- December, Blizzard, January
- Kai Engel
IF YOU WISH
For close to a decade my wife and I have been taking care of homeless animals in Moscow. Three years ago, we bought a place in the country to create a paradise for animals. On a cold winter’s day on January 19, 2017, paradise was lost. This is our story.
My name is Andrew Aydov and my wife’s name is Anna. We are in the dental profession. We have two beautiful and compassionate grown children, Masha and Vasia. Our family has always felt a special bond with animals. Especially the most vulnerable among them.
We have a place in Moscow. Whenever we found stray dogs and cats in need of a home, we couldn’t stop ourselves from helping. It didn’t matter if the animal was sick, invalid, diseased or damaged, we would treat them and provide food and comfort.
As you can imagine, our home was noisier, and busier,than others, but our adopted pets were happy and we were deeply contented in our purpose to restore their health and happiness. Whenever possible, we would find new homes for them, but it was not easy. Many Russians don’t have the same love and respect for animals as we do. It will take time, but we hope to influence the Russian culture.
After years of managing as best we could, it became obvious our growing family was simply too big for our house. We made a big decision to invest in building a safe haven for our growing brood in the country, where space would no longer limit the number or type of animals we could provide for.
Welcome to paradise
In 2014, we found a magical wooden house on the edge of a small and sparsely populated village. The ultimate verdict from our 50+ dogs and cats was pure bliss. Soon we were able to take them on long walks in the forest and adventurous swims in the surrounding lakes. In winter, they chased each other through the snow and buried treasures alongside us as we tended to our chores.
Our friends who came to visit us claimed the animals were in “paradise.”So, that’s what we decided to name our new home in the country – Dogs’ Paradise. Now, the word “dogs” may be in the name, but we didn’t stop there.
A growing family
We wanted to produce milk and cheese to help support the cost of our rescue operation, so we decided to add farm animals to our family. It started with two beautiful Alpine goats, Odyssey – the boy and Penelope - the girl. But soon some less-than-perfect goats were pulling at our heartstrings and we simply had to buy them as well. The sellers couldn’t believe their luck, but we secretly knew we were the fortunate ones.
Athena, Gera, Ega, and Sirena joined our small herd of “Greek” goats. What a clan! Soon after that, we had added ten very rare in Russia Ost-Frisian milk sheep, who affectionately craned their heads towards us whenever we were near. An Ost-Frisian ram named Arthur, so dubbed for his noble nature, was added to our family. Then there was Comet, a spirited Russian breed red calf, and Silver, a rambunctious Jersey male calf. You cannot imagine our family’s excitement as our dreams came true before our very eyes.
My favorite was the baby of the group – Hermiona. We bought her just before Christmas – a red Ayrshire calf with a perfect white star on her forehead. Just four months old, Hermiona was no bigger than a large dog,with the sweetest disposition of all, humans included.
The newest members of our family needed their own house so we set about building a barn for them. We took on six cats (one, by the way, who had three legs and another with had a broken spine) to stay in the barn and protect the hens (yes, we installed a marvelous flock of producing hens on the farm as well) from mice and rats.
One of our smaller dogs, Kozulya, exhibited a strong affinity for our barn animals and she decided to permanently move in the barn. Maybe she was a rebel or a protector. Or perhaps she just preferred the company of cows and goats to that of so many other dogs.
Whatever the reason, it was a strange combination. But it worked. Beautifully. The animals just got along, realizing somehow that they shared the common tag of outsiders, outcasts and orphans.
While life with the animals was peaceful, life with our neighbors was not. At first they looked at us with skepticism. Why we looking after so many animals? Not just animals, but broken animals.
Despite our attempts to communicate our mission, to maintain transparent operations, to invite outsiders in to see for themselves, tensions escalated, becoming openly hostile within months of establishing the farm. Poachers in the area were particularly unhappy with our presence. Ignorance about the need to end animal cruelty prevailed.
We began receiving threats, direct and indirect. Before long, our dogs were turning up dead. Six in all. Poisoned. Shot. Murdered. If it wasn’t for our compassionate and skilled daughter, Masha, who is studying to be a veterinarian, many more of our dogs would have died.
