The grounds of the shelter are secluded at the end of a long dirt road on the Buda side, in District XXII. Hörömpöly needs an hour by train and bus to get there. She is in her mid-30s and goes as often as she can, usually twice a week, to walk the dogs. It is a volunteer service she does alongside her job as a yoga teacher. Even from a distance, the four-legged friends bark excitedly when they see her coming.

Forty adult dogs are waiting at the Herosz shelter to be taken for a walk. They sit in large grey kennels, and a list shows which animals went out last. "They are bored," regrets Hörömpöly. The dogs jump to the lattice doors and wrestle for her attention as she enters the kennel. Today "Pupi" is allowed out into nature. "I can do a maximum of six walks, say six dogs a day," says Hörömpöly. "After that I am completely exhausted. One dog per person is allowed, everything else is too risky," she says. Besides her, Herosz has some other volunteers.


Four-legged friends and exotics

Since the 1990s Gábor Szekeres has managed the animal welfare association. On its 7000 square metres there live the dogs, 50 cats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, guinea pigs, pigs and a boa constrictor. Two sheep, a lamb and two goats have their own kingdom on the big meadow in front of the cages and kennels. Most animals were neglected or mistreated and eventually rescued by the association. Some come from the street, others from deceased holders. Also, sometimes dogs are brought back by overstressed adopters.

Particularly exotic specimens, such as the eight-year-old boa constrictor, which currently lives in Szekeres' office, pose new challenges to the home time and time again. They need special feeding and care. Even an owl with a broken wing and a skunk have been aided at Herosz. As Hörömpöly. explains: "In case of doubt, we have to research for ourselves what food the birds, snakes and rodents need."

In addition to the organisational effort, the care of the animals is a major cost factor. Feed for the small animals is usually donated from a manufacturer, Szekeres says. Most of the cost is the large amount of hay for the sheep and the vet bills for vaccinations and castrations. The house on the grounds must be manned day and night, so the shelter employs two full-time carers. Their pay, electricity and water are among the fixed expenses.

Above all, the association is financed by the one percent of income tax that Hungarians can donate for any purpose. Private donations help and pet owners going on holiday can pay to have their animals cared for. As a small shelter Herosz does not have the money for an advertising campaign. Mainly they use Facebook to post photos and attract attention.


Older animals are unpopular

Also, the shelter has a space problem. "Some keepers ask if they can give their animals to us but we have maximum space for 80 dogs," says Hörömpöly. "Sometimes we have to reject animals because we are already full. Then the owners come back at night and just throw the dogs over the three-metre-high fence. This is of course very dangerous." On occasion, five to ten puppies arrive at the same time.

Herosz has set rules for adoption so that people do not act hastily and return animals they have taken. New owners should have financial security and a permanent residence, and be willing to spend a lot of time with the animal. In the case of behavioural problems, they should go to dog school, for example.

There is a nominal fee of EUR 50 per animal. There is a high demand for puppies and kittens. Puppies' chances of adoption are already significantly worse at the age of six months. With luck, two or three older dogs would find a new home each year. But older dogs also have their advantages, Hörömpöly believes: "It is true that puppies completely adapt to the person who raises them. However, having a puppy requires much more attention, much like a baby. Older dogs are calmer and already socialised.


The problem is behind the walls

"The reason why we have to save so many animals is not the street dogs and cats," she says. "The problem lies behind the walls, in the owners' homes." Some people buy extraordinary animals that they do not know how to handle. Others underestimate the expense or cost of having a pet.

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Villages are a particular roblem, with unvaccinated and uncastrated animals. They simply are not taken to a vet. "There are many poor people, I can see that, but I do not accept it as an excuse to treat the animals badly," Hörömpöly says. "People need to be made more aware of respect for life." To raise awareness, the shelter invites schoolchildren to learn what it means to take responsibility for an animal and what difficulties can occur.

For Mónika Hörömpöly and Gábor Szekeres this is a very important part of their work. "Especially in the older generation, animals that are not livestock are not valued," says the volunteer. "The dogs and cats are not considered as family members, they just live side by side. We believe that such programs will change the mindset of many people."

It is her successes that have sustained her through her eight years with Herosz. "I would say that I have seen many acts of ignorance. Only the good deeds of people helped me to endure that. I have known some older dogs for years. If one of them is finally adopted, that's a really great feeling. I pray every day that this happens more often."


Animal welfare association Herosz
Budapest, XXII. District, Nyel utca 239
See www.herosz.hu or the Herosz Facebook page


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