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The dog shelter in Kazanlak

The dog shelter in Kazanlak

Before my project here strated, I was asking my boss if it would be possible to volunteer in the dog shelter nearby and she said it wouldn’t be a problem. I was very happy about it as I was searching in the first place  for a project related to the animals’ welfare. Once I came to Bulgaria, we called the shelter asking if it would be possible to come some times per week to help, but they immediately rejected the offer. I thought maybe they have enough people to take care for the animals and I accepted the situation as I took in the dog and started to care for it (more about her in another post). My first visit of the shelter was when I took her to sterilization. She was not very socialized and cam dog, so it was impossible to calm her down and put her a tranquilizator for the operation. The staff did it just there at the parking lot and when she fell asleep they took her in a will barrow to the operation room (which I luckily didn’t see). The ignorance of the staff broke my heart and I found everything very unprofessional. While being there I  managed to pet some little puppies which just strated to walk and with touching them I noticed they were full of ticks and many of them had diarea. It didn’t seem as very healthy and caring treatment of the poor creatures.

I thought that they don’t have much money and they are doing their best but then realizde that the austrian foundation is sponsoring them. Little by little I started to understand why they didn’t like the idea about me or anybody else volunteering them. I would probabley know too much and see where does the money go. I am not sure about this but I think the truth its not far away from my assumptions.

Also the lady who works there doesn’t seem very much of an animal lover, which I consider a big problem as it is hard to be good and nice at your work place if you are not happy at doing it. Maybe she is an amazing dog care-taker and I just don’t understand the Bulgarian mentality and expresing of their emotions. But when she screamed at the poor dogs it didn’t seem that she would be very attached to them. I am sure she is a good person but she was not born for this work.

I am asking myself what and how could I do to change something but first I would need the support of people with the same mentality. Let’s see what future brings.

Molly, the Gipsy Princess

Molly, the Gipsy Princess

It have been almost eight months since I have been living here and a half of my staying was fulfilled by the presence of my dog Molly, The Gipsy Princess. You might read her story and think it is not that extraordinary, and I would agree, but still like to share it.

It was February when I came here with suitcases full of hopes, expectations and dreams to work in a local dog shelter, independently of my project. Soon I realized that the life for dogs and cats here is not what I expected or wanted to face. I learned soon that beating accompanied with screaming instead of petting, being chained all day long, wandering around the streets abandoned are usual things which dogs in Bulgaria are facing in their daily life. The sad reality really shocked me and I was eager to help in a local dog shelter, which I soon realized it was not possible.

Somehow I wanted to change the situation or help as much as I could so when my boss asked me to take a dog from the village which was recently chained, for walks, I agreed without thinking twice. When I first met Molly in the second half of February, she was around 7 months old puppy, full of energy and potential to be a great dog, but she was missing somebody to understand her or give her attention and help her to get rid of the huge amount of energy she had. As I got there she went crazy as she basically did it with everybody who noticed her and came to her, started to jump and bite while playing and at the same time trying to get off the 2 meters long chain she was condemned to. The first walk with her was pretty short and extremely exhausting as she was pulling the chain and barking to all moving stuff around us. Obviously she suffered the lack of education and socialization which was very bed combination with the amount of accumulated energy she got during her two months on the chain. Maybe for somebody doesn’t sound that bad (for me is unacceptable), but for her was the worst as she is a mix of a hunting dog with extra amount of energy and need to run in the forest and explore it.

