Interview: dog groomer Irina Savenkova, who stayed in Kharkiv


Yuliya Strizhkina interviews Irina Savenkova-Pashchenko, a dog groomer who won numerous awards throughout her career and owner of a salon and grooming school in Kharkiv.

How did the war started for you?

At 5:24 I woke up from the sounds, as if someone was knocking out the iron door to the entrance. I lie and think: either to call the police or go out to quarrel? – The thought came that someone, after a successful celebration on February 23, forgot the keys and tried to get home. I got up, went to the window, looked out – and there was no one there. At the same time, the sounds of “bang bang” continued and the question flashed through my head: are we really being bombed?!

Then I heard a very loud and scary sound of a plane flying over the roof of the house. It was so terrifying and powerful that I involuntarily squatted down and became very frightened. As it turned out later, it was a cruise missile, which gave a clear understanding that the war had begun.

What happened next?

First weeks were a state of chaos and panic. In everything. We did not know: should we run away from the city, the country or wait? For almost a month, together with a small child, we hid in the corridor, in fact, we lived there and did not go out. It was very scary. In rare cases, when we got out, did it in small dashes. The city was shelled at least five times a day, and not only at military facilities, but also at civilian ones.

“People with animals had to hide for a long time mainly in basements filled with fleas, dampness and dust. No one could have imagined such a thing in a nightmare”

Just in case, I started packing things at home and in the salon too, as I was very afraid that a tool that costs “space” money could be damaged. Of course, there were no calls for work. Already after about three or four weeks, came a call with a question if it was possible to wash the dog, because in many parts of the city there were, and in some there are not still, water, light and heating. People with animals had to hide for a long time mainly in basements filled with fleas, dampness and dust. No one could have imagined such a thing in a nightmare.

And so, the owner of the spitz, which was already so full of dirt that they couldn’t even comb him, called and asked for help.

What was your first thought in this situation?

To help. I have water and light, and I have no right to refuse a person who does not have these.

Despite the fact that my way to work lay through a micro district in which rockets were actively flying and shooting, I pulled myself together, overcame my fear, took my five-year-old child by the hand, and we began to run to work in short dashes. Bangs, knees are tightening, and we are running. In the salon bathed, sheared and saved animals from potential problems, despite all the circumstances in which we found ourselves.

You and your family stayed in Kharkiv, although as a groomer you could find a job almost anywhere in the world. Why?

I found out that in our city with a population of, roughly speaking, 1.5 million people, out of the number of experienced groomers (not counting those who have just completed their training and do not have an experience yet), there were 5-6 people left. The rest left.

Ground public transport in Kharkiv does not run until now. The subway also does not work, as it is used as a bomb shelter. One can go by taxi only and to those areas where it is more or less calm, so people without personal transport cannot get.

Therefore, thank God that we, the remaining groomers, are scattered throughout the city, and we can refer clients to each other.

“My profession is the health of animals, so I had no moral right to leave them and go away”

Returning to the question itself: I realized that I could not leave those who remained in the city and that people from my micro district, which is quite large, would simply be abandoned, since they would not be able to get to other parts of Kharkov. My profession is the health of animals, so I had no moral right to leave them and go away.

What has the war changed in your work?

It limited opportunities. There are things that we can’t get now. The bulk of the dogs come in tangles. Previously, to solve this problem, we used professional tools, costing 700-800 UAH each, enough for 2-3 dogs. Now, due to the financial difficulties that have arisen, this has become impossible. Therefore, in such a situation, we use human Gliss Kur, but it is important to wash it off, otherwise it can ruin the coat.

Has the customer base changed, and if so, how?

Yes, it has changed a lot. Mostly animals are brought to us by very elderly people, husbands or young people. This is a category of people at which animals were threw. And there are a lot of them.

For example, a woman comes with a Yorkie. I see that the dog is familiar, but I see a woman for the first time. It turned out that the animal was left to her, under what conditions I do not know, but it is clear that the person has absolutely no idea how to care of him. I gave her a full consultation: how to properly feed, process, care of – everything that a person who remains instead of the owner should know.

The big problem is that many pets were thrown at people who begin to feed them borscht, meatballs and other unacceptable products, and who do not know how to properly look after them – hence the mass of problems: with coat, stomach, etc. In general, I think that one could have taken a dog weighing 2.5 kg with you during the evacuation.

Has the cat-to-dog ratio changed?

The cats have become much, much fewer. For some reason, many people believe that cats will get their own food on the street, so many of them were just left. Both purebred and non-pedigreed. For 2 months I had only 2 cats, despite the fact that it was 9-10 earlier in a month.

How has the demand for services changed during wartime?

A very short haircut is the top service now. People understand that animals suffer in tangles, and due to the fact that they cannot provide normal care, they ask to cut everything as short as possible, leaving only a beautiful head and tail. They dress pets in clothes, the dogs do not freeze and at the same time they can treat them with at least napkins so that the animal remains clean, since there is no water.

“Remember that animals cannot say that they are also scared, and most importantly, that they see how nervous you are and are already doubly nervous”

Give some basic tips on caring pets for people who, due to circumstances, have become owners for the first time, please.

Proper feeding. Do not feed from the table. Don’t give bones. If you have been left an animal that was kept on food – look for food.

Small breeds should be bathed once a week. Medium and larger – at least once every 2 weeks. Bathing is a must! You can use dry shampoo if available. If there is no shampoo for pets, as a last resort – shampoo for children. Combing is a must too.

