Europe’s largest animal shelter in Berlin

Europe's largest animal shelter is located on the outskirts of Berlin and is a world of its own. Thousands of lost or stranded animals are cared for here and prepared for a future with new owners. Some still stay forever.


Aerial photographs show it. A UFO has landed on the outskirts of Berlin. And even those who dare to take a second look at close range will quickly notice that this oversized, circular structure was not created for our human species. Some residents have a skin of scales, others are colorful like a rainbow. Some screech in high tones, others make themselves felt by sonorous grumbling.

In the spacey ambience of Europe’s largest animal shelter, more than 1,300 animals can be accommodated on an area of 22 football fields on some days: dogs, cats, rabbits, grey parrots, pigeons, lizards and even three boas constrictor.

Also that night a new resident moved in. He came, as befits a spaceship, through the lock. The heavy steel gate opened, an animal transporter blew into it. The newcomer was only allowed to get out after the gate had fallen back into the castle. Everything for his safety, so that he does not get out again.

Then it went for the brown Labrador to his first station: the admission of the found dogs. Nervously, the young animal now jumps up and down in his box. It is still nameless, usually the employees wait one or two days until they give their protégés a new name.

Often in the shelter: found animals

Urban animal trapping has brought the Labrador. Its employees collect all the animals that have been handed over to the Berlin police around the clock and deliver them to the shelter. 45 percent of the residents of the Berlin animal shelter are such found animals. Many of them were abandoned.

But there are also outliers. Just like apparently the young Labrador, who makes a well-groomed impression and wears a harness. “We receive 50 to 80 calls a day from desperate people,” says shelter spokeswoman Annette Rost. “If they find their favourites with us, there are often heartbreaking scenes.”

Labrador Nameless also has a good chance of seeing its owners again – provided it has been properly chipped in and registered. Otherwise, it may take time. On average, cats stay 70 days, dogs 145.

Tierheim Berlin: Volunteers and employees take care of lovingly

They then live in houses called “Struppi” or “Idefix” – like the popular cartoon characters. This should create a positive atmosphere, also for the 180 employees and 800 volunteers of the shelter, some of whom have been lovingly caring for the animals for many years and giving everything to keep the shop running. The crew of the spaceship feeds, cleans, plays, examines, assembles, crafts, manages and strokes. She shovels, sweeps, soaks and combs. Six dog houses, four for cats, one for small animals, a birdhouse, a house for exotics.

Before Namenlos finds a new temporary home in one of the dog houses, he has to check in the in-house veterinary clinic like all newcomers. Eight veterinarians work here, one of them is Yvonne Seidler: “All animals are vaccinated and dewormed, the cats are neutered and dogs are chipped. If they are over eight years old, we also examine the blood.”

Sometimes doctors discover tumors or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. For dogs and cats, dental restorations are standard.

Sometimes new arrivals have to be quarantined. Nameless is lucky, he was apparently well cared for by his owners and is allowed to continue in the care of caretaker Daniel Prinich.

In the dog house, every human visitor is greeted with a deafening salute. Shrill barking and dull barking echo through the tiled boxes, and one almost thinks to feel the anxious hope of the animals behind it: Is there a new master coming? A new mistress? After three minutes, the joyful greeting ebbs away, the dogs quickly learn to assess the passing bipeds. Prinich has been taking care of them for 15 years.

Not everyone arrives here in such a good mood as Nameless, he says he has experienced a lot of misery. He thoughtfully strokes the snout of a black and white Great Dane. She drools on his green dungarees as a thank you.

“Sometimes I feel a lump in my throat when I take in a neglected animal,” says Prinich. “But then it gets all the more love from us until we convey it. It’s the happy ending stories that tell me: That’s what I’m doing this for!”

There is a great variety in the animal shelter Berlin

Probably every employee of the Berlin animal shelter is striving for this happy ending. The doctors who regularly examine the state of health of the animals and often cure diseases. The keepers, who nurture the animals again and shower them with attention. And the therapists who take care of behaviorally conspicuous and difficult to place specimens. “The treatment and all medications for all chronic diseases that have been detected in us, we take over even after the mediation,” says veterinarian Yvonne Seidler. If an animal is chronically ill, the new owners are advised on what this means in everyday life and they can continue to come to the practice.

Provided that the way is not too far for them. Because even if the shelter is only intended for Berlin animals, it is allowed to mediate throughout the republic. Whether mixed breed or pedigree animal, young spurs or older semesters, everything can be found in the 16-hectare city of animals.

“Most visitors are surprised by the diversity,” says spokeswoman Annette Rost, who is at the forefront of communications for the residents. Each of them is featured on the shelter’s website with a photo and detailed character description – “whether dachshund, chinchilla or golden pheasant.”

Larissa is described there as a “clingy cuddly cheek”. The Katzenomi lives in the senior cat house and is the star of the campaign “Children read for cats” for Berlin school children. Since the little readers are not allowed to come in Corona times, they speak the lyrics on tape. For the time being, the 13-year-old senior citizen strokes her nurse Miriam Koppe’s legs until she laughingly picks her up: “Larissa just has the bow out.”

