April 27, 2009
Dorothea Friz: Improving Animal Welfare in Italy
She often closes correspondence with a comment about the weather; after all, it was the weather brought her to southern Italy over 25 years ago. Trading the cold winters in her native Germany for a warmer climate, veterinarian Dorothea Friz soon found that things weren't so sunny in her new home.
Waves of change
While employed at a small veterinary clinic in Naples, Dorothea visited a local shelter housing nearly 500 skinny, ailing dogs. The shelter's manager had been pocketing donation money and leaving the animals to starve and die of disease. Though strong, Italy's animal protection laws leave loopholes that can enable profiteers masquerading as animal welfare workers.
Deeply affected by this and the sight of countless suffering street animals in Naples, Dorothea decided to start up a shelter and organization of her own—with an emphasis on sterilization and education—and work with government officials for proper enforcement of Italy's animal welfare laws. Her vision was something Italy desperately needed.
Dorothea acquired some land in of Castel Volturno, north of Naples, where she established a vet clinic, sanctuary and non-profit, Lega Pro Animale, an HSI Animal Advocate. She successfully convinced residents around her that a sterilized animal is a happier animal, and that the benefits outweighed any superstitions people had about spaying and neutering.
Expanding reach and looking forward
Beyond Castel Volturno, Dorothea and the Lega Pro Animale team use their mobile spay/neuter clinic to reach locations from the outskirts of Rome, to cities and towns throughout Southern Italy, to coastal Italian islands. More than 40,000 animals have been sterilized in the past 20 years thanks to Dorothea's unyielding drive to control overpopulation. She does see the light at the end of the tunnel, and believes that the stabilization of the cat and dog populations in Italy can be realistically achieved within 10 years if the pace of current programs continues.
Dorothea also shares these ambitions with others. She often trains vets on refining and quickening sterilization surgeries, and partners with other organizations, from Germany, to England, to the U.S., to broaden spay/neuter efforts. Education is always a central theme for Dorothea, and she regularly appears on an Italian TV show called Pet Hospital, where she shares with viewers her efforts and why they are important to the public.
"Nothing is too challenging for her to tackle," says her friend Susan Wheeler, president of Friends of Roman Cats. "Against all odds, she continues to do her fantastic work. I have told her that if only a dozen Dorotheas could be cloned, animal problems in much of the world could be vastly improved."
Dorothea is a true champion for animals. Her superior veterinary skills, enthusiasm for sharing knowledge, and dedicated compassion are qualities that make her a deserving recipient for the HSI Award for Extraordinary Commitment and Achievement.
We are honored to present this award to Dr. Friz, and thank her for continued devotion to improving the lives of animals and people in Italy and beyond.