The second walk happened in the forest and I immediately saw the difference in her behavior. Forest seemed to be her place, her shelter, she felt much calmer and as consequence more obedient. On the next walk I tried to release her from the chain to see what would happen and the result was shocking. She was literally following us like a shadow all way long. Maybe because she was not used to the area and she was afraid or she just felt freedom without a leash and no need to escape. I was pretty sure that this was what she needed. Freedom. That’s why I decided to take her from her former family and took her to our place. We kept her inside for first two weeks and it seemed impossible to calm her down, she was jumping, biting and destroying everything. I didn’t want to lose hope and I wanted to give her more time, but time was not on our side as our landlord decided that house is for humans and not for dogs (which is very common Bulgarian village mentality about pets). I had to put her outside, of course on the chain, because our garden doesn’t have a fence and she would escape leaving her untied. This was shattering/destructive for her as I knew it would be. She needed not just freedom from chain but also a lot of attention, time dedicated to her education and feeling to belong. She had a strong wish and necessity of being in a human company but all these was very hard to achieve if she couldn’t be inside with me. I also had to work every day till at least 17 o’clock, so she spent the majority of the days alone and abandoned like before. It was devastating for her and for me because I felt that I couldn’t give her what she needed and I was getting stressed with every day more and sick of desire to find her a new, safe and kind home. The only thing I could give to her were two walks per day and regular meals which she was missing before. One of her “bad habits” was also greediness.

With time she got better of course, even the circumstances were not perfect. We always went for a walk to the forest as in the streets there were too many stressful things we could meet (people, other dogs and cars – she greeted all of them with very loud barking and jumping, desiring to run after them). In the forest she really felt relaxed, she was biting and jumping less, in general she was exploring, smelling and running after birds and other animals which showed on her very strong instinct corresponding to hunting dogs. I was happy that she progressed, I managed to teach her the basic things, like to seat down, to lay down, to wait for her food (it didn’t really work) or to come to me when I called her. Of course it didn’t always work, it depended on her concentration and distractions around her. We were like this for few months, I had ups and downs, I felt anxious and a bad person because I felt I wasn’t giving her the most of me, I felt she needed me and somehow I was not there for her. Which was understandable, I couldn’t because of work, I was also travelling which was another source of stress just thinking who will take care of her during the weekend. I was really stressed and sad about the situation and I think she felt my worries which of course influenced in her. I couldn’t manage the situation anymore and I was thinking to give her to the dog shelter where I was pretty sure they would euthanize her (that’s why I really didn’t want to do it).

Than the month of July came and I had some visits from Slovenia. A friend which already came in May and was thinking to take her, decided the last minute to do it in July when she came for the second time. Of course everything was last minute, we didn’t have any documents or vaccinations or anything done, so it was a long and busy weekend. Somehow I managed to take care of everything (we bought the cage the day of the departure) and on the 26th of July Molly finally headed to her forever home (she didn’t know back than that it will be forever as my friend wanted to try to find her another home).

She became a room-mate of two another dogs which she had to learn to tolerate and respect, I think she is almost there. Somehow she didn’t really respect people’s or dogs’ comfort zone and she invaded it many times, which everybody were not happy about. She progressed a lot since then, just taking her off the chain and letting her being around people constantly, have led to a miracle. With the big effort and strong will of my friend she stopped to bark at the cars and people, she still has some issues with respecting the other dogs though. Now they are attending a training, so soon she will become a dog everybody would die for 🙂 I am dying of the desire to see her, but at the same time I am afraid that I will want to take her back. Here goes her facebook page where you can find crazy videos and proofs about her amazing progress.

This is a sad story with a very happy ending, but many dogs from here (Shipka or Bulgaria in general) don’t have the luck, Molly had. Therefore is very important to spread the awareness about stories similar to this one and someday maybe people will open their eyes and see that dogs as cats or any other animals are living creatures which need and deserve respect, care and appropriate amount of time. If they are not wiling to give these things to the animal, they should really reconsider their decision of having one.


The first month in Shipka

The first month in Shipka

I am Eva, an EVS volunteer from Slovenia and I will try to present my first impressions about living in Bulgaria, more precisely in Shipka. I heard about EVS volunteering quite some time ago and decided to try to find a suitable project for me. As I no longer had desire to continue my studies in my home country, I started to look for a project and after one year of rejections I saw a short term project about permaculture and community building and I decided to apply. Unfortunately they have told me that volunteers already have been chosen, but they offered me a long term project instead. That’s why I like to say that Bulgaria chose me. I didn’t know what to expect from the country or the project, I came without any expectations.

