Would you give up everything you own – your home, your career, your lifestyle – for your dog? Russian photographer Daria Pushkareva did exactly that, but for the chance to save hundreds of dogs.
Pushkareva once worked in entertainment, lending her talents to produce films, television shows, and a full-length feature. For six years she worked long hours with little off-time, pushing herself to exhaustion to succeed in her career. The stress and busy days drove her to find something slower-paced, and she chose to become a photographer. For awhile Pushkareva was one of the top five most in-demand photographers in Moscow. Her clients were often politicians and the wealthy elite. However, she found herself in the same place she had been once before – overworked and unhappy. In an interview with Bored Panda she says,
“I became a photographer because I wanted to reduce the intensity of my life. I invested all of my money into photo equipment and master classes to perfect my skills. But ended up in the same place. No vacations, simply not giving myself neither the rest nor the holidays I so desperately needed. I shut myself away at work and the only joy I had came from producing impressive photos. I realized that I was a workaholic, always preferring doing or creating something to any form of relaxation.”
Pushkareva had a love of dogs from a young age. She once told classmates that she hoped to run a dog shelter someday, but with busy parents she was unable to have a pet at home. As an adult she had been so busy with work that she hadn’t had time for a dog of her own. But her love for dogs never waned.
“I donated my money and volunteered on an internet forum, managing such things as finding dogs therapy and accommodation and raising funds. I had no free time then, so this was the best I could do.
“One day, I saw a piece about a shelter puppy without an eye. It needed 10K rubles ($150) to book a visit to the ophthalmologist. I met a volunteer to give her the money for the dog’s treatment in person and she told me, ‘Thank you, but we can’t take her to the vet. There’s no one to do it right now.’
“I was there with my husband. We exchanged a few glances and I said ‘We might as well do it ourselves.’ At that point, everything became clear and simple.”
Pushkareva and her husband, Dima, began taking in dogs in need, one after the other, but it was their seventh dog that pushed them to make serious changes in their lives. They agreed to take in a dog that nobody else wanted.
“One that was in such terrible condition, nobody would take it.”
They found him online in another town and made the trip to pick him up. Drago was only seven months old, and had lost his legs to a train. When he was taken to the vet, the suggested putting him down, but she chose instead to take him home, where he was introduced to the family’s other six dogs. The problems started right away. Drago, would pin the other dogs down and was aggressive towards his new humans as well. Pushkareva later found out that he was experiencing hallucinations due to head trauma he had previously suffered. He would lunge to attack her face or neck, and one night, scared after an attempted attack, she called a dog specialist, whose answer was less than helpful.
“He said, ‘Listen, this has to be the end. Call the police and let them shoot it.’”
Immediately Dima took the dog out into the hallway with a blanket. After a bit, he managed to wrap the Drago in the blanket and muzzle him to keep him alive and the family safe. Pushkareva spoke to the specialist again, asking for help training, but he suggested that she should just give Drago away.
“Then and there, we took out two loans and bought a country house 160 km (100 miles) away from Moscow and moved there with our dogs. We built six enclosures for our rescue dogs and began living completely new and different lives.”
With so much space so far away from the city, the number of animals in the Pushkareva family exploded. Over time, the number grew to over 200. Looking through Daria’s Instagram, you’ll see several dogs in wheelchairs, others who are old. Some had aggression issues, and, like Drago, are doing much better now. Some of those animals aren’t even dogs – but needed help as much as they did.
“Once, I came across a girl volunteer and we became good friends. As we were having one of our conversations, I heard her say, ‘Well, my foxes…’ I interrupted her, ‘Stop, wait a minute,’ I’ve said. ‘Foxes?’ I learned that she had two rescue foxes and that foxes could actually be saved. Of course, I didn’t think that fur coats were growing on trees but I didn’t know that it was possible to officially save someone from becoming a fur product.”
“I wanted to save foxes as well and after I told her that, I received a phone call one month later. There was a chance to buy three fox pups. So I did.”
The family now includes foxes, artic foxes, and racoon dogs that might have become clothing instead of pets.
For a girl who once wanted to grow up to operate an animal shelter, Daria says she really doesn’t like her home being referred to as one. These pets are not available for adoption, they’re home now.
“I wouldn’t consider our household a shelter. In fact, I even feel offended if someone calls it like that. A shelter is a place where new volunteers and other people contribute to the wellbeing of the animals that are constantly moving in and out. We, on the other hand, have our own dogs, we love them and devote our lives to them. To us, they are family members. They’ll remain with us forever and we do not want to give them away to anyone.”
The Pushkarevas have made major sacrifices to take on so many dogs, and not just the careers they left behind in Moscow.
Their lifestyle has changed dramatically, living rougher for the sake of their pets. For years they went without basic plumbing needs and have only recently had hot water in their home. All their money goes to caring for their pets, but Daria tells Bored Panda that it’s absolutely worth it.
“Four years after settling in, we have hot water, a toilet, and these things were made possible only by our friends. We spend all of our finances on the animals, and there is never enough money to ensure human comfort. Good thing we don’t need much of that to be happy.”
“Talking about money, of course, it’s difficult. In total, we need to feed about 200 animals, and we feed them healthy, balanced diets including meat, fish, poultry. We do not spare money for their food. We also have to provide them with medical care, pay the people who work here, and take care of ourselves (we’ve installed solar panels and a generator, but also need gasoline which is expensive).”
“I find time to work as a freelancer, mostly retouching photos, but our friends really help us out a lot. Some raise money to pay the employees, some donate as much as they can whenever they can. I am eternally grateful to them! We don’t have any sponsors, and we don’t expect any of them. My principle of living with animals is that they’re your responsibility.”
See more photos and learn how to help out the dogs in Daria and Dima’s home on Instagram.
Featured Photo: @danka_pu/Instagram
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