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BELGRADE, Serbia – Belgrade has too many hungry dogs and cats, so Ana Kojic found a way to enlist others to help.
The 38-year-old animal rights activist from Belgrade set up a network of volunteers who collect food donations for the countless stray animals in the Serbian capital.
Dubbed "Belgrade's first food bank," the project has quickly become a success. Dozens of individuals and companies have chipped in with contributions in just the few weeks since Kojic started advertising on social networks.
"Initially, the response was modest, but as the word spread our phones have not stopped ringing," Kojic told The Associated Press. "Each day, we have more and more donors, which is great!"
Kojic came up with the idea while looking for ways to raise more food for the stray animals. On her Facebook page, Kojic reached out to people who "love animals but don't have time to dedicate."
"Unfortunately, we have thousands of abandoned animals and the numbers are not becoming smaller," Kojic said. "Our aim is to make sure they get one meal a day."
Stray animals have been an acute problem in Serbian cities for decades, amid the wars of the 1990s and widespread poverty in the country with an already poor record in animal welfare. Belgrade has adopted a no-kill policy of sterilizing its stray cats and dogs, along with launching an awareness campaign, but the problem has persisted with owners abandoning their pets and more puppies and kittens being born.
Gordana, a 70-year-old retiree from a suburban zone of Belgrade, lamented that "the animals are in the streets and hungry, there is no doubt about that." Kojic's food charity is an "excellent idea," said Gordana, who gave only her first name.
When a donor calls, Kojic directs a volunteer to pick up the food and dish it out immediately to the animals in need. Sometimes people leave their donations at the nearest pet shop for volunteers to collect.
Dog lovers usually give food for dogs while those who prefer cats donate cat food, Kojic said.
In the suburban residential area of Mirijevo, a happy black-and-brown mongrel barked enthusiastically as Kojic approached with food. Nearby, a 3-month-old gray puppy called Teddy Bear sleepily emerged from a makeshift dog house, one ear cocked in anticipation. Spotty, a black-and-white, short-legged mixed dog, also hurried up the hill.
Kojic's youngest volunteer, 10-year-old Tara Metikus, handed out the food.
"We love to feed the dogs and take them to the vet; I have a lot of friends who also help," Metikus said.