The day of departure finally came and I took a bus, full of different feelings, a mixture of fear and excitement. Fear because I didn’t know much about Bulgaria and excitement because of a new adventure. After a 14 hours long bus trip I finally arrived to Sofia where my doubts and concerns started when I realised it was quite different (more chaotic) than my country. I am not saying it is a bad thing, I just expected it more similar. I have never been in Bulgaria before and shocks just didn’t seem to have an end. First thing that shook me up was all the rubbish lying around the city and nobody seemed to care about it. The second thing were the stray dogs around the Central train station, resting in the shadows, hoping for some food and cuddling which you can’t really see in Slovenia. When I tried to buy a ticket for my almost final destination, Kazanlak, I realised nobody could speak English, so I had to use my non-existing Serbo-croatian to get a ticket. After successful purchase, I made sure that I took the right train and I tried to made myself comfortable in a compartment to get some sleep which I really needed. After around four hours of driving we arrived in Kazanlak, where my mentor picked me up and took us (me and my french flatmate) to our new home for nine months, Shipka.

I know I said I didn’t have any expectations, but definitely I didn’t imagine Shipka like this. I thought it would be bigger and healthier for our sociable life, but you can’t have everything you want in your life, they say. I soon realized it was a small village (don’t say it to the locals haha) with around one thousand of  inhabitants, where the air is fresh and silence is more silent if there is no bombing disturbing it. It is not a Civil war or anything similar going on, they are just trying new arms from the factory in Kazanlak. If you are new and you don’t know the reason of the sounds it can be quite scary (my flatmate thought it was a war going on) and unpleasant. But after a time living here you barely perceive the noise and if there is none, you start to be concerned if something is wrong. Besides the typical “shocks” as a Bulgarian shower or yes/no thing (when they say no they nod, and with yes they shake the  head) there were probably many things that we found strange at first, but got used to them. Not just to speak about “negative” sides of Shipka, I have to mention that people here (also in other parts of the country) are very nice and helpful if you need anything. Even if they don’t speak English, they would call their friends/family or whoever to help you. We have really nice neighbours but it’s just frustrating we can’t speak to them properly.  I think in general the most challenging thing for us was discovery that here are not much young people living in Shipka and the disappointment about non-existing nice bar where we could have a beer. For now this place remains our lovely house with the big terrace and garden where we grow our own vegetables.

Despite the lack of places for socialising, Shipka is a great place with peaceful atmosphere and a lot of nature and possibilities for hiking or other sports activities. If you love historical little towns it is great place to visit/live as it has many important monuments because of its reach history as a place where the battle of the independence from Ottoman Empire happened. Shipka monument which is situated on a peak nearby is a nice daily trip either walking or for adventurers by car. Also Bouzloudja the communist monument which is shaped like an UFO is very popular with tourists, but sadly it is becoming a ruin as the government doesn’t invest any money or interest in its renovation.

In general I am quite impressed about Bulgaria and its reach culture, except maybe chalga (the typical turbo folk Balkan music which is very popular here and also in Slovenia) hehe. Something which really surprised me is the interest of young people in their own culture and history and a desire to preserve it with creating folkloric groups and so on. I got an impression that people in general are very proud of their country as it is the oldest European country with its original name and they love to mention it. Also if you didn’t know a Bulgarian language arose first and Russian was developed from it 😉 Bulgaria is a beautiful country with many natural and historical sights and I can’t wait to discover it all!







First steps in Shipka

First steps in Shipka

My name is Antonin, I am 27 years old. I arrived in Shipka as european volunteer since one month and half. The european voluntary service is a program allowing to young people aged between 17 to 30 years to be involved in non-profit projects in Europe and different countries around the world. After completion of my studies and first work experiences with socio-cultural centres in rural areas, this program offers me the opportunity to discover a completely new working and living environment. I am involved in ”Open-mind project” whose aim is to encourage environmentally-sound practices and support the development of social and cultural life in the town of Shipka and its surroundings.

