara continues to act as a staunch reformer for animals (even finding herself in the middle of the fray during violent demonstrations in the Ukraine in December), she also bares the very steep financial responsibility of managing a shelter for some 1,300 animals at any given time.
For several years, the European charities who contributed to the initial development of the shelter also continued to fund its daily operations. As economic woes brought a deep dip in donations beginning in 2007, support fell sharply and has not returned. Shelter SOS Kiev is faced with significant financial struggle as they provide care for not only the animals inside of their compound, but also promise a chance of aid for those still on the streets.
The Harmony Fund international animal charity is throwing an arm around Tamara’s shelter with a fundraising drive to buy basic supplies such as pet food, litter and vaccines to sustain this headquarters of compassion as the larger battle for animal welfare wages on. From the smallest of newborn kittens to the grayest of wobbly old street dogs, this shelter provides the first touch of love to so many animals who never knew such a thing existed in the hands of humans.
International Campaign Launched to Help Tamara’s Animals – Photos
To learn more about the mission to help the Shelter SOS Kiev and to see more beautiful photos, click here.