Here’s a 2 in 1 tip for you! Comb your animal: you will get anti-stress plus a distraction from the surrounding reality and the animal is pleased too.

It is important to take care of the muzzle and ears. Ordinary human micellar water is suitable for this: for wiping the eyes, and for cleaning the ears, together with a muzzle. It is sold everywhere, even in a pharmacy. Do not forget also about hygiene procedures too.

And it is also very important: to devote time to the dog. Play with it for at least 45 minutes and talk. Remember that animals cannot say that they are also scared, and most importantly, that they see how nervous you are and are already doubly nervous.

Have you had a chance to fulfil an order for some kind of patriotic haircut or coloring during wartime?

So far, no such requests have been received from visitors, but I did it my dog ​​Jessica. There is a trident on the chest same as an imitation of vyshyvanka, and the ears and paws are painted in the color of our flag. I think that demand is possible after the victory.

Irina chose to stay in Kharkiv

It is not easy to work with some pets even in peacetime. How are you coping now during the sounds of explosions and wailing sirens?

During the war, people are afraid to separate, and therefore many come with their whole families. If an air raid alarm is triggered during work, and we have 5-6 of them a day, we hide the owners in the toilet, because there are three protective walls there. I and a pet-client go to the back room, in which there are two blank walls. This is how we run here and there. And you know, it’s not scary anymore. The only thing I do is to hide the tools so that it does not harm the animal. And realizing that now there may be loud sounds, I cover pets` ears, start talking to it and distracting.

(I hear how a woman entered the salon and asked Irina for humanitarian aid, diapers for a 93-year-old woman who is lying down. I knew that Irina is a volunteer and helps animals, but I didn’t know that she also supports people. I decided to definitely ask at the end of the conversation).

The most unusual client during the war?

A cat that is almost completely paralyzed. Just the other day I had her. She’s 4 years old. Very beautiful black color of the Scottish Fold breed. She jumped off the windowsill the wrong way about a year ago, hit and injured her spine. The animal lives in a “bracket” position, all 4 paws practically do not work, its tongue hangs, its head is almost always lowered and it cannot be straightened, because it hurts. She doesn’t walk, she crawls. And when I raised the paw to shave – I see that it hurts and I feel it all myself, it hurts me myself.

“I don’t really have anything else for people. As for animals, thank God, we receive help from different countries and Ukrainian cities.”

At the same time, the owners take great care of her and are not ready to let her go: they treat, anesthetize, feed soft food from a spoon, drink from a syringe.

Perhaps this is the most difficult case in my practice. I have worked with animals both with limb fractures and after fractures with pins, but this was the first time with a paralyzed animal in severe pain.

Today I have already become an unwitting witness of your volunteer activities. Tell about it.

I am a breeder of Bichon Frise dogs, we received help from a group of owners of this dog breed from The United Kingdom. They sent a lot of diapers for babies, and we distribute them to mothers who stayed in Kharkov. There are objectively a lot of them. As you heard, we share with the elderly too.

I don’t really have anything else for people. As for animals, thank God, we receive help from different countries and Ukrainian cities. First of all, we help with food. For those who cannot come themselves, we try to bring ourselves. Recently, with my dad and husband, under shelling, we carried food to kennels that are located in settlements cut off from the world. We distribute help to abandoned dogs and cats also.

90% of people in Kharkiv were left without work, and therefore without income. As a result, people have nothing to feed and maintain their animals. At the same time, in our city you rarely find a family with only one pet. We have 2 dogs, a cat, fish, hamsters and birds per family.

When I get help, I post it on my Facebook page and people who see the right thing ask. It is very difficult for some to ask, no one could ever think that they would find themselves in a situation where there is no money and you have to ask. Others call with tears in their eyes…

What help is needed and how can it be given?

Help is needed in many ways.

Food for cats and dogs. Rodents and guinea pigs are also in dire need of feed. I know a rat which owners have to feed it dandelions, as they have no money to buy food.

A very big problem is with fillers for cats. Some people think that cats can go and collect sand and make such a replacement, but an animal that is used to going to the toilet with a filler does not understand this and walks by.

In addition, there is a big problem to buy disinfectants and detergents. There is no Santry gel Milam with an acid that kills all the odors. Domestos, Whiteness and chlorine only enhance the smell of cat urine even more. Moreover, it is fraught with damage to the respiratory tract in animals from chloride preparations.

“But under all these difficult circumstances, we hold on and do not give up. We hope everything will be fine soon”

There is a need for antiseptics. Due to the fact that half of the veterinary clinics are closed, people cannot vaccinate their pets on time and treat them properly, so I have to treat paravirusitis several times a day, which also became unavailable.

In terms of grooming, we would be very grateful for: shampoos (left for 2-3 weeks), conditioners are also running out, blades. Dogs are under stress, jump, run away – the instrument falls. During the work while the hostilities, I broke 2 trimmers and 4 knife blocks. One can find and buy, but because of the difficult financial situation, it is extremely difficult.

But under all these difficult circumstances, we hold on and do not give up. We hope everything will be fine soon. And thanks to the help and support of all the people who worry about us and pray for us, we are alive and trying to help others.

Contacts for those who can help pets from Mariupol and other affected regions of Ukraine:

Interview conducted by: Yuliya Strizhkina
Chief editor: Japanese Spitz SIMBA TSAR ZVEREI
Images courtesy of Irina Savenkova-Pashchenko


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