Animal lover Sara helps strays live their best life
Sara Graham was supposed to be helping Therese Sundbrink brand her Turkish rescue charity but as an animal lover she couldn’t help being drawn in.
She found homes for about 50 cats and 50 dogs and raised thousands of dollars for their transport and medical expenses through the Facebook page she started for Tails of Istanbul four years ago.
And then in 2019 she adopted Lion, a large, orange Turkish Angora found badly injured in the woods outside Istanbul, wires wrapped around his middle.
“It snowballed,” said Ms Graham, who left Bermuda in 1998 and runs a branding and website development company, Fresh Presse. “I was really heavily involved in getting word out through the Facebook group.”
Then living in Turin with her Italian husband, Mario Baldi, she flew to meet Ms Sundbrink and was shocked by the hundreds of stray dogs and cats roaming the streets of Turkey’s largest city.
“Some of them were injured and that was hard to see,” she said. “On the other hand, the people there seem to care about the animals, and feed them on the street. Of course, there were some jerks who beat the animals, and there was trauma.
“Hopefully, the attitude is changing a bit, but a lot of people don’t believe it is right to spay and neuter an animal for whatever reason. I can respect that, but when you have an overpopulation problem you need to start thinking differently.”
Equally astonishing was the shelter that housed roughly 3,000 animals. Ms Graham was taken there by Ms Sundbrink, who was working to upgrade the cat area.
“They had rows and rows of cages. It was just huge. It was pretty loud, but the people working there seemed to really care about the animals.”
Ms Graham lived in Toronto for several years after she left Bermuda. She and her now-husband then moved to Europe, where they lived in several countries including the Czech Republic.
At the moment they are living in Vancouver, where Sara has successfully homed eight Turkish rescue dogs through her Facebook group VANimal Rescue Society, although a move to Valencia, Spain is on the table.
Lion moved in with them two years ago. The cat has had laser treatments for his wounds, some of which are still not fully healed, and treatment for dental and respiratory issues common to shelter animals.
He had bounced around in foster homes in Istanbul for several months and Ms Graham “could not stop thinking about him”.
“He either did not get along with the fosters’ other cats, or the foster parent could only keep him for a short time,” she said.
“I knew we would be in Tuscany for the summer, and then moving to Vancouver at the end of August. We decided to wait until we got to Canada, which has less hoops to jump through for animal import.”
Separating Lion from her other cats, Tiger Lily and Dragon, was not easy in her small apartment.
“He was pretty social with us from the start,” she said. “There was no hiding. The other cats kept their distance and it has taken time for them to get used to his energy. There were a few fights those first months, but things are pretty peaceful these days.”
She is now pulling back from her work with Tails of Istanbul but planning to help out at animal shelters once in Spain.
She has discovered that when it comes to animal rescue, every day is an emergency.
In February 2019, Tails of Istanbul got a message from a tourist who found a dog and her six puppies in an old building.
“I reached out to a few rescuers with good networks in the country,” Ms Graham said.
With the help of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, they rescued the dogs and spayed and neutered them.
“We were all working together to make sure we did not lose track of the dogs,” Ms Graham said. “Once they end up in a shelter they can disappear. Therese got a few of the dogs homed through Tails of Istanbul. The mother dog was homed in Toronto in November 2020.”
One puppy, Rita, who found a home in Ontario, had distemper, a contagious and serious virus that attacks dogs’ respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. It left her with severe dental malformation and a tick.
Ms Graham struggled to find a vet in the Toronto area that would treat Rita’s teeth. The new owners found one who charged $4,000 for the surgery.
“Because of the tick, vets were worried about her having a seizure during the treatment,” she said.
Ms Graham sought help through crowdfunding, and ultimately raised $2,725 for the family. Rita had the surgery last week.
“The condition of her mouth was worse than initially thought so it was an additional hour of surgery and $1,200,” Ms Graham said. “On the bright side, she is recovering well and will benefit greatly from the treatment. We will know more about how she is doing in a couple of weeks.”
Look for @tailsofistanbul on Facebook. Sara Graham has urged people in Bermuda looking to help strays to contact the SPCA: www.spca.bm; 236-7333