When Russian photographer Raya Mikhaylova first visited the pups at Choose Me
, a no-kill animal shelter in Moscow, she was frightened. She didn't know what to expect.
After all, she wrote
, "for animals unexpected circumstances often arise. They have to survive on the street. They often conduct themselves like wild beasts. Humans meeting the beasts on the street strive to cage them up."
But Raya didn't face wild beasts when she arrived. Instead, she was struck with how thankful the pups were just to get a human pat on their heads. They didn't look at her with sad eyes or beg for her to take them home, she said
. Instead, they patiently waited their turn to be petted and fed and kept hope in their eyes. Even though life hadn't handed them a loving human family to call their own, they were optimistic.
"I was deeply impressed with the shelter dogs," Raya wrote on her blog
. "Despite the cruelty they had seen in their lives, they just really wanted a human hug."
The Moscow shelter asked Raya to take photos of the pups so they post them on social media to find the dogs forever homes. Now, Raya is a regular visitor at the shelter.
"The main thing I discovered for myself," she wrote, "is that the no-killer shelter movement doesn't just rescue dogs that have been lost, abandoned or neglected. It also rescues people, giving them a chance to do good."
The number of stray dogs in Russia is overwhelming and the government has controversial policies on dealing with them, including euthanizing
hundreds of them before the Sochi Olympics in February 2014.
Animal rescues worked around the clock to save every life they could, proving that there are glimmers of hope for these animals.
The photos Raya took at the shelter, where nearly 100 dogs are allowed to run around and socialize with each other, show pups who are lucky whose lives have been spared, but who are also in desperate need of a hug.
has successfully spayed over 120 stray female dogs in the past year. They are always in need of donations and are currently fundraising
to buy a new van to travel around and gather homeless pups.