“Colorful baskets and caves made of teddy fabric offer the animals in the cat houses space to snooze and hide, striped balls dangle from battered scratching posts. For extra entertainment, the keepers have set up bowls of bird food outdoors. Now the cats sit behind their glass panes and watch spellbound as sparrows and blackbirds fly in and fight over food: “Cat cinema!”, laughs Miriam Koppe.

Most of the animals in the shelter are not traumatized

As dear as Larissa is, she can no longer be mediated at her age and also because of her incontinence. “Healthy beats handicap, pretty beats optical blemishes, and young beats old,” says shelter spokeswoman Rost, describing the selection criteria.

“We live in a society where an animal has to function. A kitten has already been handed over here who did not want to cuddle – one day after the family adopted it.” People wouldn’t even have given him time to settle in.

For Rost, this is difficult to bear: “They are living beings and not machines that react at the push of a button, as we expect.”

The cliché of always traumatized shelter animals also annoys her. “Because that’s not true. Many of our protégés had happy lives. Until their owners had to give them up – because they got sick, moved to a nursing home or another city, changed jobs or developed an allergy.”

55 percent of the animals end up here in this way. By no means is every cat behaviorally conspicuous, every dog biting, every bird plucks its feathers.

During the mediation, the keepers point out quirks and quirks of the animals and give tips on how to deal with them. “We are 100 percent honest,” emphasizes Rost. “Anything else would do nothing. Then the animal would be back here in a week.”

70,000 Animals are released during the summer holidays in Germany.

Source: Estimates of the German Animal Welfare Association

No shame: animal should be handed over at the reception

For real problem cases, there is the in-house rehabilitation center, right next to Larissa’s cat retirement home. If a dog has bitten, it is treated here by trainers and keepers.

“For us, it’s all about patience and a close look,” explains rehabilitation nurse Lisa Galey. “Biting once doesn’t mean he does it all the time.” Galey is not afraid of her Pappenheimers: “It’s more about taking away the animal’s fear, such as panicking about the box or the muzzle. We are working specifically to increase the chances of placement.” Every detail counts.

Spokeswoman Annette Rost urgently appeals to pet owners to hand over their animals properly at the reception instead of abandoning them in front of the shelter out of shame, as it often happens.

“No one is looked at crooked by us who brings an animal,” she assures us. “The main thing is that we are given the opportunity to learn a lot, for example: what name does the animal listen to, can the dog remain alone, or is the cat fond of children?”

Decision for an animal from the shelter must be long-term

The snake Kaa, as the nurses have baptized her, was denied a regular delivery. The 2.60-meter-long Boa Constrictor was stranded in a white styrofoam box in the parking lot, after all, its owner had put a hot water bottle in it.

Today, the queen of the South American rainforest meanders through a terrarium in the exotic house. Tropical air is in the room, in a basin red-cheeked turtles lie lazily on a stone. As soon as a person approaches, they can be flooded into the water. Kaa comes out of a hollow branch.

Tinkerbell is far more sociable. The rosy pig lady lives across the street on the in-house farm and enjoys pushing herself against a fence post.

Everyone seems to be doing really well here; chickens gather in the enclosures, goose Jule hisses. Goats lie on the meadow, the donkeys August and Alfred graze. Tinkerbell was once dumped as an abusive gift at the door of a real estate agent.

Today, the sow is rubbed with sunscreen by the caregivers. Pigs also get sunburned. This care is typical of the employees who give everything to make the animals’ way to a new home as pleasant as possible.

In return, the potential new owners are also given access to “their” animal as much as possible. The animal spaceship is basically open to all interested parties.

Before the corona pandemic, up to 2,000 visitors came over the weekend. In Corona times, visits are only allowed by telephone arrangement. Nevertheless, the number of inquiries here, as in many German animal shelters, has risen rapidly. Especially in the cities, there were often hardly any animals left in weddings.

In Berlin, people are rather skeptical: “Many people think they could take an animal for a few weeks. But that’s not possible,” explains Annette Rost. “We don’t give the animal away and then tear it out of its new home as soon as everyday work starts again. If you choose an animal, you have to do so in the long term.”

Serious adoptionists are welcome to come by more often. You will be advised, can play with the animals or walk with the dogs to find out if the wavelength is right. And the staff can check whether the new owners also have the prerequisites to take in the animal.

Volunteer Gassi helps the shelter

If a mediation is concluded, a nominal fee of between 80 and 250 euros applies. With a budget of eleven million euros a year, this is far from covering costs. Like all animal shelters, the Berliner is therefore dependent on donationsinheritances and fundraising.

Shortly before the end of the day, on a last walk through the complex, Annette Rost greets one of the many volunteer walkers. The orange lanyard around his neck identifies him as such. Maybe tomorrow he will do a round with Nameless? Anyway: How will the Labrador experience the first night in the dog house? Will his owners find him, or will the crew have to come up with a name for him as well?

Every animal at Tierheim Berlin has a story, hoping for a happy ending. Let’s just hope so.

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