More than one article can be written about the dire plight of stray dogs and cats that remain in Kazakh cities. It is one of the most underrated and under assessed issues current Kazakh society is facing. One can still find a few worthy reports, however rare and scattered they can be. Most of the information comes from social networks, forums and blogposts. Today the internet has virtually become a lifeline, where people share the photos of their lost pets; post about the strays that were found and need urgent help; deliver much needed info about the vet-clinics and the contacts of the shelters.

There are few types of shelter for dogs and cats that exist in Kazakhstan, predominantly around its two city giants Almaty and Astana. The first type is usually created and organised by few volunteers, rather than public or state organisations. Funded by the volunteers themselves these shelters most commonly have location issues, where building the actual shelter from the scratch is often required. Few of such initiatives come to an end within short period of time due to various reasons, the primary one being the lack of support both from the government and the general public. Some of the first such shelters include: Belyi Bim, Novy Shans, Kotopes, Ostrov Nadezhdy.
The second type can be called a one-man shelter, a concept that most Westerners would struggle with. A one-man shelter is literally a one-man shelter: it is created, funded and run by one single animal lover, usually the elderly, who cannot bear to leave stray dogs and cats on the streets to die. The elderly establish these shelters within their very own homes. Needless to say they remain under the state radar and never receive any official assistance, financially or legally. They usually get help from similar animal-lovers that may assist a little with money, pet food, quilts and towels, old kitchenware, etc. There are obvious limitations as to how many dogs/cats can such one-man shelter hold. These types of shelter also have a short lifetime.
Another type worth mentioning is so called temporary homing (perederzhka) for money. For example in 2012 to host a stray cost 3000-6000KZT per day or 13 British pounds with modern day conversion.
There is only one state-funded type that can hardly be called a shelter. State recruited professionals hunt the strays down (otlov) and bring them to secure houses, where they stay up until 3 days during which the owners are supposed to pick them up. If not found, they are to be put down. But even if the owner is actively searching, it is almost impossible to find the pet: 1) the owner may never find out that his pet was taken by state hunters; 2) there is more than one secure house to search from; 3) the animal may not be given the full 3 days to be found; 4) if the dog’s breed is an elite, high-profitable breed (like Malamute, Siberian Husky, Yorkshire terrier) it might long be sold to the black market and disappear without any trace.
Some shelters post the announcements about the strays to the relevant web-sites in hope to find them new homes: the dog/cat is free to be taken, however the future owner should sign a trusteeship agreement that is by no means is legally binding, which leaves the dog/cat totally dependent upon human will. Cases where strays are adopted and then either returned or dumped back to the streets are not uncommon.
Dogs and cats once left behind quickly turn towards their natural survival pattern and start uncontrollably reproducing, thus expanding the general numbers of the strays to rescue. Sterilization is expensive and cannot be accessed by many shelters. Those few that can afford it still sterilise only too few animals. Most remain untampered.
No one in effect tried to count in percentages the chances for success of these strays. The chances for the pets to find their former owners are pretty slim. Reasons for that are: the owners themselves had abandoned the pets; too much time passed and the owners had moved on and or changed the location; inadequate information available about finding the missing pet.
Some shelters overfill their limited resources and capacities: bringing over 150 dogs to the shelter that can contain max 60. As a result this leads to ever-growing costs, stretching thin both available resources and manpower. A huge issue common for all types of shelter is how to deal with the damaged animals; some of them had road accidents, or have been in fights with other dogs, or were physically abused. Many come with the difficult fighting wounds and scars; many need urgent deworming both internal and external; some animals arrive pregnant and in need of prompt medical care. Most of the drugs and medicine are expensive and sometimes hard to find. Sometimes shelters approach the vet-clinics to treat the dogs using credit. All the care and handling normal pets find at home are in the gravest of deficits, even the basics like grooming, cutting nails, washing and feeding.
The tragic side of it is that people prefer adopting stray dogs and cats already sterilised and without any serious health problems to avoid any unnecessary costs. Thus all those shelters, apart from the state-funded, automatically transform into rescue centres as well. Volunteers in their own cars drive back and forth between vet-clinics and the shelters, in some cases accumulating personal significant debts with the former ones.
There is another dark side of the story concerning the first-type shelters. Stray cats and dogs flow into the shelter in hope of finding new homes or long lost owners or to alleviate the physical sufferings, even if temporarily. Unfortunately, some people have turned the situation into a lucrative business: they acquire relatively healthy pups and young adults for free pretending to be an animal lover and dog caretaker and later sell them back to future naïve customers. The ones they fail to receive profit from end up again as strays or worse.
It appears that helping the strays in Kazakhstan is like using a bucket with a hole in its bottom to clear the water from a fast sinking boat. However, animal lovers are persevering and trying to do their best despite all the obstacle and hardships. And they will not give up.

WWW.OCAMAGAZINE.COM #23 AUTUMN 2016  TEXT BY By Zhulduz Baizakova