This Woman Has Dedicated Her Life to Helping Animals Nobody Wants

Daria Pushkareva quit her job in the city and moved out to a country house 160 kilometers from Moscow to open an animal sanctuary.

Jun 6, 2019

Daria Pushkareva had it all. She was a successful wedding photographer and filmmaker living in Moscow, Russia's capital city. Her work was in so much demand that she was working 15-hour days. But she began to feel that something was missing from her life. That's why she ended up leaving it all behind to open an animal sanctuary in the woods. In an exclusive interview, Pushkareva told her amazing story to Bored Panda.

“I was one of the top five Moscow wedding photographers,” Daria Pushkareva told Bored Panda. “My clients were, for the most part, elite businessmen and politicians. Very intelligent and very cultured; they’ve definitely changed my perception of wealthy Russian people for the better.”

“I became a photographer because I wanted to reduce the intensity of my life. I invested all of my money into photo equipment and master classes to perfect my skills. But ended up in the same place. No vacations, simply not giving myself neither the rest nor the holidays I so desperately needed. I shut myself away at work and the only joy I had came from producing impressive photos. I realized that I was a workaholic, always preferring doing or creating something to any form of relaxation.”

Pushkareva was always an animal lover and had dreamed of rescuing dogs since she was a child.

 
 
 
 
 
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“I then remembered my childhood when I and my classmates were talking about future professions and I said that I wanted to run a dog shelter. Growing up without a father, my mom worked really hard, so I didn’t have a dog at the time, it would’ve been too much. My mom understood that getting me a dog eventually would have become an additional weight on herself.”

Now that she was an adult herself and well-situated in life, getting a dog was finally possible, and her life was about to take a big turn.

“One day, I saw a piece about a shelter puppy without an eye. It needed 10K rubles ($150) to book a visit to the ophthalmologist. I met a volunteer to give her the money for the dog’s treatment in person and she told me, “Thank you, but we can’t take her to the vet. There’s no one to do it right now.”

 
 
 
 
 
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Pushkareva decided to do it herself and, without knowing it at the time, took the first step into a different life.

"The owner of the shelter came and placed the flea-bitten furball onto my lap while I was sitting in the car. I looked at her asking, ‘Is this a puppy?'”

After the first rescue, Pushkareva and her husband knew they had found their purpose and kept taking in more dogs that needed help. They took in a number of paralyzed dogs that no one else wanted or could handle. They had already taken in six dogs, when they decided they were not done helping animals yet.

 
 
 
 
 
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“My husband and I wanted a seventh dog. One that was in such terrible condition, nobody would take it. There wasn’t a dog like that in Moscow, but there was one in Krasnodar. When I spotted it in an e-catalog, I immediately felt its eyes looking directly at me. We took the 7-month puppy home and the same night it started pinning our six quiet and calm dogs to the ground. The midnight fights wouldn’t end, so we took it to a dog trainer – but it didn’t help. It would howl, demolishing the apartment and even act aggressively towards us. It turned out that the dog had a craniocerebral trauma, that would give him all sorts of mirages, and it could’ve attacked in a blink of an eye.”

Pushkareva and her husband worked with the trainer to calm their dog, but he remained dangerous, causing her to fear for her life. The only suggestion anyone could come up with was to put the dog down, or bring it into the forest, far away from the city and let it run free.

“Then and there, we took out two loans and bought a country house 160 km (100 miles) away from Moscow and moved there with our dogs," she tells. "We built six enclosures for our rescue dogs and began living completely new and different lives.”

 
 
 
 
 
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The land is so remote that the couple live off the grid using solar panels and a generator for electricity. They now have running water and indoor plumbing.

The couple now devotes their lives to taking care of the rescued animals. They feed the animals, give medication to the sick ones and clean up the animal's living quarters. The animals get to run loose during the day and sleep in enclosures at night.

“However, I wouldn’t consider our household a shelter. In fact, I even feel offended if someone calls it like that. A shelter is a place where new volunteers and other people contribute to the wellbeing of the animals that are constantly moving in and out. We, on the other hand, have our own dogs, we love them and devote our lives to them. To us, they are family members. They’ll remain with us forever and we do not want to give them away to anyone.”

 
 
 
 
 
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Now more than 100 animals live at the sanctuary and while taking care of all of them can be exhausting it is also very fulfilling work.

“Even the amount of animals that we currently have was a little unexpected. Last fall, a dog came over to our side of the fence, and after we took it in, it turned out to be pregnant, giving birth to seven puppies.”

“Over time, we’ve come to know how to handle difficult animals and developed veterinary experience. These things have allowed us to save many animals. Currently, however, we’re not taking in new ones. I’ve come learn how to weigh my physical, financial and other capabilities, and that’s the best I can do now.”

<>Pushkareva now uses her immense talent to take pictures of the sanctuary animals and regularly posts pictures and videos on her Instagram page. It's important to share the work they do with the public.

“I strongly believe that teaching a good attitude towards animals is very important,” she said. “Even those with disabilities can lead happy lives. And foxes can be born not only to become someone’s clothing.”

 
 
 
 
 
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“Me and my husband aside, we have two employees who are here almost seven days a week. Sometimes, other people come by if we need urgent construction repair work done. Because we live outside the city and there’s not much of civilization around us, we do most of the stuff with our own hands.”

“I find time to work as a freelancer, mostly retouching photos, but our friends really help us out a lot. Some raise money to pay the employees, some donate as much as they can whenever they can. I am eternally grateful to them! We don’t have any sponsors, and we don’t expect any of them. My principle of living with animals is that they’re your responsibility.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said that "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Animal lovers have opened animal sanctuaries, rescued pets, retired working animals, injured wildlife, and endangered animals in most countries around the world. All it takes are kind people like Pushkareva and her husband to open their homes and hearts.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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