When expats meet ex-pets
Where would be the last place that you would expect expatriates in Belgium to be spending their time? Volunteering at an animal shelter perhaps? We visit Help Animals in Anderlecht.
Do brown eyes and a wagging tail make you smile? Do you miss that warm feeling of having a purring furry friend curled up on your lap? Several expats seem to have answered yes to both and used Help Animals not only as a place to pamper pooches but to maintain a busy social life at the same time.
Help Animals is a rescue centre for abandoned dogs and cats, where you can adopt a new pet or volunteer to take care of them at the centre. It’s a non-profit organisation, which founded its rescue centre over 20 years ago.
Dozens of animals receive good care behind its bright green gates in Anderlecht. The centre relies on donations and volunteers to keep going - including help from many expat volunteers from around the world.
As soon as I step into the dog department, wet noses are pushed to the cage doors and eager tails are wagging. A small, black pinser-type dog bursting with energy is bouncing like a yo-yo to catch my attention.
Dogs are usually placed in separate enclosures, but during busy seasons, like summer vacations, several dogs share one enclosure. When I’m visiting the centre, many enclosures are empty because volunteers have taken the dogs for a walk.
Milla Schoonjans is an active volunteer at the centre. When she moved to Belgium from Finland, she couldn’t keep a pet of her own. Milla found that volunteering was a good way to spend time with animals.
"Help Animals is the only rescue centre in Brussels where animals are not put down, even if nobody adopts them. I joined in as a volunteer, because I wanted to support this kind of organisation," she says.
Last year Milla and her husband Michel decided to get a dog. They went to the centre to look for puppies after vacation season.
"There were three small labrador-bordercollie puppies, one of them a black-and-white female. We tested her and she had a wonderful character, but we hadn’t thought about adopting one right away, so we hesitated and walked back and forth to the cage for at least an hour and a half. Other people at the centre were already starting to give us suspicious looks! But then we decided to adopt Odea," Milla says.
She and Odea are now actively training agility and obedience.
"Odea cost EUR 230 including its care at the centre, a microchip and a health check. The price is always the same, no matter how long the dog has spent at the centre. I was happy to pay it because the money will go for other animals’ care," Milla says.
Besides making new animal friends, volunteering at Help Animals can have a positive effect on social life too.
"I have become good friends with many people at the rescue centre and at the obedience training. When you’re with a dog, people approach you easier and I find myself more talkative too," Milla says.
Besides dogs there are plenty of cats at the centre. They live all together in one room with a yard. Elegant jet-black, slender bodies and long tiger-striped tails mix in the hustle and bustle.
When I look through the glass door of the cattery, more than 20 pairs of oval eyes attach to mine. Inside they come to push my legs and beg for tender strokes. A white cat sitting serenely like a sphinx on its shelf catches my attention. They are all desperately seeking a human of their own.
Robert Waldmann has been a volunteer at Help Animals for three-and-a-half years.
"I have a German shepherd myself, so I thought why not help the dogs at the rescue centre when I have to walk my own dog anyway? I started to come here on Saturdays to take dogs for a walk," Robert says.
"I think Help Animals is doing a good job. They don’t have a lot of funds, but they try their best. It is obvious that they really care for the animals and try to find the right family for every animal, not just give them away to anybody."
Help Animals doesn’t receive any communal or state subsidies. The centre welcomes all dogs and cats regardless of their age and tries to find new homes for them.
Volunteers are very important for the centre. They walk the dogs, play with the cats or help in administration and maintenance work. You can become a member with a minimum EUR 13 annual fee or donate animal food, stationary etc.
It is also open every day except Sundays from 10am to 5pm at rue Bollinckx 203, 1070 Brussels. Lend a helping hand by becoming a member or donating items such as cat litter, used towels and blankets or tins of cat food.
For more information, log on towww.helpanimals.be
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