Monika Biernacki trained as a geologist but now saves dogs, writes Steve Dow .
SMH, Steve Dow; February 14, 2010
Over the past two decades, Monika Biernacki has successfully found new homes all over Sydney for 9000 canines whose lives she saved on the days of their intended executions.
The first and the only thing Biernacki usually learns about each animal’s history is when a council employee rings asking her to take an almost invariably cute and affectionate dog from a miserable concrete pound to avoid a lethal needle.
A lack of knowledge about the dog never fazes the slim, smart blonde with a geology degree – she readily admits she’s a dog person.
But one arrival has a partially known back-story: a two-year-old brown and tan spaniel cross, recently renamed Jericho – assuming, that is, he ever had any other name – who came to Monika’s Doggie Rescue at Ingleside in Sydney’s north in mid-2009.
“I nicknamed him the river dog because the pound told us that we’d have to do a lot of work with this dog because someone tried to drown him in a river,” says Biernacki, as dogs bark all around her during her preparations for weekend visits by prospective adopters.
“He was running scared along a river bank but finally the rangers managed to catch him and he came to us in a very thin state.”
Biernacki brings Jericho into her site office, a portable aluminium building. Most times, she agrees to take the proffered pound dog to her cheery rented grounds abutting the green hills of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, where her no-kill service, funded by corporate and private donations, houses more than 100 small to small-ish dogs in large pens at any one time.
The service won’t take dogs surrendered directly by owners, preferring to invest its energies in the “last chance” dogs from the pounds.
Jericho steps gingerly forward, uncertain as I place my hand in front of his nose for a sniff before I pat him. He’s medium sized and has a scruffy, wiry terrier coat. His long tail wags tentatively, and he makes to retreat a couple of times behind Biernacki’s legs, but comes back for another pat.
Why would someone try to drown a dog? “To try to get rid of it without any trace? I don’t know – why do people try to drown people? You know, it’s the same sort of people. They starve animals, and then they progress.” A look of steely resolve spreads over her face. “I mean, animal abuse is just one step before child abuse.”
Jericho has improved nicely. “Yesterday I had him out with a family with teenage children – harnessed him up, he walked with a family. He was skittish, but you know, that was huge, to enable strangers to walk this dog.”
Indeed, following this interview, a kind woman who had a lot of experience with abused dogs adopted Jericho and he now has a happy home.
Dogs are so forgiving, says Biernacki, because they live in the now. “People remember things in the past and still try to hang onto them. Dogs move forward – which is a much more healthy way to live, to be honest with you,” she laughs.
Biernacki is the daughter of a Polish father and German mother, which was “all very sad and sordid”.
“You can imagine, German and Polish hated one another, so neither family was comfortable with the idea of marriage,” Biernacki says. Her parents set out for a fresh life in Australia in 1949.
Monika, their only child, was born on January 2, 1956, and was raised in Rydalmere: “I grew up learning life is hard, and you keep on going, and you don’t give up.”
Biernacki “had to hassle” as a child: “I wanted a dog, as all kids do, and finally we had a little silky [terrier] . . . my mother said I should do vet school but I couldn’t handle putting animals down, or vivisection.”
Instead, she studied geology at university, specialising in mineral economics, “because it was really removed from emotional things – animals, feelings, things like that”. She looks ready to cry. “This [rescue] work is so hard, emotionally.”
One day, Biernacki’s vet mentioned he had two unwanted healthy dogs – one a dachsund-corgi cross, the other’s breed she can’t recall – whom he would have to euthanase. Biernacki took the dogs to her Turramurra home, from where she found them new owners.
Before long she gained a reputation as someone who would rescue dogs, with up to 10 living at her home – neighbours complained about the barking – and pasting “dogs for good home” signs on telegraph poles.
It took a quiet spell in the minerals industry to prompt Biernacki to set up a pet minding business, but her dog re-homing operations continued, with Doggie Rescue registered as a charity in 1991.
Yet there’s only so much one 53-year-old woman and her dedicated regular band of several hundred volunteers can do while people continue to dump animals.
The state government still allows pet shops to sell puppies and kittens pumped out by profit-driven breeders for impulse buyers. Each year in NSW, about 30,000 otherwise healthy dogs (and roughly 33,000 cats) are put down at council pounds.
That’s not to say Doggie Rescue will give animals out to just anyone. All members of an adoptive human family are required to come to the service to make sure the dog is comfortable with each of them – all the animals can be viewed at http://www.doggierescue.com – and potential adopters are interviewed to see if their lifestyles match that of their chosen dog’s temperament and needs.
Having previously been located at Duffys Forest and Homebush, Monika’s Doggie Rescue narrowly avoided closure at Ingleside at the start of 2009 because of a financial collapse brought on with the recession.
The state government stepped in and dramatically slashed the site’s rent while members of the public flooded the service with donations.
Biernacki’s husband, Rod Elvish, shares the burden: he’s chairman of Doggie Rescue, and she is stepmother to his two adult children. But she’s so busy saving dogs, she has little time for anything else. “Sometimes this work is so . . . overpowering. I do this stuff 24-7.
“I have eight dogs of my own, but they don’t get a lot of my time, most of them are elderly, with behavioural or medical problems too difficult for most people to handle.”
She’s meant to work six days a week at Doggie Rescue but finds herself working on her supposed one day off.
“I don’t really do much else,” she notes, absent-mindedly touching her blonde locks. “I really unwind at the hairdresser, I must say.”