Opinion

Destination, Sarajevo: A Volunteer Vacation Culminating in a Dog Adoption

Big beautiful Elsa the rescued Sarajevo Street dog

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. June 24, 2019. If this idea of me doing a volunteer vacation sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ve seen me mention it on social media or in my spring editor’s letter for The Jewelry Book magazine.

I've landed in Sarajevo!! The countryside is so pretty.

I’ve landed in Sarajevo!! The countryside is so pretty.

I landed in Sarajevo on Saturday morning after a decadent week of vacation in Naxos, Greece. I’m here in the former war-torn country to work; I’m helping Milena Malesevich, the founder of Saving Suffering Sarajevo Strays (SSSS), with some of the hands-on rescue work she does with the many street dogs that proliferate in the country. Most will remember that it experienced a brutal war in the mid-90s. It’s still mind-boggling to realize that a genocide occurred here not too long ago. In the aftermath, pets were, understandably, left to fend for themselves, as the people struggled—and still struggle—to rebuild their lives.

Milena Malesevic the Sarajevo street dog rescuer. Milena is the founder of Saving Suffering Sarajevo Stray.

Milena Malesevic the Sarajevo street dog rescuer. Milena is the founder of Saving Suffering Sarajevo Strays.

Local government is unable to properly manage the strays or their care, so this is why Milena stepped up to help 30 years ago. She also never left Sarajevo during the war, and evidence of that riddles the side of her apartment building in the form of bullet holes. She and the dogs had each other for comfort while unspeakable tragedies occurred around them.

This is why I’m here—the situation is dire still. There are no networks to help like there are in the U.S. Plus, our last dog, Beasty, was a street dog from West Virginia. Milena is one woman operating on donations for three decades, saving dogs that look exactly like the type my husband and I love: big shepherd mixes. Taking one dog from her will make a difference in her life in ways that we can’t begin to understand. I hope that this modest little spotlight cast on her from my position as a jewelry journalist can help lead to more resources and awareness for the situation.

A common sight in Sarajevo: abandoned puppies.

A common sight in Sarajevo: abandoned puppies.

Same puppies now in Milena's flat. They must remain here until they are big enough to be flown to the United Kingdom or elsewhere for adoption.

Same puppies now in Milena’s flat. They must remain here until they are big enough to be flown to the United Kingdom or elsewhere for adoption.

I became aware of Milena through Facebook (Facebook page Saving Suffering Sarajevo Strays Facebook page ) about six years ago. From a distance, I’ve watched her feed many a stray dog, take injured dogs to the vet, post receipts for dog food purchases and veterinary care, pack her flat full of dogs plucked from certain death on the streets, build dog sanctuaries in the countryside. I’ve watched as her volunteer network of helpers grew alongside of her on-the-ground efforts. Several documentaries (here and here) have been made about Milena, another one  features her, she’s been written up in numerous media outlets (here and here ), and her efforts have garnered the fundraising support of English actor Peter Egan. Yes, I’m aware of scammers abroad who play on the emotions of others, but this lady is not one of them. 

Peter Egan with Milena Malesevic

Peter Egan with Milena Malesevic


I’ve also watched as individuals from all over the world participated in volunteer vacations with her. Now it’s my privilege to be among them. By the time you read this, I’ll have spent the weekend doing heavy lifting at her kennels, feeding street dogs, scooping poop, and anything else that she asks me to do. I’ll also be choosing our next family dog. We’re seriously considering an oversize female (51 kilos!) or a sweet male who’s a bit smaller at about 30 kilos. Milena says the female’s personality is amazing, so we’re leaning towards her. Please check in with me on Instagram stories to see the work and the dogs. Click on my Sarajevo Stories Highlight to see the experience unfold.

Ivo is a male we're considering for adoption.

Ivo is a male we’re considering for adoption.

Elsie is a massive female we're considering for adoption.

Elsie is a massive female we’re considering for adoption.

Look who got a summer hair cut. I barely recognize her!!

This girl is BIG and sweet!!


Interested in helping? I hope so!!! The easiest way is to donate to a fundraiser that Jeff and I have organized for Milena. Find it on GoFundMe by clicking here. ANY AMOUNT DONATED is greatly appreciated. These funds are just for Milena’s rescue work, including food and veterinary care. She’s also in the early stages of planning to build a more formal kennel structure to house the dogs in inclement weather. Right now, the kennels are all outdoors with simple housing.
Interested in adopting a dog? You don’t have to fly here to get one. Milena and her helpers ship dogs all over the world. See the entire list of dogs available for adoption online.

Saving Suffering Sarajevo Strays helps street dogs

If you’ve read here to the end, thank you. Dog rescue and helping others who choose to do what is right when no one is looking are are two moves I’m passionate about. And while a three-day poop-scooping holiday is an unlikely way for powerful change to occur, who knows? I’ll chalk up this adventure to a baby step in Milena’s bigger picture of saving lives that are truly suffering in Sarajevo.


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