Kat Hirsikangas & her rescue dogs
After last week’s interview with Vera Thorenaar of Galgos en Familia, I came into contact with Finnish blogger Kati Hirsikangas, who adopted her own rescue dog Silver through the organization. Kati not only writes about (rescue) dogs, she also fostered about 20 dogs to get them ready for their adoptive families, and has 5 dogs of her own. So, it was clear to me that she deserves her own interview on the blog…
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Kati Hirsikangas, I am 41 years old and live in capital area in Finland. I share my life with my partner, two sons and five dogs, four of them have been adopted from shelters in Spain. I work in a digital marketing company, most days I do what I like best: create content and write. I spend a lot of my free time also writing; I have a blog focusing on rescue dogs.
How did you get started with animal rescue work?
When I was a very young girl I kept my mother on her toes. I used to catch runaway dogs from the streets and brought them in our house and built a shelter in our cellar… Dogs have always been very dear to me and we had dogs when I was still living at my childhood home. There was a time in my life when I was living abroad, studying, having babies, living a life of a working single mom when I was not able to have dogs but during that time I looked after my friends dogs.
More involved in helping dogs I became a lot later, after my busy life had settled down a bit. We got a dachshund puppy at one point and later wanted to have another dog. It was then when I discovered the situation in Spain. After adopting the first dog through Espanjan Koirat I became involved with the rescue organization in different tasks. I was also involved in the re-homing process which required frequent visits to shelters in Spain, home interviews etc. I was part of the airport team that meets the dogs on arrival and hands them over to their owners, events, communications, fostering of course, flight arrangements – many different things. Due to lack of time I am currently only helping here and there. Being 100% committed to charity work is a very difficult act to balance when working full time, having a family and owning five dogs. Maybe someday! I have a little dream that after my children have left the nest I will move back to my previous home country UK where I lived many years before and start up a little shelter for abandoned greyhounds.
You have fostered a lot of dogs, can you tell us about this experience?
We have had about 20 foster dogs who have stayed with us while waiting to find their forever homes. It is a very rewarding job and exciting too. I do sometimes feel very sad when a foster dog leaves but that’s how it is suppose to go. I am very fortunate that some of our foster dogs have found homes close to us and I can see them and we occasionally take care of them when their owners travel etc. Also, Facebook is such a great tool to keep in touch with their homes. It is lovely to be able to follow the dogs life after being re-homed.
There are many things to consider of course when fostering. I always choose dogs that are most compatible with our own dogs. Also of course when fostering you need to be prepared for anything, as you do when adopting a shelter dog. There might be issues with the dog and you need to be prepared to deal with those. I have had great experiences with our foster dogs and it is a blessed situation to be in – the link between shelter and home. I see fostering as a priceless experience and also a very important when re-homing shelter dogs. The foster family collects so much data of the dog and this information is so useful when choosing a family for the dog. Naturally you learn a lot about the dog while living under the same roof – and if there are issues with the behavior the foster family can start addressing them.
Did you end up keeping any of your foster dogs?
We did keep one of our foster dogs, the second one we ever fostered! There had been talks previously that we might do so, so the decision was nearly done when we picked up the dog from the airport. The dog was our Arturo from BaasGalgo. He is such a great dog and really opened my eyes to see the situation of Galgos in Spain.
What are the stories of your own dogs?
Our dachshund called Maserati has been with us since he was a puppy. He is from a good breeder here in Finland. Typical to his breed; barks a lot guarding our house, very stubborn but truly a lovely and sweet boy.
Jimi is our first rescue dog, in some ways I think is the “dog of my life”. Without him, I would not have become involved in rescue. He is a little terrier mix and was found from the street in Malaga and stayed at Protectora Malaga before flying home to us one cold January evening. He has some issues, especially with new people and situations so we try to give him a calm, steady life without stress. He is a great, obedient, cute little boy.
We met Pippa while on holiday in Fuengirola. She had been left at the killing shelter, probably because the very first night on her arrival there she had puppies. Pippa is a Podenco. She might be even as old as 10 years now, quite funny little dog. Great nature and makes everybody smile. She is probably the easiest of our dogs, no problems with her whatsoever.
