Birgit Lewe in Italy
The byword says: When someone travels, he (or she) can tell something:
My trip to Bari started at 2am in the morning. I first went to Berlin with the bus of the Pfotenhilfe. At about 5 am, the nature claimed its rights and I had to stop. So I drove to the next motorway service area and searched for the toilets.
There, in front of the toilets was standing a young girl, about five years old, crying terribly.
I have to say, I am not very the born mother, but in that moment, my maternal site showed up and I asked her, what had happened.
She said that she urgently needs to go to the toilet, but that she is afraid of going alone.
Never the less, I accompanied her. While going to the toilet, I asked, where her mother was. She did not know it.
After leaving the toilet, I took the young girl with me to the waitress and asked her whether she knows, where the girl could belong to. The restaurant was empty!
As we finally wanted to call the police, a completely desperate woman entered the restaurant. Happy end!
I drove on, but I was so stunned. How could someone forget his or her child?
Reaching Berlin and Karin, where she and René already waited for me, I got a hot coffee. After loading the donations, we continued our trip.
Next Stop: Stuttgart.
Due to a bounteous female donator and Silvia Greene from Care-4-Life e.V. , Stefan and a ton of feed waited there for us.
While being in a great mood, we started loading.
1. pallet, 2. pallet, 3. pallet…
Honestly we were glad, when we finished the loading of all the donations. Good-bye to Stefan and heading towards the Brenner.
Endless kilometers in front of us. Enough time for talking and thinking.
We were full of expectations. How would the press conference be? How would it be with Stefano?
During the whole journey I had telephone contact with Roland, who wanted to fly from Stuttgart to Bari the next morning.
He had the same expectations and thoughts.
When we reached Munich, the funny part started.
Strong snow flurry. We thought that it should stop soon. It did, but later as we had expected and hoped.
Then we reached the Brenner and entered Italy.
I have been to Italy a lot times before, but not under the occasion of “animal welfare”. My last and “most south” trip to Italy led me to Rome.
The impressions of my last journey to Italy about 15 years ago never left me for all these years. I visited countless museums, churches and exhibitions. I will never forget the operas in Verona.
But these memories have been washed out because of all pictures and information about agony of animals in Italy.
We drove, kilometer by kilometer. And our “youngster” was the first, who asked for a hotel room. So we searched one.
Do you already know this situation? You pass by lots and lots of hotels and motels. But when you search for one, you won’t find one.
That is how we were searching for a hotel room. We found one in Roverto.
The night was very short, because we wanted to continue very early in the morning. There were still 800 kilometers to drive.
So we had a fast breakfast and then drove on. Unfortunately René had toothache. So whenever he had not to drive, he used the time for sleeping.
We passed endless motorways – only interrupted by transits of countless tubes. Passing Verona. Passing Rome.
The more kilometers the nearer be got Bari.
In the meantime, we had few telephone calls with Roland. He already reached Bari and the Hotel.
Since that, no other participant of the press conference arrived. I had the impression that he felt quite alone and lost.
We reached Neapel.
I would only be too pleased to make a side-trip but that was, of course, impossible.
There was just the view from the motorway.
The nearer we get to Bari, the more queasy it was. I asked myself how Roland might feel now. Actually Karin and I would be only silent bystander on this event. Roland would be one of the orators.
Before we started out trip to Italy, I printed the speech of Roland. I had read it countless times. It had affected me directly. But could this oration also affect the journalists directly?
Then we reached Bari during the rush-hour. Amongst Italians who were on their way home. Amongst a country, where traffic rules are usually interpreted in a very strange and individual way. To this time, we had a dedicated line with Roland.
We found the stated address.
Here the hotel should be located?
And then we saw Roland, waiting for us in the gateway.
We followed him through the gateway and could not believe our eyes.
Amongst this rather scruffy and dull district, there was this lovely and park-like garden.
We have been very happy about that. A parking area in this closed facility.
At first, we checked in and then engrossed our hotel rooms for refreshing ourselves. Afterwards we met at the terrace for having Espresso, Cappuccino and coffee.
The weather was great, the sun was shining and the air was springlike. Very convenient after the long winter.
