We are excited to introduce GATO as the collaborating organization for Postcard Set 3 – Innocent Prisoners. Together we will follow the life and current adventurous of Bigas, Balu and Tede, bears that hopefully will find a place in your heart!
GATO (Gyvūnų Apsaugos ir Teisių Organizacija / Organization for animal protection and rights) is a Lithuanian organization advocating for legal animal protection and wellbeing. GATO not only fights illegal wild animal trafficking and keeping, poor animal housing conditions and malnutrition, and animal usage for human pleasure but also educates people how to create a safe and joyful environment for our pet friends.
For more information on GATO, their projects, and birds, visit their social media:
We met Brigita, the master mind behind the organization, online to ask few questions about GATO:
Was it your idea to initiate GATO and what inspired you to do so? How many years did it take to come up to the position when you can influence political decisions to improve animal wellbeing?
It was my idea to start GATO. At that time, there were only dog and cat quarantine points and only a few shelters in Lithuania. There was no organization in Lithuania that actively carried out activities related to the prevention of problems, engaged in improving legal acts, and rescuing tortured wild animals. Having studied animal welfare while living in the UK, I knew that being active can make the difference The desire to change the situation in Lithuania inspired the start of GATO.
Change is a never-ending process. It took me 3-4 years to gain the trust needed to achieve changes and to establish cooperation in order to be heard and to start the events towards fundamental changes.
Which GATO achievement is the most important to you personally so far? What challenges did you have to overcome to make it happen?
I consider GATO’s greatest achievement so far to be able to confiscate wild animals kept in poor conditions in captivity for entertainment purpose and their transfer to sanctuaries in Europe.
One of our main challenges continues to be to force the responsible authorities to implement the requirements of legislation to protect abused animals and to make them perform their duties properly. We can only achieve this with public help by publicizing cases and pressing authorities publicly to act.
How would you evaluate animal rights situation right now? Is there a country, which, in your opinion, could be an example in animal well-being? Or is it still some place for improvement for as all?
Comparing the situation in Lithuania fifteen years ago when I started my activity, I see very big changes. Especially in the positive change of society in response to improperly kept and tortured animals, society became not only more sensitive, but also significantly more active in reporting visible violations and reacting. Which is very gratifying and allows for more and more improvement of the legislation, which ensures an ever-increasing right of animals to legal protection.
I think different countries have different pluses and minuses. As with human rights, so with animals, it is not a finite process. Because there are and will be new situations when it will be necessary to continue to change and improve legislation, there will be people who tend to commit crimes and not comply with legislation.
You have recently achieved mandatory chipping of dogs, cats, and ferrets in Lithuania, as well as more strict rules for animal breeders. What else would you wish to achieve in Lithuania? What would be the biggest winning for animals and us all?
It took us almost eight years to achieve mandatory micro-chipping and changes in breeding. It shows that seemingly simple things can only be achieved through very hard, consistent work over many years. There are days when you think that everything will fail, it’s impossible, but the most important thing is not to stop and not lose the goal, motivation and belief. Currently, one of the main goals of GATO is to stop the commercial breeding of dogs and cats in Lithuania. We have overcrowded shelters, but we still allow the commercial breeding of crossbreeds for profit. Animal breeding is still viewed as the production of a current popular commodity to satisfy consumer needs. We also aim for a Lithuania without zoos. Such places do not create any added value for nature conservation, preservation of endangered species. Rather the opposite – it misleads the public by showing that it is still normal to cage wild animals for viewing and children’s entertainment if we want to. We understand that this change will be years in the making, but we’re excited to be the start of it and have a supportive community.
Do you remember an animal, whose story has especially touched you? Could you please share it with us?
The first wild animal kept in captivity – a circus chimpanzee was transferred to a chimpanzee rescue center in Holland back in 2011. The main challenge was to find her, because the owners of the circus hid her, and the responsible representatives of the institutions did not want to take measures to find her. It took us almost a year. It turned out that the chimpanzee had been kept closed for six years in the basement of the circus owners’ house, which had only a small window of daylight. Knowing what social animal is chimpanzees, seeing this animal in dark basement after six years of solidarity, it was a heart -broken experience making to realize how people can be brutal and selfish.
The relocated chimpanzee was rehabilitated and integrated into a group of other chimpanzees, where it lives successfully to this day.
How can you cope with human cruelty towards animals? Does it make you angry or do you think it is a simple lack of education towards animal handling?
There are various situations were dealing with seeing or knowing cruelty is very difficult. It remains in the memory. But it’s important not to burn out, because then you won’t be able to help anyone. My personal experience working in the police helps me. During my work, I had many cases where the victims were elderly people and children. Realizing that people are such creatures that they can easily abuse the weaker ones and that this happens all over the world, not just around me, helps me not to close myself off in my own suffering. There are moments when anger arises, but I try to put these emotions aside, because anger burns my own energy, which is very necessary to continue the work started and achieve change. It is very important to me that when I see animal cruelty, I can do everything I can to bring the person to justice. A sense of justice also goes some way towards surviving more easily visible suffering. In my opinion, it is not education, but the inevitability of punishment that has the greatest influence in educating society. A person must feel the negative consequences of his act on himself, because only then can he think about his actions in the future and choose whether to do the same thing again.
Organizations often face a lot of opposition and little support. Have you ever had moments when all is too much? What kept you motivated and going in such dark times?
The majority of society in Lithuania still has a hard time understanding the field of animal welfare, protection and often evaluates our work not through scientific knowledge, but through their own narrow vision and understanding of animal welfare. It often seems to them that feeding and “loving” the animal is enough to ensure its well-being. If a person loves, then the animal is “good”. I am often called an “animal lover”. But I’m not like that. I don’t love animals. The only feeling I have towards them is respect. I respect their nature, their right to be animals, and this is the approach I take when working with them. Meeting the needs of animals is important to me, not meeting people’s feelings. When we say Lithuania without zoos, we often hear what my children will be able to see then. A person looks at how to satisfy his feelings, and we look at how to ensure the protection of the animal. Then the conflict occurs. But the fact that I will have to face a lot of resistance from people, I knew from the beginning when I started the activity. I was and am ready for it. I’m doing this for the animals, not the people, so I don’t care about the outrage people throw at me. I am guided by professional knowledge, not emotions, and I can always defend my position with scientific knowledge and facts.
I know why I started this activity and that clear knowledge and attitude allows me to keep calm when everyone seems to be against you.
How many people are you in GATO? Do you accept new volunteers? Do you need people with specific skills or knowledge? How can people support you?
We are currently two working people and fifteen different volunteers. We also often purchase various services that are required for campaign activities. Our field of activity is quite narrow, so we are not looking for volunteers very often, because we have really dedicated people who have been volunteering for a long time. The main volunteering activities in our organization are related to biology and law knowledge. However, we always ask those who want to volunteer with us to consider the possibilities of their available time very seriously. Nothing burns up our time like undecided volunteers who come in, you assign them work, put them on a team, give them tasks, and a few weeks later they disappear, leaving behind unfinished work that someone needs to finish. We are also in dire need of financial support. Working with wild animals, their relocation operations are financially very expensive, so we are constantly looking for funds. You can support here: https://gyvunuapsauga.lt/parama/