Every dog deserves to live in a happy and loving home. Sadly, not all pups get to experience that kind of life. That is why organizations like the SPCA were created to help animals. Many are born in the streets, while some are given up by their owners once the novelty of having a pet has worn off.
Thankfully, there are people in the world like Dejan Gacic who have a big heart for the animals.
About 20 years ago, Dejan and his late mother Svetlana found a puppy in an elevator and took him home. Soon, they started feeding the strays in their village of Cumic in Serbia.
News of their kind act towards the animals quickly spread within the community, and the pair began expanding the scope of their efforts.
Before they knew it, the mother and son had opened an animal shelter in 1997 and named it “Vucjak Shelter.” Unfortunately, Svetlana passed away after a few years, leaving Dejan as the sole caretaker of the shelter and its furry residents.
“My mother was a person with a strong personality and a strong character,” Dejan said about his mom.
“She abandoned her social life and moved to the village to live with the dogs. My mother and I were inseparable. I’m still talking to her and informing her about all of the issues and obstacles I face daily.”
With Svetlana gone, the work in the shelter was no longer as simple as it had been. Dejan ran it alone and started taking hundreds, if not thousands, of animals at a time.
“In Serbia, the situation with stray dogs is dire,” he said. “Every day, people abandon their dogs. Every day, I get several calls from people who want to get rid of their dogs.”
According to the non-profit’s website, Vucjak Shelter’s mission is to “save every animal, and provide them with food, shelter, love, safety and medical care.”
True to his word, Dejan’s love for animals goes beyond these precious canines.
In 2014, he purchased land in the Gledic Mountains and built a sanctuary for wolves. Despite being Serbia’s national animal, these creatures are on the verge of extinction due to poachers. The shelter also takes care of other animals such as cats and foxes.
Dejan also emphasizes the importance of letting the dogs run freely around the property.
“All the dogs here are free to run,” he said. “There is no dogs on chains. Twenty-four hours, they are free.”
To accommodate more animals, Dejan purchased a home far away from other people and with plenty of space for the animals to wander. The man is doing the best he could with his resources, and he’s constantly looking to improve the living conditions of these loving creatures.
However, the pandemic proved to be a challenging time for many animals, too. Now more than ever, more people are giving up their pets, so the shelter is housing over a thousand dogs, cats, and wild animals.
Vucjak Shelter like the SPCA relies mainly on donations and grants from the public.
“This support allows the shelter to continue its work, and to give animals a dignified, safe and loving place to live,” the organization says on its website.
Luckily, the people of Serbia know the importance of Dejan’s work. Through their support, the shelter is kept afloat and is able to help more animals in need.
Dejan rarely takes a break given all the work he has to complete in a day, but he says his efforts are worth it.
“I love my dogs, they are my life. I’m trying to give everything to get more animals adopted to make more space for these animals. For most of my adopted dogs, I see photos every day… they have great lives. I wish that many dogs find new homes,” he said.
Running an animal shelter also came with other challenges. Several months ago, Dejan was charged and arrested over false claims of animal cruelty. The Serbian government—which had turned down his numerous pleas to support these beings—then tried to take over the shelter.
Upon hearing of this unjust incident, Nick Villalobos, a long-time supporter of Vucjak Shelter from the US, started a petition to raise awareness about Dejan’s situation.
The petition got 13,975 supporters, and in a July 2021 update, Nick said that the charges against Dejan had been dropped. He lost 20 pounds and was “very weak,” but the most important thing is that he’s now home with his family. Surely, the animals in the shelter have missed him so much!
You may visit Vucjak Shelter website to find out how you can help support Dejan’s noble mission. You can also check them out on Instagram and Facebook to get the latest updates. Also visit the SPCA website if you want to know how to do your part in helping animals.
Click on the video below to learn more about this inspiring story.