Facebook gives a voice to nameless victims

This puppy has no name. In late September 2010 some kids in a Yerevan neighborhood tied him up with a rope and poured water on him. The little one did not survive the torture, but his image is still among the photos of dozen animals who need a new home, posted on a designated Facebook page by 27-year-old filmmaker Ovsanna Hovsepyan’s volunteer rescue group.

With dark traces of tears on the white fur around his sad black eyes, the nameless puppy’s image has become the profile photo of 25-year-old Ani Voskanyan of Astoria, New York, who says she kept going back to look at his photo as though to “make peace or rather accept” that this has happened.

“It is not something one should ever make peace with,” wrote Voskanyan in one of her Facebook posts. “I pity those children and their parents. They are in the dark. Think of him being in a more peaceful place now. He was born and placed into a bad environment and he has been freed of that… I say this with discomfort of course; anyone who is cruel to animals should be punished.”

With the growing popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites, animal rights activists are making good use of the Internet to find, rescue and place stray animals in reliable homes.

Some of them need veterinary care, so the members of the group raise funds to pay for their treatment, closely collaborating with musician Nune Mehrabyan, the founder of Armenia’s only animal shelter. If this trend continues, it will help reduce the number of strays in the streets of Yerevan and other cities, and teach valuable lessons in humanity to those who follow the often dramatic real-time search-and-rescue operations unfolding on Facebook. On the other hand, “documenting suffering, even of the nameless, legitimates and elevates the need to respond to that suffering,” says Brian Lowe, a sociology professor at the State University of New York College of Oneonta and the author of Emerging Moral Vocabularies. (http://books.google.com/books?id=PHo7ZdNP-QMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=brian+lowe+emerging+moral+vocabularies&source=bl&ots=QSjRYTKlHu&sig=3Xvi7SZ9V_RvYV78RqjRpDUFblk&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false)

Voskanyan’s photo gallery on Facebook documents how kittens and puppies born in the streets and basements of Armenian cities have a hard time surviving the harsh winter. Some of them, abandoned or thrown out of homes, spend their days crying and wondering what they have done wrong. Nothing, really. There are just too many of them. In the United States, for example, only a minority of all companion animals placed in shelters end up in adoption; the rest are euthanized, says Lowe. The adopted ones enjoy legal protection and care from humans, which includes wide varieties of gourmet chicken, beef or salmon meals, while Armenian cats and dogs often rely on a diet of leftover bread and cereals that volunteers like Hovsepyan gather through donations and food drives.

“They do not need much. Dry bread, some rice or buckwheat porridge… Anything will do,” she says.

One of the latest food and find drives was inspired by the miraculous hope for recovery of a gentle, once domestic, poodle-sized mutt with a broken leg. The unknown owner of a fighter pit-bull released his larger animal on the defenseless creature just as a volunteer rescue team was on its way to pick him up for adoption. The veterinarian who treated the victim for internal bleeding said the dog’s lungs had descended down to the stomach and his throat was badly torn. As soon as the crisis is over, the vet says he plans to operate on the dog’s injured leg, and although its health prognosis is still touch-and-go, he made his way back into a human home and out of anonymity.

Things are different for those who live neglected in building entrances and eat from dumpsters. The eyes of this dark-brown puppy with big tan paws are full of hope when he looks up at 25-year-old Vlad Petrosov’s camera from the insecurity of his temporary spot near the MG supermarket in Second Massive. Hovsepyan’s February 7, 2011 caption under this Facebook photo reads:

“He has a hard time surviving the bitter cold, especially at night… He asked me to find him a home: maybe he will get so lucky to and end up in a warm place, with a bowl of hot food once a day… Gosh, it is not so much to ask for, is it?”

Later that day the puppy was seen wondering down towards the monument of Hayk, a dangerous place for a stray animal, according to another Facebook member. An eyewitness said he looked hungry and weak, hardly standing on his feet because of a leg injury. Petrosov spent hours looking for the dog that day, and so did Anna Jamkharyan, 36, who started off standing by at her computer for real-time news on the rescue, but later went on to scour the street herself. Two days later the makeshift Facebook team stopped the search, hoping that someone took pity and sheltered the dog. However, there is little reason for optimism.

“I don’t think the dog was rescued…. This is Armenian reality…. We have to wait for news from Vlad,” wrote Zhamkharyan. The news never followed.

A recent poll shows that 60 percent of the population is opposed to rescuing stray animals because they believe their aggression and diseases may pose a threat to the city’s human inhabitants. Ovsanna Hovsepyan says the government has commissioned a specialized company, Unigraph-X, for an annual amount of 180 million Armenian drams during the last four years, to spay and neuter stray animals across Armenia. Despite the “feedback” section on their web site, company employees do not seem to be open to public scrutiny, which is understandable in the light (or dark?) of their silent charge: “neutralizing” vagrants in a special area outside of the city, away from the eyes and ears of the animal lovers.

No worries for the fans of unfair dogfights and public bloodshed though: neither their sleeping consciousness nor the hibernating laws seem to bother them for now. And if public opinion continues demonizing animals thrown out into the cold streets after centuries of domestication and dependency, the youths who tortured the nameless white puppy are not at any “risk” of feeling regrets any time soon.

Click here http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=24006767#!/album.php?aid=173414&id=586473243 to see the Facebook image gallery of animals who desperately need homes. You can help Armenia’s only animal shelter at http://www.savetheanimals.am/

Donations can be made to the following account: ARDSHININVESTBANK 247010070156 (RA Drams), or 247010070156/0001 (US $)

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