Working in dog rescue – Eve from Underdog International
I was eighteen when I first became immersed in the world of animal rescue. I’ve always been a huge animal lover and as a child because I wasn’t allowed any pets I had to make do with raising ladybird larvae, keeping a farm of snails in a cabinet in the back yard, hatching stick insects and releasing Cinnabar moths I’d collected as caterpillars. You can imagine my delight when our cellar flooded and we found a frog down there! I studied dog breeds religiously as I was growing up and I was fiercely jealous when my cousins welcome a Labrador into their family. As much as I wrote ‘a dog’ on the top of my Christmas list each year, my parents were not being persuaded.
At school I vividly remember being told that working with animals wasn’t a realistic option for me unless I excelled in Sciences, which I did not, at all. My hopes of being a vet fizzled out and I put working with animals on the backburner since it seemed so out of reach. From that point onwards I had no idea what I was planning to do in terms of a career but I muddled through college with reasonable grades and went on to Sheffield Hallam University to study English. I’d just finished my first year there when I went to go and visit my dad who was based in Cyprus. I’d been to Cyprus a number of times before this particular trip, but this time I decided I was going to visit the local dog pound.
I don’t exactly know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I saw. Around seventy dogs were living in a fenced off area owned by the council, chained to recycling bins and decaying wooden kennels. It was impossible to ignore the smell of faeces and almost impossible to avoid treading in the vast amount of it that was scattered all over the floor. Smaller dogs were housed together in small compounds surrounded by chain-link fence and the sound of their pitiful howls bounced off the corrugated metal that was attached haphazardly to various parts of the pen to provide shelter. But above all, the most notable thing was how friendly all the dogs were. Despite their miserable living quarters their tails were wagging and they were desperate to meet me.
There were only a handful of volunteers present to help these particular dogs and it was at this point I said to them ‘I’ll do something to help’. I didn’t know what I intended to do to help but I really wanted to stand by my word. I’d taken my camera with my on my visit and as I flicked through the photos I’d taken I thought maybe Instagram was the way to go – it seemed like the ideal platform. I set up an account, uploaded some photos, chose some suitable hashtags and within a week I’d accumulate hundreds of followers, which shortly turned into thousands. I worked out an adoption process and I was soon rehoming dog after dog from Cyprus to countries such as the UK, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany. Meanwhile, I was feeling pretty uninspired by my English degree and was well on my way to failing my second year on the course.
A few months later my account was spotted by Nadine Kayser. She was in the process of founding an animal welfare organisation based in London and she called me one evening inviting me down to meet her. We hit it off instantly, and since then we have established two registered charities. Just a year ago we set up Underdog International, a unique charity the develops the relationship between children and dogs. I work as Head of Adoptions, doing what I’ve loved doing for the past five years. My role is to match prospective adopters to their ideal dog and I moved to Cyprus eighteen months ago in order to get more involved on the ground with the dogs, as we facilitate a lot of our adoptions from the island. It’s tough seeing dogs suffer at the hands of humans and I’ve seen some of the most cruel scenes in Lebanon, China, Romania and Greece during my travels, but the resilience of these dogs is unbelievable and seeing them bounce back when they find their new homes is by far the most rewarding part of what I do.
I regularly find dogs when I’m out and about, such as Finn, who I luckily came across after making a wrong turn in the woods, Penny, who I was so worried was going to get run over I had to stop the traffic to catch her, and Freddie, who was desperately wandering around looking for affection before narrowly avoiding being hit by a woman with an umbrella. Once they’ve been rescued it takes a little time to prepare them to travel. They need vaccinations, blood tests, neutering, microchipping and treating for parasites. Then we issue their passport and legal paperwork which allows them to travel into the UK without quarantine.
Underdog International not only finds homes for dogs from countries where the animal welfare laws are poor, but we also train therapy dogs to go into schools, develop youth outreach programmes, and more recently we have set up Underdog Unity, which matches volunteers with people in their area needing help following the impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic has impacted our day to day running and it means that there are no flights running from any of the countries we save dogs from. At the moment, we have around 40 dogs with new families waiting for them to arrive, but no way of them travelling until the suspended services resume. In order to keep helping where we can we have redirected our resources to Underdog Unity and we have hundreds of volunteers ready to help those in need whether that’s with shopping for supplies, walking their dog, picking up medication from the vets, or even fostering a dog for a period of time if their owner is sick.
Despite being told working with animals was out of my reach, I stumbled across the most perfect line of work for me initially by volunteering the handful of skills I had. I’ve always loved dogs but I never imagined I would be finding homes for them! The benefit of finding something you have passion and drive for is that it impacts other aspects of your life considerably. After going on to fail my second year of university, I chose to write about my involvement in animal rescue for my final year and somehow bagged a first class degree by doing so. It shows when you’re happy doing something that’s significant to you!