Time by time the other participants arrived and everyone tried to get an overview how to talk to other participants in what language.
In the evening we had a joint dinner.
Karin and I went with Silvia, an Italian woman who had afford a lot of work in advance for the conference.
She did not know the exact way to the restaurant (I myself did not even know, in which city we had been) and so we knew the promise of having an unexpected round trip at the seaside.
During the trip we talked a lot, laughed a lot and heard loud music. I myself (and I think Karin too) tried to ignore the traffic and the italian way of driving.
Actually it was a nice trip. But the whole time I had these pictures of this inexpressibly misery of animals in my mind.
The evening passed by with prearrangements, conversations and you could compare the atmosphere with the hustle and bustle in a beehive.
Back in the hotel, I went to the terrace with Roland for smoking a cigarette. Actually we should rather have enjoyed the ambiance…
The morning of the conference broached. I got up early and went down for having a coffee. I recognized Roland, sitting there, sunk deeply in his own thoughts.
My stress was immense. But I think that was nothing in comparison how Roland would feel like. With some cups of coffee, we tried to find a bit calmness and quiet manner.
The afternoon before, we already gazed the place, where the conference should take place. It is hard to imagine that in this wonderful building the cruelty of the Canili should be introduced.
Roland headed to the mansion. After a short time, I followed him.
And I thought I will have I break-down with shock as I reached the parking area. Our bus of the Pfotenhilfe was surrounded by lots of Carabinieri.
As I am only able to order a cappuccino in Italian, I thought it was quite senseless to discuss with them for finding out what they are there for.
So I went to the mansion and met Stefan Weber, who fortunately speaks Italian fluently and asked for help.
His “reassurance” did not calm me down. The Carabinieri were there to protect the conference……
And truly, as I left, I saw them patrolling round the mansion.
I was pretty excited and called Elke. And I suddenly realized, how dangerous animal protection in Italy really is.
And now, we started to denounce the criminal intrigues to the public. We denounce a system, were just a fistful of people earn millions of euros. A system, which asserts that conveyed dogs in Germany and Switzerland end in laboratories.
Elke advised to take “Resque-drops” and a Grappa. She asked me to urgently pay attention to ourselves.
The start of the press conference approached. But we could not find Karin and René.
Step by step, the room got filled with people. Journalists from newspapers and television arrived. As well as other animal welfare activists and a civil servant, responsible for stray animals, followed the invitation.
The report of MD Roland Eichler has been summarized and can be read here.
The video of Cicto started. After a few minutes I had to leave the hall. I could have screamed because of desperation and rage.
But actually, I was not the only person who had to leave the hall. Short-time after I left, a journalist passed by, muttering “brutal” and lighted a cigarette.
It did not take long and two other journalists followed. They keenly discussed, smoked their cigarettes and after taking a huge breathe, went back to the hall.
I followed them hesitantly and hoped that had finished. Of course it did not. But the animals have to face this 24 hours a day.
Around me I saw a lot of tears and appalled faces.
It was Rolands turn. He was the last orator.
He reported his speech very emotional and few times he had to swallow to continue. Like most of the audition had to swallow. He earned spontaneous applause for his speech.
After the press conference, a lot of people rested for discussing about the heard things. At this opportunity I got to know Angela Luongo. I have heard a lot of her in advance.
My personal impression confirmed, what I knew in advance from her: a very brave person with a huge heart.
Then I met Stefan Dieter for the first time. Finally personal.
Karin und René said goodbye to drive on to Leperano with Stefan. I wanted to follow them the next day by train. Anyway that was the plan. But there have been problems with the bus so I received a call from Karin who was in the garage at this time. You can read the report of Karin here.
The afternoon passed by with a lot of conversations. Susanne from Neuburger Tierhilfe e. V. said goodbye and headed towards Germany. She took a dog with her.
Then, everyone pulled oneself back and thought about the day and what had happened. In the evening I met Roland for dinner.
The next morning I packed my things. Roland forged ahead to the airport. Yvonne and Stefan drove on 200 kilometers to the south. There is an animal shelter located, which the two wanted to visit. And I headed towards the train station to go to Taranto. Karin, Stefan and René wanted to come for me there.