Arturo is the most handsome Galgo in the world! He is from Cordoba and when he was found he was in a terrible state, there was no certainty if he would make it. He did. He is gorgeous and lovely, very brave and social which is not always so with Galgos. Very calm at home but full of fire outside, especially at the dog park where he can run free. He has very high level of hunting instinct so that does give some limitations to what you can do with him.
Our latest arrival is Silver – we call him Musti. He is a Galgo mix from Galgos en Familia shelter and we have had him since September. He was found in the rubbish as a puppy, and he is about 8 months now. Very active and quite crazy too but I guess that’s the way young dogs are! Needs lots to do and activity, he has been a pleasure to train because he learns quickly, smart boy. We take him to agility class which he seems to enjoy a lot! A lot of work – puppies are!
We lost our dear Basset Hound Miio this summer due to cancer. We only had her a bit over 2 years, she came to live with us when she was 8 years old. She was from a breeder in Finland who wanted to get rid of her because she was getting too old to breed more puppies.
She was wonderful and we miss her every day.
How is the situation in Finland regarding animal protection?
In Finland things are a lot better compared to many other European countries. No stray dogs here – if you see a dog running free without an owner they in most cases are runaways and desperately looked for. There are only a handful of dogs in shelters in Finland; which in my opinion justifies the fact that people adopt dogs from other countries. If you are not able to find a suitable dog from Finland – why not turn to a registered rescue organization that helps dogs abroad? However, the situation regarding cats is worse. Thousands of cats are abandoned every year and euthanized. Not good.
Generally people look after their dogs pretty well and if they need to give up the dog, the owners usually look for a new home themselves. But regarding the animal protection law – there is lot to be done. Currently it is very hard for animal protection to do anything when animals are not looked after and are mistreated. It takes a long time and the situation has to be really bad before the animals are taken into custody. We have a massive problems with fur farming (terrible) and illegal puppy mill trade. Lots of dogs are transported to Finland from Estonia and Russia and sold here – many of them ill on arrival and end up dying. They come from puppy factories and are transported generally with false passports, without vaccinations so they are also a big risk to other animals and humans. Luckily the media writes about the puppy mills and animal protection associations have campaigns, so people should be aware shouldn’t buy – but they do. We will have the parliamentary election next spring and I will surely give my vote to a party and candidate who will look into these issues as well.
You also have your own blog about rescue dogs in Finland. How did you get started with that and can you tell us a bit about this?
I have always been a writer so blogging about dogs was quite a natural thing to do. My blog is not only about rescue dogs; it’s also about my own dogs and current events and issues in dog world. I’m very outspoken in a way and want to pay attention also to controversial issues, and writing is such a natural way of expressing myself. I started the blog earlier this year. I have covered topics about the foster dogs we have had, responsible rescue work, our shelter visits in Poland and UK, losing a dog, visits to rescue events, leishmania, vet services, pet supplies – quite a few different things actually! I hope my readers find the blog to be informative, thought-provoking and maybe even entertaining. Blogging is also a great way of helping and spreading the word. You can sit down and write when feeling inspired about something and have few extra hours.
How would you convince people to adopt an animal instead of buying one?
Adopting should always really be the number one choice. The world is full of dogs, cats too, without homes who die at shelters – why breed more? I am not completely against breeding – but it has to be done responsibly and the dog’s health should never be compromised. There are so many dogs needing a new home who are perfect pets. When adopting through an organization a new rescue family has the support and help if needed. But the decision of adopting should never be based on pity. It is a commitment for many years to come – and one needs to ask themselves- am I really up for this? In most cases all goes well but one has to remember that usually it’s unknown what the dog has experienced. There might be problems and the owner needs to be committed. Adopting a dog abroad should always be done through a registered organization that follows all rules and regulations, supports the owners for as long as the dog lives, enforces only positive methods when training/ adapting a rescue dog to a new life.
If thinking of adopting for the first time, it is a good idea to contact rescue organizations, look for information and talk to people who have adopted. In Finland there are quite few rescue events that are worth visiting, it is a perfect chance to also meet dogs that have been adopted and are living their new life.
After adopting my first rescue dog I had no idea what a great journey it started – and that journey continues! I have had the best of times – and experienced some sad and difficult times. I have seen badly mistreated dogs and those images will haunt me forever. I have lost my faith in humanity many times – but also found it again because of the people who are fighting for these dogs and helping them. As I person, I am wiser and more compassionate.