Estonians erect statue and give home to beloved stray dog

Zorik was never the tail-wagging or hand-licking type, but that did not stop the free-spirited vagabond from winning many hearts.

The residents of Tallinn have paid tribute to a much-loved stray dog who was taken from the Estonian capital to the countryside earlier this year to live out his days in a family’s back yard – by immortalising him with a statue.

Zorik was never the tail-wagging or hand-licking type, but that did not stop the free-spirited vagabond from winning many hearts.

“People donated for the monument. They wanted it and they still follow his fate even though he is already old and frail,” said Heiki Valner, an animal rescue volunteer who thought up the idea of the statue and organised the fundraising.

One Good Thing Estonia Stray Dog
Zorik poses for a photo (Raul Mee/AP)

Donations were collected and a local artist was commissioned to create the likeness of Zorik, with his upright ears and shaggy hair around his muzzle, along with a cat nestled against him.

The statue, installed in front of a shopping centre, is meant as a tribute to Zorik and his animal companions, and to all strays.

Zorik once had a canine companion who was killed in a car accident. He then took up with stray cats and was seen with them often, even while sleeping.

Residents say Zorik first appeared as a black and white pup about 12 years ago in a coal storage area in a nearby port, and had been a fixture ever since in Kalamaja, a working-class district which is becoming a magnet for hipsters.

In a society where the divide between ethnic Estonians and ethnic Russians is acutely felt, Zorik managed to bridge the divide, winning over Russian-speaking old women who fed him, as well as Estonian hipsters, including a group now opening a cafe named Zorik.

One Good Thing Estonia Stray Dog
The statue is meant as a tribute both to Zorik and his animal companions, and to all strays (Raul Mee/AP)

“Zorik was a dog who was able to disappear, he was a dog whom everyone in Kalamaja knew, he touched everyone — young and old, Estonians and Russians,” Mr Valner said. “He was a point of social integration.”

He was so well-liked that residents would sometimes feed him the best cuts of beef – but nobody could ever catch and domesticate him.

“When people tried to regulate or restrict him, he just escaped,” Mr Valner said. “He was just a free spirit.”

Viktoria Ger, who has given Zorik a new home in an enclosure with a kennel behind her family home, describes him as a “peculiar dog”.

One Good Thing Estonia Stray Dog
Viktoria Ger with her other dog Walli (Raul Mee/AP)

“He doesn’t want to be close to people so he doesn’t like to be petted,” she said. Zorik sat and shivered nearby as a light dusting of snow covered the ground.

“Probably he has been hurt by people during his life, so he doesn’t trust people,” she added.

Mr Valner said Zorik eventually had to be removed from the city for his own safety.

“In the end he was so senile that he would just fall asleep on the railway or tram tracks or just here on the road, so that cars had to drive around him,” he said, pointing to the area in Kalamaja that was long home to the dog.

“We received several calls a day when he was on the road, so finally we had to get him away from the streets in his own interest.”

Initially he tried to escape from his new home and return to his old roaming territory, but his frailty has finally won out over his free spirit.

There were also those over the years who did not want the dog around.

“This was a contest of good and evil,” Mr Valner said. “There were those who demanded he be captured and eliminated and others who protected and fed him. This time, kindness won.”

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