Russian Non-Profit “Mercy Island” Helps Stray Animals

In an April 2013 interview with Evgeny Voropai of Social Technologies Greenhouse, Tatiana Nikitina, president of the charity group Mercy Island, discussed why public organizations are interested in social media and what challenges they face in their everyday work.

Evgeny Voropai: Mercy Island is a charity that helps stray animals. How many organizations like this are registered in Russia?

Tatiana Nikitina: It's difficult to say. I think a lot. The fact is that these organizations helping stray animals are diverse. Any shelter or foundation falls under the same category that we do.

Before a charity forms, we try to solve the problem on our own. There are quite a lot of people who help stray animals. So, an exact count of all [similar] organizations would be difficult.

Mercy Island's logo.

Mercy Island logo, available at the organization's website.

E.V.: For charities, there is the troubling matter of Internet fraud. Everyone is familiar with the scheme of earning money under the guise of helping sick children. Is this a problem when it comes to helping animals?

T.N.: It is relevant, of course, although we need to recognize that such instances do not occur very often. When it comes to animals, they don't just need financial assistance. Here, the people who help are those who can. There are many more ways to contribute financially—someone wires money, someone buys food, someone pays for the shelter. Scammers have little room to maneuver. And this [type of charity] is less attractive to them, anyway. On the Web, people are less likely to help animals than, say, children. No one would just hand over their money because of seeing a picture of a dog on a social media site. This is something that is difficult to earn.

If some kind of organization requests money for animals, one must always pay attention to its charter documents, its certificates of registration, and, of course, you can always demand checks instead. Mercy Island, when it starts working with new partners, always provides a complete set of documents confirming the foundation's status. It is a necessary measure because there are organizations that abuse the help of donors or sponsors and spend money for other purposes.

We try to report to donors in order to eliminate even the slightest misunderstanding.

E.V.: Many charitable organizations work online to draw attention to their issue, to grow their audience, to collect more funds, and so on. What changed for the foundation with the advent of the site Mercy Island?

T.N.: There were no significant changes. We got a grant from Google for the promotion of our site. So the first task we needed to resolve was how to do it correctly and with maximum efficiency.

The site gives users a more complete picture of what we do and how we work. Single posts on social media sites or anywhere else on the Internet do not have such an effect. On our own site, we control the electronic pay system. Incidentally, there is something else that you should pay attention to when you begin working with an NGO: if an organization uses electronic payments through a well-known payment system, the probability that they are crooks is minimal. For example, RBC checked Mercy Island for a long time before they activated its electronic payments.

E.V.: Returning to the question of money for charities, is “electronic” money a real alternative to virtual money? What percentage of revenues are distributed this way?
T.N.: Users have already for a while now understood the benefits of electronic money, so the percentage of funds coming in this way is constantly growing.
E.V.: Often, charity funds and organizations post requests for help on their pages that are accompanied by creepy pictures of sick children or animals. In my experience, such ads usually scare me, and I don't even look at the text—I just close the window. I have found a couple of these kinds of pictures on your social networking sites. What is this trend, where did it come from, and why do people think that it might be effective?

T.N.: It isn't some trend—it's just the actual work. It's a constant process. I don't advocate these types of pictures, but, as a rule, the animals who need help arrive at the veterinary clinic and the doctors or the volunteers themselves take the photographs in real conditions. It is a way of reporting how and what is happening with a dog or a cat.

The problem is that after the animals get help, no one shows the pictures of the saved pet. Mercy Island is trying to do this. We publish the stories of our animals and of their fates, even after they have found a home. Often, people react to the appearance of the dog, and to their nickname. You know, there are cases when people don't want to help the whole organization or all its animals—they just want to help one. We're fine with this, too. For instance, we have a singer among our donors. She's a native of Saint Petersburg, but she lives in Turkey now, and every month she gives money to a dog named Betty.

E.V.: Cats are a trend not only in Russia, but all over the Internet. How do you feel about the emergence of social networking sites for animals? Have you ever considered the possibility of cooperating with these types of projects?

T.N.: That's very interesting. I would be very interested in participating in something like that. But again, we run into the problem of financing. Money is needed for joint projects, and there isn't always enough even o take care of the animals. Basically, I would like to develop a virtual story—I believe in its effectiveness.

However, there is one thing here that is very complicated: when I start a conversation with specialists and suggest some ideas, I have to explain that this is not at all a commercial project and they won't get any money for it. Unfortunately, this is an obstacle that can't be overcome. Luckily, we have volunteers, people who don't mind and are willing to devote their time. I am open to the idea of crowdfunding. I would happily work this way in order to help animals.

E.V.: There are foundations. There are good pet-owners and there are bad ones. And there are people willing to take in stray animals. These seem to be the categories. Communication, albeit minimal, exists only between the first group and the latter. Let's say I have a dog that I don't need, but I don't want to be a “bad pet-owner,” so I won't leave my dog just anywhere. What are my choices? Whom can I call or write to about this?

T.N.:  This is a very common story. Many people come to us and say that they can no longer take care of their animal. In this case, Mercy Island will take the pet. Sometimes, the owners feel that they need to support us and give us money to support their former “pets,” and sometimes they don't. First, the animal goes to a veterinarian and receives an examination. After its analysis, we send the animal to a temporary home to adapt [to its new circumstances]. If the check-up reveals any health problems, the doctor provides all possible assistance.

In fact, there are ways to solve the problem of both stray animals and owners who no longer want their dog or cat. Nursing homes are one of them. For example, if there is a retiree who wants to get a pet, but doesn't have a way of doing this, they can be given a cat and help take care of it. Many elderly people would love such an opportunity.

E.V.: In Russia there is a problem with shooting stray animals. People talk about it, but in fact, publicly there are no numbers or any other information [available]. If someone were to create a “Federal Map of Animal Shootings,” using crowdsourcing, would this help draw attention to the problem by stirring up people and animal rights activists?

T.N.: Shooting animals is a consequence of a much larger problem. I don't understand how the problem of stray animals has been artificially injected and presented as a social threat. We often hear about a pack of stray dogs attacking people, but we practically never hear about why this is happening. You see, an aggressive, sick, three-legged dog could actually become a good pet.

Crowdsourcing or other social-networking projects devoted to animals could help solve the problem. Really what is needed is information, verified data, and people who are willing to take on such work. A tool is needed to show that these animals are in a hostage situation. Maybe then people will begin to empathize with them more.

The original text [ru] of this interview is available on at Social Technologies Greenhouse's website.

1 comment

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.