As heartbreaking as this was, nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.
Fire and snow
Deep into winter, we had pregnant ALL the goats and sheep in our brood. My wife’s dear friend, Tanya, was at the farm, helping us prepare for the arrival of their babies. On January 19th, Anna and Tanya had just cleaned the barn when they trekked back to the house to take a short break for lunch.
Half an hour later, they looked out the window to see our barn in flames.
Anna and Tanya grabbed the fire extinguishers and ran as fast as they could. They opened the barn door and a whimpering Kozulya, the mighty protector, ran out in terror. But to their heartbreak and horror, the overwhelming smoke and fire prevented them from entering the barn to fight the fire.
They could do nothing but watch in anguish as the flames consumed our beloved animals. The sights and sounds and smells indescribable as they watched.
By the time I arrived, the fire department was on the scene. There was nothing to be done, the roof had already collapsed before they arrived. In the aftermath,only one cat was found behind the charred barn door. We don’t know how she survived.
There was little else to be thankful for.
A crime revealed
The next morning revealed the complete nightmarish picture. Charred carcasses of our beloved livestock, side by side with the bodies of cats and birds that shared the barn. Our sweet cows unrecognizable. Pregnant sheep and goats, assaulted by shock, had given birth prematurely to babies expelled into a world of fire and smoke.
And then I saw it. Leading away from the barn, the distinctive tracks of a snow-tractor. This was no accident. This was a crime against humanity. Only moments before the barn was torched, human beings were in that structure.
I spoke to the police and they promised to investigate. As it turns out, these were only empty words. Soon enough, it was clear they weren’t going to look very deeply. We were relative “newcomers;” the poachers who kept local authorities in a good supply of meat, had the upper hand. It has been repeatedly implied that we should back off.
While there are no words to describe the loss of souls, it should be said that we didn’t just lose our family of animals. Inside the barn was our farming equipment and machinery, tools and supplies and things we need not only to rebuild, but to carry on. We had no insurance because of the lengthy process and exorbitant costs of navigating the insurance of such operations in Russia. All our resources were focused on food, medicine and saving lives.
What strain of human savagery would deliberately set fire on a cold winter’s night to a small country farm whose owners’ sole purpose is to shelter hundreds of rescue animals, born and unborn? Dogs and cats, goats and lambs, cows, sheep, ducks and chickens? Each one, a member of our family?
We may never find the answer, but we do have the courage to speak up about this, document the facts, even if they change. It is not enough, it will not bring back lost lives, but still I will tell the world about the violence and the horror; our loss and our grief. It is a miracle we are alive. And because we are alive, we must march on.
As deep as our sadness is, we still have animals to care for – more than 60 dogs and cats as well as a separate building full of fowl who produce some of the most amazing, dense eggs on earth. Anna, Masha, Vasia and I did not need to have a long conversation about the future. Our resolve is clear. Strong and united. We know we can’t turn our backs on animals in need.
This is our life, you see – looking after creatures who cannot save themselves. Our work is infinitely important and gratifying. Yes, it will take time to rebuild. No, we will never bring back the lives of those animals we lost in the fire. But WE WILL restore paradise for those who were spared, and for those we have not yet taken under our wing. It is never wrong to have a good heart. It is never wrong to have good and pure intentions. It is never wrong to honor life.
Goodness will prevail. We are committed to taking measures to ensure this will never happen again. And we ask for your help.We are not naïve. Additional measures will be taken to protect us from ignorant, evil human beings who do not share our respect for all life.
Spread the word
If you care about our story, please share this with your friends. Social media is a new tool that can be used for great good. It has the power to connect all of us who stand as an army against animal cruelty. We would love to hear from you, wherever you are in the world. We believe animal lovers have a special connection. We would be encouraged to hear from you now, especially about your own efforts to help animals.
If you are in a position to support our restoration efforts, we are deeply grateful. We have established a fund for restoring paradise at . We are equally grateful to friends and strangers around the world who have already given.
This amazing soundtrack is created by a very talented young Russian composer Kai Engel
Three compositions are being performed now: December, Blizzard, January.