For Rima Yola, getting involved in animal rescue was an obvious choice. She’s from Istanbul, Turkey, where people share the busy city streets with countless stray animals. In fact, in Turkey, the overall stray population is approximately two million. Sometimes these animals are sick, starving, or injured, and sometimes people try to help — but more often than not, Yola says, they simply look away.
"A growing number of people would like to do something about the stray problem in Turkey, but there’s a big proportion that are not really interested," she says. "In all countries, I think there’s a proportion that just wants to close their eyes and walk away.”
She founded the nonprofit group He’Art of Rescue in October 2011 — or rather, as its blog says, the group founded itself after its members "repeatedly encountered stray animals in horrible conditions.” He’Art of Rescue consists of a core group of about five volunteers, plus a rotating network of foster homes, transportation coordinators, photographers, and a variety of other helpers they call “friends.” Volunteers work with veterinarians to provide stray cats and dogs with medical care, and the animals remain in foster homes until they are adopted. The group primarily saves animals in critical conditions, a mission that can be challenging — and often heartbreaking.
"What inspires me is the same thing that inspires so many animal rescues in the world," Yola says. "It’s the animals’ condition and their pain ÔÇô- the pain in their eyes. I just want to be able to contribute and do something for them. One person can do just a little, but if we gather forces we can do so much."
One of He’Art’s recent rescues, a ginger tabby named Beau, was found on the street with a severe facial deformity that caused his nose and upper lip to hang to one side, almost like his face was melting off his bones. At first doctors thought he was suffering from squamous-cell carcinoma, but tests revealed his injuries were likely due to congenital deformity or physical trauma. Reports from the woman who found him pointed to the latter.
"I don’t think anyone would be able to help him," wrote the woman, a student in Istanbul. "We saw the children hit him with a rock on the face. He is not able to eat solid food ÔÇª We could not think of any solution, as we were scared that the vet would suggest euthanasia. I don’t even know if he stands a chance or not but we are students and we can not afford the expenses of such a needy animal!"
Shocked by the trauma Beau had endured and inspired by his will to survive, Yola and company sought medical treatment, as well as donations via the He’Art of Rescue blog, where volunteers regularly share stories and updates on the cats and dogs they save. Unfortunately, the extent of Beau’s injuries exceeded the scope of practice of veterinary staff in Turkey, so he acquired a fungal infection in his wound. He was flown to Europe for further treatment, including a procedure to regrow bone to reconstruct his nose and upper jaw, a procedure that Yola says would have been impossible in Turkey.
According to the He’Art of Rescue blog, “the doctors removed a bit of the periosteum behind his teeth in order to regenerate bone tissue that would be compatible with his own." (The blog features many pictures of Beau, but be aware that many are graphic.)
Recent Facebook updates reported that Beau’s overall condition was improving, and he was even starting to gain some weight. Yola was cautiously optimistic about Beau’s future, but sadly, two days before Christmas, Beau passed away.
During these times, He’Art of Rescue volunteers must remind themselves that they cannot save them all. When dealing with such difficult cases, happy endings are not guaranteed. Such was the case with Ata, another ginger tabby He’Art of Rescue attempted to save earlier this year. Ata suffered an injury that left him incontinent. As a result of his inability to empty his bladder on his own — he often required assistance and occasionally had accidents — he had been abandoned by multiple owners. He’Art of Rescue tried more than once to find him a home, and each time he wound up back on the streets.
"My own friends have tried to convince me Ata would be too much for anyone and his release would be the most logical option and I should not bother rehoming him," Ata’s blog entry reads.
But He’Art of Rescue did not give up on this “otherwise healthy and happy cat,” and eventually they managed to find him a home in England; He’Art of Rescue adopts internationally, which Yola says "opens so many doors for these animals." Unfortunately, he succumbed to illness and passed away shortly before boarding the plane to his new home.
"It’s really tragic, but we did our best and had him in the best clinics in Istanbul and Turkey," Yola says. "Other rescuers had given up on this cat and released him into the streets in this condition. We were truly mad about that, because he could not live in this condition."
Despite the inherent challenges of rescuing needy animals — and the added difficulty of uniting many rescuers and convincing them to take action toward a common purpose — Yola takes comfort in the fact that more than 50 animals are now in loving homes thanks to the efforts of He’Art of Rescue’s many volunteers.
One recent success story was Lotus, a tabby who came to He’Art of Rescue as a kitten after suffering severe wounds from a dog bite. Lotus found a home at the same time as did Silvie, another long-term He’Art of Rescue resident. Volunteers were so excited to send these kitties off to their forever homes that they started singing at the airport.
"Seeing the animals happy and in comfort is the most rewarding thing," she says. "It’s what drives me."
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