Devotion to animals is not a new concept. People have kept horses, cats, and dogs for ages. However, the depth of the owner-pet bond varies widely across the globe. While some will simply take good care of one furry friend, others will move mountains for them, including uprooting their entire lives.
Daria Pushkareva lies on the latter end of that spectrum, willing to go above and beyond for the animals she always longed to have by her side. However, this kind of commitment doesn’t come without its price, and for Daria, it was higher than most of us could imagine.
For six years, Daria Pushkavera dedicated herself to the film and TV industry of Moscow, working one production after another. The daily grind was really wearing her down.
“I was proud of my work,” she said, “but my entire movie production life resulted in being exhausted, working 15-hour shifts without a day off for two weeks at a time.” Knowing she couldn’t keep this up forever, Daria took her eye for visual media in a new direction.
Taking every penny she had saved, she invested in cameras and master classes in order to become a photographer. She studied, worked hard, and eventually broke through in the business, but there were complications…
“I became a photographer because I wanted to reduce the intensity of my life, but ended I up in the same place. Once again I gave myself no breaks, I shut myself away at work and the only joy I had came from producing impressive photos.”
Even when Daria became one of Moscow’s Top 5 wedding photographers, it still wasn’t enough to satisfy her own cravings for success. “I realized that I was a workaholic,” she said, “always preferring doing or creating something to any form of relaxation.”
Reconsidering again what she should do regarding her all-encompassing career, Daria went back to her roots and thought of what she had wanted when she was a child: to run a dog shelter. Unfortunately, she had never had a dog in her life.
“Growing up without a father, my mom worked really hard, so I didn’t have a dog at the time,” she said. “It would’ve been too much. My mom understood that getting me a dog eventually would have become an additional weight on herself.”
However, she did the best she could to help any dogs in need once she grew up and started earning paychecks. “I donated and volunteered, finding dogs therapy, accommodation, and funds. I had little free time then, so this was the best I could do.”
One day, she learned about a one-eyed shelter pup who needed 10K rubles ($150) to visit the ophthalmologist. Daria donated the money for the dog’s treatment, but there was no one to take the pup to the appointment, so she volunteered herself.
“At that point, everything became clear and simple,” she said. “The owner of the shelter came and placed the flea-ridden furball onto my lap while I was sitting in the car on the way to the doctor. I looked at her asking, ‘Is this a puppy?’”
Soon after that, Daria and her husband began adopting dogs left and right. By the time they were ready to take in their 7th dog, they were definitely up for a challenge and decided to adopt a troubled pooch that would have otherwise been put down.
It growled at them, fought with their other dogs, and tore up their apartment every day. As it turned out, it had a craniocerebral trauma, meaning it would never get better. Daria had a decision to make: get rid of the dog or uproot their lives to accommodate it?
Without a single doubt, they took out two loans and bought a country house 160 km (100 miles) away from Moscow and moved out there with their dogs. They rapidly built six enclosures for the rescue dogs and dove right into their new lives.
“I know there are few who’d take in troubled dogs, and even fewer who’d move to the countryside to take care of them, but we’ve said goodbye to a comfortable life and are fine with it. I finally feel like I’m not wasting my life, but spending my time meaningfully.”
Living on the agricultural land in the middle of nowhere is certainly no piece of cake. Four years after settling in, Daria and her husband finally have hot water and regular plumbing. For them, the dogs always come first, so there is little money for “human comfort.”
It’s been a while since they stopped looking for new dogs, as people are actually sending tips or even bringing them to the farm. By March of 2019, the couple has cared for over 100 dogs, and it didn’t stop there…
“Once, I came across a girl volunteer and we became good friends,” Daria said. “We were just chatting when she said, ‘Well, my foxes…’ I interrupted her, ‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘Foxes?’” To prevent them from becoming fur coats, Daria began rescuing foxes as well.
In fact, once she started looking into foxes, it wasn’t long before she found a family of raccoons that were injured and needed a home as well. No creature would be turned away, but both the financial and physical burdens were getting heavier and heavier.
In order to compensate for the growing number of furry friends, Daria hired two employees to help with day-to-day tasks. This included getting up at the crack of dawn, feeding the animals, cleaning the grounds, look after their health, and much more.
With the costs adding up, Daria had no choice but to go back to work. She freelanced as a photo retoucher, but without going back to her workaholic ways. Still, there was no budget for their own luxuries. “Good thing we don’t need a lot of that,” she said.
The rest of the money comes from friends who help raise funds and supplies. Even strangers lend a hand as well. “I am eternally grateful to them,” Daria said. “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.”
At some point, Daria’s farm may have to stop taking in animals in need or start giving them new homes, but it’s not something she wants to consider at the moment. “We are not a shelter. We devote our lives to our dogs and don’t want to give them away.”
It seems that this artist with a heart of gold has finally found her calling. “I’m helping these animals and am sincerely enjoying it,” she said. “I know I can take responsibility in taking care of them, giving them space, food, and love.”