I just left the train when I saw the first dogs.
Karin and I took a seat on the occasional seat surrounded by dog feed and cans of water.
Stefans daily “food trip” began.
The first stop was in a back road. As the animals recognized that it was the car of Stefan, they appeared from everywhere. Ahead was an older male dog, very beautiful and cuddly. And obviously the genitor of a large number of littermates!
A litter of puppies, just a few days old, was lying in a self-made doghouse, which Stefan had built. The mother looked very mistrustful at us.
We just wanted to drive on, as Stefan stopped and left the car to go to another car, which just had arrived.
It shaped up as one of Stefans friends.
Nuncio is retiree. Every day he cooks for “his” dogs pasta, because he does not have the money for dog feed. Nuncio told us a lot about his experiences for example about the dog of his daughter. She went to a Canile and wanted to adopt the dog, which was in the worst shape. As Nuncio described the shape of the dog, tears ran down his face.
He also has a route, which he drives day by day to feed hundreds of dogs there. The reason he stopped on one of Stefans feeding places was because he knew Stefan had guests and wanted to feed the dogs in case Stefan cannot bring it.
We drove on. In the middle of the street, a dog was crossing. Slow, unhurried, tired. I have never seen such a emptiness in the eyes of a dog.
This dog was obviously very ill. We stopped. Actually I wanted to try to get near to this dog to get to the doctors with it. But we could not attract it even with feed. He just looked at me with his sad and hopeless eyes, turned around and continued his random way in the middle of the street. Waiting for a car which knocks him over.
Karin and I have been very depressed, while sitting on the occasional seats.
We stopped on several feeding places, were Stefan asked us to stay inside the car, because the animals are very shy and do not appear when strangers are with him.
But they came to Stefan. Stefan had time for each of them. A warm word and a stroke for every of them.
We passed a place, were a low wall bordered the street. There was a hole in the wall. And suddenly four young dogs came out of it.
As Stefan told us, the mother was gone, probably overrun. The young dogs, eight or nine weeks old, were so happy that there was someone. They ran around us and were very excited.
We hurried up to feed them. But René could not resist. He climbed over the wall to the puppies.
And there was no end.
We fed at properties. There are dogs living, whose owners rest there just for a few months during summer. Family holidays. And for the occupation of the children, you can collect a puppy from the street.
Then, the holiday is over, the luggage is packed and the property is closed. The displacement of a cadaver during the next summer is accepted.
Or an other opinion would be: the owner does not understand why he should feed the dog. Who cares when it dies? There are still enough of them...
As Stefan had an appointment at the veterinary with a cat, we had to interrupt the feeding tour to drive to his house.
We let no grass grow under our feet and unloaded more food from the transporter.
While I was throwing the packages over the fence, I was permanently thinking about the four motherless puppies. In this moment, Roland gave me a call. I told him about our experiences and also about the four from the hole in the wall.
He had Angelas phone number down pat and called her. As it came out, she had enough space for the dogs, but she urgently advised not to bring them in our transporter of the Pfotenhilfe. The risk of control would have been very high and then the fate of the four would have been sealed: Canile!
So this wasn't an option, too.
No space in Stefans house. Also no option.
Then Stefan had an idea.
A friend of him had a larger property, which she wanted to fence completely and build some enclosures.
One enclosure already exists.
Stefan wanted to to build a second one with friend soon and bring the puppies there. There they would be safe for now.
And he did that. And he made even more. He found a home for all four puppies :).
Stefan came back and we again packed feed into the Jeep and then started again.
This time, we took the street along the coast. And there, the dogs recognizing Stefans whistle came from everywhere, too.
There was a large grey dog with a very tight neckband. He was very afraid and ran away when you just look at him.
Stefan told us that this dogs live in this pride for a few months now.
Where he came from????
He hopes that this dogs trusts him some day, so that he can come near him and remove this tight collar.
“hope” is a very important word for Stefan and his friends.
“hope” is usually the only remaining thing.
“hope” again and always giving the power to continue.
But only hope is not sufficient.