First Days, first impressions 

We arrived in Shipka the 17thof february after a harsh winter, according to the locals, and are accomodated in one of numerous little houses of the village. I arrived a friday evening and discovered the town after my awakening. Our balconey overhangs a little church and provide a surprising view on the tight network of little houses as well as fields and mountains which surround the village of Shipka. I still have the feeling to be in a new world at the sight of these colors, from numerous brown shades of the roofs of the houses and fields to the blue of the sky. With the coming of spring, the greening of fields and flowering of trees of the village are gradually adding in this picture.

On our first day, our guide Stelian leaded us to visit the Bouzludja monument, vestige of the communist period perched at 1400 metters of altitude, not far away from Shipka. This abandoned monument have something surrealistic when you know the communism only by way of books. In a dreamy mood it’s not hard to imagin science-fiction screenplays or just to think about all that may occured here. Stelian translated us the words scriptured on both sides of what was the entrance of the building : « On your feet, despised comrades . On your feet you slaves of labour . Downtrodden and humiliated, stand up against your enemy. »


On my second day in Shipka, I was in for an unexpected event…the war. On early morning, I first heard gunners noises, then I fell asleep again, thinking about a bad dream. Twenty minutes of sleep later, explosion followed explosion ! I leapt out of my bed and imediately rushed to the window. In front of, I realize how this reaction is stupid in case of gunfire. That’s sure, I will be one of first killed, my mind is not prepared for war ! No noise anymore…I finaly decided do go to have my breakfast. Later, we heard again detonations. I say to Eva that is probably to bring the avalanches down. Few days later, we learned that a weapon factory settled in Kazanlak take tests in the mountain. I finish to realize that I am far away from home.

Daily life in Shipka

Excepted bombs and gunner noises that we can hear some days at regular intervals, Shipka is a peaceful an pleasant place to live. We are living here since  more than one month. Most of time, we work at the preparation of the permaculture-garden were we go by foot, throught the central part of the town. Without speaking Bulgarian, it’s not always easy to communicate with the habitants. However, I am still pleasantly surprised by their reception. When we bump into a person on the street or from our garden, even if she looks at their feets or seemes concerned, a simple «dobar den ! » is suficient to get a broad smile, and sometime somehow to engage a conversation. I felt the same goodwill when I arrived in Sofia and had to ask for my way. Even if the persons I met almost didn’t speak english, they all wanted to help me and some stayed with me until I find my way.

That may sound banal but it’s what surpised me the most arriving in Bulgaria. Here in Shipka, It happened to met persons who didn’t now any word in english and continued to speak to me, knowing that I don’t speak the language. Even if the exact content of these conversations will remain a mystery, they make the daily life pleasant and suprising.

To live in rural areas in France and Bulgaria

The Shipka territory situation, at certain point of view, appears to me close to the village I was working in France. The main source of employment was not a weapon factory but a chimistry factory producing various components for the pharmaceutical and agri-food industry. The noises of bombs just replaced the pestilential smells emanating from the chimistry factory.

In Shipka, we principaly meet elderly people, some families and teenagers schooled in Kazanlak. The age group of 20-30 years old is almost absent. Like in France and others european countries, youth go on to study in large cities. However I can see in my country that in certain rural areas youth are returning to live in. These involved themeself in the preservation and enhancement of the environment and cultural patrimony of their territory, in new ways to produce or in various activities of social interest. In my view, these trends still relatively small are all signs that begin to be invented new ways to live and work in rural areas. I am convinced that the town of Shipka will undergo similar trends in more or less long term. These historical, cultural and environmental wealth are to important to remain ignored. I like to think that our work with ”open-mind” and inhhabitants of Shipka are a modest contribution to enhance all these potentials.