The adventures of Daria, her husband, and their friends can be followed through Daria’s Instagram and Youtube accounts. Luckily, they aren’t fighting for animals alone: their ambitions are matched by people all over the world — like 7-year-old Roman McConn.
At only seven years old, Roman McConn began taking on a project similar to Daria’s… It all started when this Batman-loving, soccer-playing little pirate finally convinced his mom to bring a canine presence to their home.
One day Roman went with his mom Jen, left, to a kill shelter for dogs in their home state of Texas. They planned to adopt a dog. But Roman was a little confused…
In the shelter, Jen said, “he kept asking why [the dogs] were there.” And what could she tell her toddler? They were unwanted, abandoned, and awaiting something grizzly? She softened the blow, telling her son, “they’re looking for homes.”
Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune
To Roman, that was a silly concept with a simple solution: Just find the dogs homes! That day, the duo adopted a lovely dog named Luna—their first of two adopted dogs—but that didn’t satisfy his interest in helping every single dog find a home.
That was how both Roman and Jen became heavily involved in the animal shelter. The two didn’t just clean out kennels and play with down dogs, either. Instead, they undertook a truly impressive project—and the results were unbelievable.
Naturally, Roman—who “was pretty much born loving pets,” according to his mother—made sure kenneled dogs were happy, sitting beside their cages and reading to them from his favorite books. But he knew that wouldn’t find them homes.
While Roman did his part, Jennifer made videos and took pictures of dogs in need of adoption, below. But her videos, she knew, needed extra spice. So she recruited Roman, who took center stage in the videos, highlighting what potential owners needed to know. For instance…
Roman showed off his “pal Sadie” in a more recent video that scored hundreds of shares on Facebook. “She’s super shy,” he said, “and she hasn’t been trained to walk on a leash, so her new owner needs to be really patient.” The video continued.
Project Freedom Ride / Facebook
“I can tell you [Sadie’s] super sweet,” he said. “But she really needs to be trained to walk on a leash [so she can] be a happy dog like all the other dogs.” You can just feel his love and connection with her and every other dog he showcased.
Project Freedom Ride / Facebook
Roman made special videos for every dog he could. He made a video for lovable Legend, left, a deaf dog; he even made a video for Candy, who lost an eye in an accident. But in 2016, Roman’s filmmaking and Jen’s volunteer work hit a snag.
Roman’s father, left, who served in the Navy, received orders to relocate overseas. Jen and Roman would have to move to Washington state to be a bit closer to him—and further from Texas kill shelters.
But after the move, Jen saw an opportunity. “The world for a dog, generally speaking,” she said, “was so much better up here in Washington than down there in Texas…People take them hiking and there’s stuff to do.”
She joked that she should start an Underground Railroad for dogs, referencing, of course, the 19th-century transportation network that snuck slaves from captivity to free states, illustrated below. But then, she thought, was that such a crazy idea?
That was when Jen founded Project Freedom Ride to bring dogs from kill shelters in Texas to loving families in the northwest. With the help of Roman, who kept on making videos representing the pooches, the duo brought 31 dogs from Texas to Washington!
Since 2016, Jen transported about 50 dogs per month from cages in Texas to loving arms in Washington. Donations alone covered the $11,000 price tag to transport a pooch. The “Underground Railroad” was in full swing—and for Jen, the payoff was huge.
Project Freedom Ride / Facebook
After watching a Roman-made video, potential owners “develop this bond and this love for a dog they’ve never even met,” Jen said. “Then when they have that moment where everything comes together, it’s very overwhelming for some of them.” Jen loved witnessing that first connection.
Project Freedom Ride / Facebook
Unbelievably, by mid-2018, Roman and Jen rescued 1,050 dogs from Texas kill shelters via their doggie Underground Railroad. And Jen knew it couldn’t have been done without Roman’s adorable videos. On Instagram, she wrote, “Roman has literally become the lifeblood of Project Freedom Ride.”
But Roman didn’t let the recognition go to his head. “It makes me feel happy saving all these dogs,” he said. “But it doesn’t just make me happy, I’m sure it makes all the dogs happy.” And it makes someone else happy, too.
All the way across the Pacific Ocean, in Japan where Roman’s father was stationed, Roman had a big fan club. “Roman’s dad is super proud,” Jen said. “That’s his boy.” No doubt, both parents had a lot to be proud of.
You can see why Roman was so effective at getting dogs adopted when you check out his “sales pitch” for Sadie below. Just look at the way he beamed when talking about her. Watching him fall in love with the pooch is an easy way to fall in love with her yourself!
Sweet Sadie is only 2 but has had a tough first couple years. She is shutting down while she waits for her perfect match. She had to be an only dog and a leash is terrifying to her. She is the sweetest girl though and sooo loving to humans. Sadie is available at NOAH#RomansRescues #AdoptSadie #AdoptDontShop
Posted by Project Freedom Ride on Sunday, May 6, 2018