I wondered what they would think about a portly black cat from a nice home that had all the food, toys and love a domesticated feline could ever want. They would see my good fortune in my round tummy and silky fur as soon as I walked through the gate. But I had nothing to fear from Big Dog, Holly, Sable and Topaz, just some of the many dogs residing at the Rudozem Street Dog Rescue Centre in Bulgaria. These dogs get so excited when they see a new face because they know it means lots of love and attention, but life was very different for every one of these animals before they were rescued. This is not the place to go into details but the cruelty and neglect that these courageous canines have endured goes beyond my comprehension to the further reaches of the darkest souls. This is why it filled my purring heart with joy to see Dazzle and Kalahni swishing their tails with delight as they chased their battered plastic ball across the yard looking plump and fluffy.
I travelled through cities like Sofia and Plovdiv to get to my destination and watched the scenery morph from concrete jungles into the stunning landscapes that surround the shelter. Thick forests of bristle-coned pine trees in every shade of green looked 500 feet tall and mountains so high they were capped by snow and obscured by wispy clouds that floated across this part of the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria near the Greek border. I walked along the stony edge of a lively river that surged past the shelter with Albert, Khaleesi and Big Dog and they all laughed at me when I meticulously shook and licked each paw dry after our trek. I helped bath Pippa, a cute long-haired red-head who had got in a mess and I cleaned Stanley the puppy’s wound so that he could heal and be introduced to some new playmates, like Boomer, Punch and Wills, a litter of puppies found wandering around in the road.
It’s not easy taking a traumatised animal with no reason to trust people and helping it grow into the loving and loyal hound it was always meant to be. But Rudozem Street Dog Rescue is a place of refuge for humans and animals alike, a place of hope and restoration, of dependability and determination. And I was proud and honoured to be a part of it. RSDR founders Tony and Diane Rowles, whose commitment to waifs and strays is beyond measure, looked after me so well and I know there are many unseen hero’s working tirelessly behind the scenes to support their cause. My thanks to the lads working in the shelter who looked like scallywags from the wrong side of the tracks but who would have stood up to an angry crowd if it meant protecting the welfare of the streets cats and dogs. They cleared up the poo and kept me fed and watered so all I had left to do was the fun stuff – play, walk, talk and rub noses with the fantastic beasts at the Rudozem Street Dog Rescue.