At one of the best locations in Dubrovnik, with a perfect view at the Old City, there is no restaurant, no coffee shop or selfie spot, but something you wouldn't expect – an animal shelter. When you come inside, you are greeted with inquisitive 'barks' from all around and if you are an animal lover – you are immediately swept off your feet.
Žarkovica is a home to 302 dogs and around 200 cats who don't appreciate the view, but are more than thankful for the love, care and nurture they get on a daily basis from hard-working volunteers, but especially from the people who have devoted their life to help them.
We catch up with Sandra Sambrailo at the animal shelter - Photo Mark Thomas
One of those heroines is surely Sandra Sambrailo, who knows every animal in the shelter. Not only their names, but every single detail about them! She truly feels each one of the animals and that's clear to see when you step over the Žarkovica's ground. There's no luxury – but there is loads of love.
-We have a limited number of dogs that we can accept and now we are in the phase that we just can't accept any more. That's why we find them temporary homes with our volunteers or try to find them a steady home as soon as possible. We also work on sterilization, so there are less and less stray dogs – Sandra starts to explain the situation with dogs in Dubrovnik, adding that they don't only take care for them, but also for every animal in the city.
Even though she does it with huge amount of love, it can get rough. They always need an extra pair of hands. Luckily, there are people that are more than willing to help.
-Sometimes people from abroad come to Dubrovnik just because of Žarkovica, to spend their holidays here. Those are really special people and for me – friends for a lifetime. We are connected with a special bond, with a love that we feel for animals and sometimes with sorrow, as well as happiness – Sandra tells us with a voice full of emotion.
And people really come from all over the world! Their impressions about Žarkovica are hard to describe.
-Those that come with an open heart always come again. They follow our Facebook page and we are always in contact. After visiting, they share experiences with everybody they know and their friends come to Croatia only because of Žarkovica! Our volunteers are overwhelmed, because they love animals and this is a really special place with special energy, which is hard to describe. Whoever enters, feels it immediately. They are so happy when they come, because dogs give them all of their love. When 300 dogs welcome you, you can't even breathe! But we are satisfied because our animals are so socialized and most of them can go to their new homes at this moment, even though they feel like home here. We try to make them feel that way, even though we are poor. We want to teach them to see every person that comes to our shelter as a friend – Sandra says, adding that every dog has a passport, so you don't have to be afraid if you visit Žarkovica and fall in love with one of them… or even two! You can take them home with you, wherever you are. According to Sandra, that happens all the time. People come, feel instant connection and luckily – take their new buddies home.
Every dog is more than special and we noticed that even though we weren't there for too long. As we mentioned, Sandra knows them very, very well.
-Each one of them has a name and each one of them is our pet. We treat them as our pets and they respond the same, creating a normal owner-pet relationship. If I opened all the doors right now, I think none of them would leave. They see Žarkovica as their home and that's a base for our friendship – explains Sandra.
Žarkovica works 24/7 and everybody are more than welcome to come and help.
-If I must create a list of priorities, the first would be finding new homes for the dogs and cats, money is the last thing on the list because it’s so, so far from this world where animals rule and energy is completely different. Volunteers are second on the list of priorities, because we can create so much from nothing together. We can improvise – Sandra concludes.
And who wouldn’t help to this lovely animal kingdom, placed just above one of the most beautiful cities of the world? Visit it, but be careful – you could fall in love. If you are not able to come, you can always make a donation. It’s worth it!