The fact that you are on this site and reading this feature article suggests you have at least heard of the K-9 Angels. TV wildlife presenter and conservationist Anneka Tanaka-Svenska, singer Pola Pospieszalska and ex-model Victoria Eisermann came together over one dog; named Angel. Angel was in Romania and in desperate need of help, and when Anneka saw this dog’s plight on Facebook, she decided she was going to do something about it. The three women had known each other for some time through the showbiz circuit and their mutual devotion to animal welfare. So Anneka knew where to go for support. Once these three got their heads and hearts together, it wasn’t long until the K-9 Angels were born.
They didn’t let a small detail such has having no idea how to start an animal welfare organisation stop them. Through dedication to effect change they ploughed ahead, learning as they went from friends who had done it already, ‘Will Travers, who is CEO for Born Free, has been amazing with advice for us three,’ said Anneka, while recalling the early days of the K-9 Angels. I say ‘early days’ but in truth, the days are early still; K-9 Angels only began in November 2011. But despite not yet being out of their puppyhood, the group has an impressive achievement record already. ‘Of course, our situation is changing constantly and our connections and what we are achieving grows daily, but so far we have rescued about a hundred and twenty dogs on our own and about three hundred in combination with other charities.’ That is an inspiring set of figures for anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference. In the space of just nine months, three women have not only rescued an incredible amount of dogs between them, but they have also managed to get themselves noticed by one of the most powerful men in show business; Mr Simon Cowell.
The media mogul gave the K-9 Angels a shout out on the Britain’s Got Talent final after Ashleigh and Pudsey’s winning performance. But despite the girls being well connected in showbiz, Simon’s shout was not requested. It was completely his doing. It all started following a tweet where he slammed the dog meat industry in Asia after seeing a disturbing article in a newspaper. ‘He tweeted his disgust, so we returned with a tweet telling him that this was an area we are tackling. He then tweeted that information to his followers. Then, out the blue, a couple of weeks later he gave his huge shout out on Britain’s Got Talent, which we were unaware of until it happened,’ explained Anneka.
Simon is famous for his fondness of dogs and it seems he familiarised himself with the action the K-9 Angels are taking, possibly checked out this website, and was impressed enough to give them a mention on one of the biggest TV shows in the country. Simon’s influence is so great, that the website crashed under the sudden surge of interest he generated. The girls were inundated with donations, offers of help, and homes for dogs, ‘Simon bumped the K-9 Angels up to a status we weren’t at before. We have big plans for the future now thanks to him.’
And big plans they are indeed: They have set their sights on the Asian dog meat trade. Strays dogs are in seemingly endless supply across Asia and are brutally, and routinely, killed and eaten. Right now the Angels are focusing on Thailand, because in Thailand eating dogs and smuggling dogs is not only illegal, but a taboo among society. Thai society regards the trade as inhumane, uncivilised and shameful, but the dog smugglers pay off and bribe their way through the borders to Vietnam where dog meat is in high demand. With dog butchery operating on the edge of society, and eating dog already regarded as unlawful and unsavoury, the K-9 Angels believe Thailand is the best place to start the battle to stop this trade once and for all. They believe they can, in time, build momentum at a political level which reflects the views of the majority.
The K-9 Angels currently work closely with a young Thai girl called Bee. An angel in her own right, this young woman lives in Bangkok but travels every weekend up to Khemaratt region of Thailand. She takes a very small team of unpaid volunteers and spends the weekend segregating sick dogs from healthy dogs at a shelter there. With limited supplies she tirelessly tests for distemper and vaccinates the dogs against Rabies: the only vaccine the Thai government supplies. Her task is beyond huge. It is beyond overwhelming. Thousands of dogs rescued from the illegal meat trucks bound for the Vietnamese border are now crowded into holding pens; their plight far from over, and their lives far from safe. But Bee continues against the desperate odds, despite the immense mortality rate from diseases like distemper, and despite the sheer number of dogs. This one woman makes both a tiny stand against this trade at the same time as making a mighty one. She chooses not to merely disagree with the trade from afar, she instead bravely dives in and swims against the tide.
The K-9 Angels have now teamed up with Bee, and together they discuss and organise which dogs to separate out from the masses. Bee then confirms this with Thai based charity ‘Soi Dog’, who help get the dogs on a flight to the UK. ‘We want to give Bee much, much more, so she can do this full time and really save some lives’, said Anneka. They have plans for a comprehensive vaccination scheme where rescued meat dogs are immediately screened for distemper, the healthy ones segregated and vaccinated, the sick ones treated, and the ones too ill to save are humanely put to sleep with euthanasia. The K-9 Angels want to contribute towards expenses for volunteers to help administer the vaccinations, as well as organising more boarding facilities and kennelling in order to better prevent death. And no animal welfare scheme would be complete without a mass spaying and neutering programme to reduce the stray population and starve this industry out at source. The Thai government needs to be pressed for better funding and for a commitment to crack down hard on this illegal trade and enforce heavier policing and prosecution. These changes are going to take time, immense effort, and lots of funding to bring about long term change. But every revolution has to start somewhere.
Alongside the war on the dog meat trade, another key concern for the K-9 Angels are the Romanian street dogs. The girls already have a good network of rescuers working at street level in Romania, and ever since the EU regulations changed regarding quarantine, getting the dogs out of Romania and into Britain has become so much easier. Whereas before, each dog would have faced six months quarantine, the recent legislation has reduced this to a much more workable time scale of thirty days. This is a heaven sent blessing for the desperate dogs of Romania, suddenly, making a difference and giving them the chance of a loving home for the first time in their lives, is possible. As long as all the passport documentation is completed correctly and the dog is healthy, it can travel. By working alongside other animal action groups in Romania the girls have been able to transport hundreds of dogs.
But, despite the immense satisfaction of rescuing these dogs from their purgatory, the girls know that this is not curing the problem. They are already in the process of launching a spay/neuter/release program, and are working towards a long term goal of preventing disease via comprehensive vaccination clinics. But their plans do not end there either, because the girls know that they need to take their fight all the way to the Government too.
The K-9 Angels are an example of how the small can affect the mighty. They should inspire us all to try and bring about change to the causes we are passionate about. They prove that with work, determination and integrity the seemingly impossible is cut back down to size. We can all do something. Whether we do or not is our choice. You either stand up and try, or you sit and turn a blind eye. You either comfort yourself with the thought that other people will work to stop it, or you do your bit too. You either choose to make excuses about ‘drops in oceans’ or you throw your drop in anyway. Yes, people like Simon Cowell can effect such staggering change with a single tweet that it is hard not to imagine the sort of strides that could be made if people like him applied some of the power they wield in showbiz, to the cause of animal suffering. His support gave the K-9 Angels such a boost that now hundreds, if not thousands of desperate dogs will be saved from their utter purgatory. But so does the lady who organises a dog show, the kid who donates his or her pocket money, and the person who re-posts a story or petition on Facebook. It all makes a difference too. Tolstoy said, ‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one ever thinks about changing himself’. Change starts with each of us individually. It then gathers serious momentum when we come together and coordinate ourselves through organisations like the K-9 Angels. Like that, we would be fighting for change in unison, and I believe it is then that we will see the true might and meaning of people power.
So… are you with us?