In January 2018, a puppy mill was discovered in the Czech town of Kamenice nad Lipou. Among the 212 dogs found by authorities when they raided the breeder’s home was Lens, a Biewer Terrier who is today partially blind and continuously spins in circles, a side effect of having been confined to a tiny cage.
The Kamenice dogs were relocated to shelters across the Czech Republic including Handipet Rescue, a shelter in Mělník devoted to rehabilitating disabled or abandoned pets and finding them “forever” homes. Looking for fosters to accommodate the number of dogs from the puppy mill, they connected with Jaq, a British expat living in the nearby village of Kadlín, who took in Lens.
A native of Kent who says she’s retired from a “desk job,” Jaq kept goats and sheep and was homesteading in a 19th-century statek she bought as a holiday home in 2009. Following Lens’s arrival she continued to foster more dogs and cats eventually becoming an English-friendly branch of the Handipet Rescue organization. She currently cares for 24 pets.
Jaq now opens her farmhouse not only to animals but English-speaking volunteers who show up to clean cages, walk dogs, and cuddle animals with memorable names like Harlow, Garbo, Button, Mojito, and Carrot.
“We try to resolve every problem and heal every animal,” says Jaq. “We’ve had animals with all different kinds of issues, we’ve got a super vet who’s not afraid to try something new and he’s passionate about his work.”
Sandy Starsich an Austrian make-up artist based in Prague has been volunteering regularly since last June after she read about a “cuddling day” on the popular Handipet Rescue ENG Facebook page. She adopted her cat Raccoon from Jaq’s shelter.
“Jaq is lovely and it’s amazing what she’s doing.” says Starsich, “The animals really need socializing and people to spend time with them, to walk them, to cuddle them. It just feels good to do it.”
Tanja Dumek, also from Austria and a team leader at Olympus in Prague, is another committed volunteer who says she faced challenges when trying to helping out at Czech shelters.
“It’s not so easy if you’re not Czech,” says Dumek. “Jaq is much more open and welcoming and all kinds of nationalities come here.” She adds that a positive community vibe has sprung up around the shelter.
A number of the pets Jaq and her volunteers have nurtured — some of them come from Slovakia and Ukraine where animal rescues programs are few and far between — have been matched with owners from as far away as the US and UK.
Carrot, a kitten whose eyes were medically removed due to a severe infection, even found viral fame and was featured in British and Italian publications.
The publicity, as well as Jaq’s entertaining social media posts, have led to a surge in volunteers and adoptions. In fact, she says that roughly 70 percent of the pets adopted from her branch of Handipet Rescue go to expats living in the Czech Republic.
While Jaq hopes to see a steady stream of volunteers to help “pet dogs and stroke cats” this winter she says at the moment the organization is “desperate” for donations. “Nothing is from the government, everything we do is based on donations so if one of the animals is in need of an operation we raise the money,” she says.
Mojito the cat for instance, whose back legs were amputated following an accident, is waiting to have prosthetics fitted. He will be the first cat in the Czech Republic to undergo such a procedure. Barney, a dog confined to a wheelchair, was given up by his family after a failed herniated disc operation. He is in regular need of medical attention.
Other injuries aren’t so obvious. Like Amelia a skittish mixed breed who after some affection and socializing will be, according to Jaq, “highly adoptable.” And what about Lens?
“I will keep him, I don’t think he would ever find a home,” says Jaq. “He is very good at relaxing stressed animals when they come here. It’s almost as if he tells them all’s going to be fine. I love him very much.”
Handipet Rescue will host a Christmas bazaar in Prague at the Nusle Pet Heroes Shop on December 4. For more details see the Facebook page for the event.
To find out more about volunteering, donating, or adopting a pet visit the Handipet Rescue ENG Facebook page. You can also follow the organization on Instagram.