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Shelter Spotlight: Saving Suffering Strays, Bosnia

By Ana Johnston

Stray dogs live a very hard life in Sarajevo, the capitol city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Abandoned and ignored, hated by many who consider them a nuisance, they have to live through the cruelty, the heartless dog catchers and the public “shelters” that are just a death sentence for the unfortunate animals that end up there. They live short lives, starving, tortured and killed for no reason, considered worthless beings that need to be eliminated by any means.

The war that affected the former Yugoslavia in the 90s caused lots of pain, suffering and devastation to humans but it also affected animals as they were abandoned by their owners when life became too hard and food was scarce. Animals had to learn to fend for themselves with no food or water, lost in a dangerous city where kindness was rare and brutality too common. During those horrific times Milena Malesevic, fueled by her compassion and love for animals, began feeding the abandoned dogs that nobody wanted. She just could not walk away from these innocent creatures that after so many years of loyalty to their owners now faced a life of hunger, cold and cruelty.

Fortunately the war ended and, while people worked hard to bring back a sense of normalcy to daily life, these abandoned animals became silent victims of the war. Nobody wanted them as the process of rebuilding the country began and they became unwelcomed creatures, considered in many cases a nuisance, a pest that had to be exterminated. Dogs were shot and poisoned daily and many were injured from deliberate car hit-and-runs. Milena understood that somebody had to care for these creatures and decided that she was the person who had to do something to help. Thus, for the last 20 years, Milena Malesevic has continued this mission of caring for the stray dogs of Sarajevo. She has devoted her life to save these dogs of nobody; animals with no homes and no hope until she arrives with her kind and loving smile and her car loaded with food for the animals that depend on her to put some food in their belly and to receive some compassionate care.

Milena is, in most cases, the only hope for these dogs. Known by her supporters as the Angel of Sarajevo, this woman has dedicated her life to save as many stray dogs as she can. She works alone, day and night, with no breaks or vacation. Many people hate her for what she does as they believe strays should be killed rather than be neutered or spayed and others make fun of her for caring about the stray animals, but none of that has stopped Milena; the dogs need her and that is the only thing that matters.

As word of her work traveled, many people from other countries began supporting her efforts. She has now a Facebook page run by volunteers living in other countries who have visited her and have seen firsthand the commitment of Milena towards these animals. Thanks to awareness of her work, during the last few years, Milena was able to find homes for over 350 stray dogs in several countries. They now live in loving homes where they are safe from the cruelty and indifference that is so common in Sarajevo. There are many stories with happy endings because of her care and devotion to the animals. There are still many to be saved and sometimes it seems like a non-ending task but that will not stop Milena. Bosnia is in the process of approving an amendment to the law that will make legal to kill strays after 14 days if nobody claims them, which could mean that all these dogs that Milena cares for could be killed, making her work even more difficult and heartbreaking; but this woman doesn’t give up easily. She loves these animals and they love her and as long as she is breathing, the dogs in Sarajevo will have an angel watching over them: Milena, the Angel of Sarajevo.

To learn more about Milena’s work, you can visit her Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/SavingSufferingStraysSarajevo

Note of the author: This year, I had the privilege of visiting this lady two times during my trips to Europe in May and November and I could see by myself all the wonderful work she does. All donations to Milena are used entirely to buy dog food and to pay for vet care for the animals. If you would like to make a donation so she can continue her mission of feeding and saving the stray dogs of Sarajevo, you can send it via PayPal to [email protected].