The Mutt-i-grees Global Student Ambassadors in Bosnia send me updates throughout the year about their inspirational work to save as many homeless dogs as possible. In Srebrenica the challenges are many for both humans and non-humans. Since the 1995 genocide, reports indicate that the economy has never recovered from the individual to family to institution. With poverty, there is suffering and a lack of resources. Not to mention trying to care for homeless animals when people are struggling. 

This does not stop the Ambassadors, but rather seems to propel them further. Beginning in 2021/22 school year, we had two Mutt-i-grees Global Ambassadors – Anastasija and Milica. Anastasija worked with schools and reaching out in her community creating flyers for shop windows and talking to people at community events. Anastasija spoke on how to contribute to the local shelter by volunteering and adopting dogs. She spoke on the humane treatment of street dogs. She put herself at the forefront in sending an open message to community politicians that “We children demand their involvement and support to treat animals humanely.”  

Milica our other Ambassador had the innovative idea to visit Jahorina Ski Resort which is the largest tourism destination in Bosnia. She knew there would be tourists with means and access to help. In addition, she heard the manager loved animals and secured a meeting with him When she arrived at the meeting sitting in his office in the middle of the floor were several dogs, he had rescued himself (photos included!). Milica’s instincts served her true. She felt it was just the beginning. 

Milica presented the Ambassador program to the manager, as well as her intent to help the Happytails Shelter with vaccinations and spay/neuter procedures. The conversation went on long. He challenged her with lots of questions that she answered not only to his satisfaction but gained his admiration. She then asked if he would promote the purchase of the calendars she had created of the shelter and street dogs in some way. He bought 10 himself and another fifty on behalf of the company for distribution. Milica with her “out of the box” meeting raised funds for the local shelter Happytails as well as awareness of the plight of homeless animals in Bosnia to an audience no one else had reached. 

Because of Anastasija and Milica’s voices, in the next school year the program grew from two to eight Bosnian Mutt-i-grees Ambassadors spanning from Srebrenica to Sarajevo, Bratunac, Mostar and Bratunac with our youngest Ambassador ever; Tamara at the age of three years old.  With her desire and love of dogs she proved that no matter your age, with the support of your family, school and community you can make a difference. These extraordinary students encompass what service is learning is about. The inseparable combination of school, family, and community working together is a powerful combination for a team. 

It’s not an easy task to unwring the bell. The message from individuals to institutions that the homeless dogs are “dangerous”, “dirty” is an easier message to convey. Easier for the financial burden and easier on one’s time and resources to dismiss. To make the visible invisible is simpler.  To make the invisible visible takes care, takes time, energy, and funding. However, the result in turning a blind eye is suffering. And the suffering incurred isn’t just suffering animals but neglect of oneself and the community. Humans and non-humans together inhabit the world. Living side-by-side our lives are intertwined. The connection is a crossroad for health, emotional well-being, and actions. This has never been more evident with the Covid global pandemic, Listeria, Salmonella, and factory farming disasters in our century. So, we ask how does being kind matter? How can just having empathy change anything?  

In countless studies, kindness and compassion have been linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, better mental and physical health. In 1693 John Locke wrote: “Of Cruelty,” in Some Thoughts Concerning Education that there is a connection between childhood abuse to animals and later abuse or cruelty to humans. Increase in empathy and compassion creates more socially adept children. It increases the ability to regulate emotions. To utilize distress or caregiving urges as “fuel to help” is good for health and well-being while increases self-efficacy – judging oneself as capable and able to help is associated with happiness and resilience against depression and anxiety. Empathy is a pathway to change and understanding. 

The world becomes what we teach. Humane Education explores the ways in which we can do the most good and least harm for all, both in our personal choices and in the systems we support. Service Learning is transforming systems. Together with Humane Education it examines the systematic injustices of both human and nonhuman animals and asks learners to embrace actions that can change the systems surrounding abuse or need. Service-learning activities can help to create change through personal actions and by educating others. Leaving a footprint on a better tomorrow.  

This definition is played out daily by our Bosnia Mutt-i-grees Ambassadors. They are not bound by boundaries. They’re boundless. An obstacle crosses their path, and they move around it. They do not accept the vernacular of the institutions or people that choose to spread hatred for the homeless animals. Their passion is fueled by the discourse and are determined to change what it is. They embody what it means to have courage, to never give up and believe that kindness brings hope. One saved life at a time they walk the path despite the resistance. Their approach is with a smile and love in their hearts. They are an inspiration to us all and we are honored to have them in our lives as friends and comrades – part of the Mutt-i-gree Family. We honor their heroic acts and bow to their grace in the face of adversity. 

From our heart to theirs, 

Jayne Vitale, Director Education & Youth Programs and the entire Mutt-i-grees Team