How can anybody be hopeful in comparison with this situation.
We drove through a landscape full of dunes.
There, the next picture of hopelessness waited for us. An burrow full of puppies, which just had begun to see something. One of these mites of a child was already far away from the others and it whines heartrending.
I brought it back to the hole, even if would like to take them all with me. Including their mother.
Bring them all to a safe place.
But where is a safe place there?
We hurried to allocate the feed so that the mother could go back to her children.
She watched us from a safe distance and as we sat in the car, she immediately went back to her puppies.
We fed about 70 dogs. Stefan does that every day. During winter two times a day.
The dogs know him and he knows his dogs.
How can he handle this day by day?
Not to know whether he sees them again the next day.
Not to have the possibility to adopt the dogs, even if you recognize that they would give their life to come along with him.
This evening we went to a restaurant with one of Stefans friends.
This friend also live under very poor conditions and he also feeds “his” dogs every day.
I really wanted to enjoy this evening with the nice atmosphere and the friendly attendance. We had good conversations, laughed a lot and the food was excellent.
But the seen dogs never get out of my head.
Later that evening, Stefan, Karin and I sat together for making plans for our future cooperation.
But this actually didn't help these animals, we have seen that day. With this thought, I tried to fell asleep.
The sun was shining when I came out to the terrace.
And I again was totally fascinated by the great landscape. The view to the ocean was incredible.
Directly under the terrace, there was a lemon tree and I breathed its flavour.
A short moment to feel good.
A short moment of the magic of Italy.
Well, just a short moment...
The transporter wasn't already empty so we did some “sport” in the morning.
Stefan can't use his new room for a while now, because we piled the packages there.
For us it is sad to know that all this will not suffice for a long time. Karin and I already thought about fresh supply.
Then the moment came. Time to say good-bye.
It was difficult for all of us, because we really wanted to stay longer. There are still so many things to say, to ask, to do.
We took a last picture and then we said good-bye to Stefans dogs and cats and finally to him.
That's what we actually thought. But when we started the transporter...
So for now, we got to know another garage in Italy. Also friends of Stefan. They interrupted their work. The older man offered an espresso, the younger one repaired our car computer.
For us very horrifying, they told us that the transporter had no more brake fluid and steering fluid. I can't remember how often this car had been in a garage during the last year, but this was definitely too much.
I called Elke and we decided to change the garage immediately.
And then it really came. The moment to say good-bye.
We chose another route for driving back. We drove along the coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Despite the beauty of this county, we had been in a very sad mood. The eyes of the dogs followed me.
Karin and I continued with our plans from the evening before.
We stayed the night in Innsbruck.
We reached Berlin early in the evening.
For Karin and René the journey was over. I still had to drive 500 km.
Finally I also arrived at home. At the end I can't say, whose rapture was larger. Mine or the one of my dogs when I entered the house.
I leaned on my partners shoulder the whole evening.
My summary of this trip:
I really would like to keep this picture in my mind. Beautiful landscapes, warm weather and hospitable people.
Like written in a travel guide.
Italy is a cultural stronghold.
Italy is full of living history.
Italy, in general, is a very Christian countey.
Italy is stated as very full of life by its inhabitants.
Italy's landscapes are fantastic.
Italy is full of trendy people.
Italy has the Dolce Vita.
Italy is one of the G8 countries.
Italy is a high-ranking member of the EU.
Italy is no right-free area, at least on paper.
The Italy I got to know during my trip was completely different from the “official” Italy.
Coast regions seem to be refuse disposal sites.
The streets are also full of junk.
A part of the people there reacts with absolute insensibility to this grievances. Others pitifully smile at those, who try to change this. And again others prefer news about scandals of their head of state.
How can it be that a whole country is so blind and stone-hearted for other creatures?
How can it be that the justice consequently ignores all the abuses to animals in the streets and in the Caniles?
How can it be that helping hands were affronted, threatened or partially injured.
It gives hope when I think of people, who I got to know in Bari and Leperano. But the picture in my mind, which I have of Italy, has resigned and sad eyes, a sagging motion, is nameless and maybe still walks aimless in the middle of the street: