There is no unwanted animal in this shelter

“The reception committee is ready,” says volunteer Wietze Vellinga (67). He points to three cats running around behind the fence. “Say hi, Casey,” he said to the black-and-white copy. The gate slid and closed. “Walk along,” says Vellinga, especially for cats.

More than 180 cats live behind the fence of the Stichting Dierentehuis in Almere, which are allowed to roam freely. Eighty dogs, six horses, and a purtje pig. They are animals that “no longer fit into society,” says owner Alice Van Duyn. From dogs with behavioral problems due to fear or stress and cats with cat aids who are not allowed outside due to the risk of infection, to horses that had to be slaughtered for various reasons. These animals have few options, but they can get a safe and warm place here.

It all started quite innocently, says Van Duijn of her large-scale shelter. “In addition to working for our textile company, I’ve also been active on Sundays as a volunteer at an animal shelter in the area.” She saw how the cute and cute animals were quickly picked up, while the older, weaker and less sociable animals were placed more and more in the hallway. “Then one day I came and they went. Then they had an injection. I found that very heartbreaking.”

She decides to take the unadopted cats and dogs home herself. “It soon became too much for me and my husband to manage on our own anymore, and we had an outstanding bill of 2,000 guilders at the vet. We got started in 2001.” He was off the ground at the time. The heart of the Netherlands stop for an item. Then the business exploded: “We did our work alongside it for another year, and after that we started focusing entirely on animals.”

cat paradise

They’ve been in Almere for ten years now, in a wooded area with no neighbors who can complain about barking and meowing – which used to be a problem. Kater Keessie walks through the parking lot to the courtyard of the custom-built building. It’s a cat’s paradise. At the edge of the pond with a friendly spray fountain is a red cat. He’s blind, so does he know what to do? “Oh yeah, that’s Pikachu, and he’ll run,” says volunteer Corey Newland, 60. There are Buddha statues everywhere on the ground, and there are cushions everywhere. The cat rooms have opium beds, large indoor plants, and replicas of Gauguin hang on the walls. Also surprising is what is not there: the smell that is often characteristic of places where many animals live. Smells fresh, everything is clean. “We’re working hard for that.”

What’s not there is also amazing: the smell

The cats are comfortably located next to each other. They come in all colors and sizes, and not all of them are “perfect”. One is missing an eye or two. The other is an ear or two. Some have lost a leg, a tail, or both. But they all have a “quality of life,” van Duijn says.

In recent years, shelters for shelter animals in the Netherlands have given way, in particular, to animals from abroad. Various institutions obtain dogs and cats from Romania, Spain, and Greece, among other countries. They are rescued street animals, but they can’t always thrive in a home environment. Van Duijn: “We get a lot of emails about animals not finding their way. Roman terriers in particular have been street dogs for generations, and then all of a sudden they have to live in a house here. This hood is too big.”

Dog breeding companies

Two sets of dogs are brought in from outside, which regularly cause problems, says Claudia Fink, a behavioral biologist at Utrecht University and an expert in animal behaviour. There are huge dog breeding companies out there to cater to the Dutch demand for small dogs with all its consequences. On the other hand, we have foreign stray dogs.” Puppies are not well socialized, taken away from their mothers very quickly and taken away, sometimes even when they have all kinds of illnesses. “It’s a rogue trade we keep to ourselves.” Stray dogs are suddenly put into “Our terribly complex society” of her familiar surroundings is down the street. “Where we demand a lot from the dog, too. He should be able to be petted by anyone, be able to stay home alone, be able to walk on a leash, not hunt, not run away, not be territorial.” Of course, that doesn’t work often, she says.

Because of anxiety and fear, van Duijn says, these dogs often display a behavior problem. As a result, they pose a danger to themselves and their environment. The only requirement for dogs to be allowed to live in their shelter is for them to get along with others of their own kind. Here they live in a pack, in shared rooms with large beds, off-leash, with a garden they can always access and a 35,000 square meter yard where they can run, dig and swim.

The last room in the corridor is reserved for private cases. There are dogs who do not have behavioral problems but rather physical defects. “This is a JD,” Van Duijn points out. “Johann Dirksen adopted him, hence his name.” A small black and white dog with a corgi-like appearance, giant ears, and a bright smile looks up from the floor. He, like many of his roommates, has lost his hind legs. But he and the others are no less enthusiastic about it.

Keeping all Dierenthuis animals healthy and happy is an expensive business. “We totally do without support,” Van Duijn says over lunch in the human living room, where many cats also hang out. They depend on donations and adopters, says her husband, Stephen Van Duygen. In addition to volunteers, some 4,000 donors keep things running, but the crisis, like now exploding energy costs, means exciting times. “But we have already survived many crises, and that will be good too.”

After lunch, it’s time for the big walk, and the dogs with disabilities are ready, too. The special clothing some dogs wear—one can hold his back well, the other has a hard time—is taken off and put in his own wheelchair. The doors to all the rooms open at the same time and more than eighty dogs enter the field in one large flock. It’s a sea of ​​wheels, legs, tails, long hair, points, and wet noses. There is one bark. “Do you have another opinion?”

There are giant animals, like Naz, an Anatolian sheep herder from Turkey, who found an owner via Marktplaats, then was taken to a shelter and ended up here. But there are also very young children, like Roman Luis, who gurgles happily across the field in his wheelchair. Volunteer Jolanda Farenhorst (65): “You would think these little guys would be trampled underfoot, but the opposite is true. Four-legged dogs fear those wheels.”

soul trading

Alice Van Duyn seems content to walk among her flock. Animals look to her for guidance, but they also look to her. “I learned a lot from these animals, and I’m still learning.” She never has to look at a weather report again, animals tell her what the weather will be like. “They taught me to feel and listen to my gut.”

She knows the stories of all the animals who have often experienced misery and pain. Animals that have ended up here through shelters and various owners, animals that have escaped from a damaged war zone, and animals that have been traded, precisely because they are pathetic.

“There’s a lot of talk about how much money is involved in the drug cycle. But what a lot of people don’t know is that animal suffering is also heavily traded,” says Van Duijn. It is a phenomenon described by Claudia Fink as soul trading. “Totally morally and ethically reprehensible, of course.”

Animals that end up in Dierenthuis need not worry anymore. People can adopt an animal from a distance, and animals never leave here. Even after death, they remained here, and their ashes were scattered in a flower meadow. “they are at home”.

Pictures Simon Linkins

Leave a Comment