Richard has lived an extraordinary life. Born in Poland in 1932, he was removed at just eight years old to a Siberian labour camp with his mother and brother. Richard and his mother spent time living in Africa before arriving in Australia in 1950.
He now lives a modest life 40 kilometres north-west of Melbourne in a cosy home with his wife, Oscar the cat and Felix the dog. Richard and his wife have seven children and have given up counting the number of grandchildren!
Richard is an incredibly intelligent and talented man. A former photographer and music teacher who also built a house from scratch, Richard has decided to write his autobiography.
Life for Richard and his wife is tough, receiving just $300 per week on the aged-pension. ‘If you are a single person it’s not too bad, but if you’re married, forget it. People say my wife and I should get a divorce!’ laughs Richard.
Felix is an eight-year-old long-haired Chihuahua. ‘A very human dog I’ve had since tiny,’ says Richard, who was wanting a small dog and found Felix advertised on a Coles noticeboard for $300.
‘For a long time he was just a dog I looked after, but now he is my buddy. Since I got him, we walked. About 1km every day, rain hail or shine. That’s stopped now.’
Sadly, whilst enjoying their daily walks, Felix has been attacked twice. The first attack saw another dog come through Richard’s front gate and attack Felix in their yard. The second was just outside their house on the footpath.
The second attack was the worst, resulting in horrific injuries, four surgeries and the loss of a front leg.
‘People only think about Felix, [they don’t] think about the person who was there. All of this happened out of my control. A big dog attacking a Chihuahua, what do you do? It was shocking to watch,’ recalls Richard.
When Felix climbed up under the BBQ, Richard knew he was dying. Rangers and the police were called. Richard rushed Felix to his local vet but was told they couldn’t help him because they were closing. They did however provide Richard with Lort Smith’s business card.
With the help of his daughter (‘a 200-per cent dog person’) Felix was brought to Lort Smith who tried to pin the leg with screws. Sadly, there was no saving the leg.
Costs were mounting for Felix’s treatment at Lort Smith, something that Richard simply couldn’t afford. ‘You can put a caveat on the house so it’s yours when I go, or take it out of my pension,’ offered Richard. It was abundantly clear how much Felix meant to Richard and his family. A Lort Smith Pets In Need application was lodged – a financial assistance program for people experiencing genuine financial hardship.
Assessed on a case-by-case basis, Richard’s application was successful and Lort Smith agreed to cover the cost of 70 per cent of Felix’s treatment costs. ‘This was absolutely fantastic news; I was jumping up and down with joy. Behind every cloud is a bit of sunshine,’ says Richard.
‘Lort Smith means a lot to me and I am absolutely happy with the whole Lort Smith experience. If I relied on the local vet, Felix would be dead by now.’
Felix has matured since his operation because of this experience. He is absolutely petrified of other dogs as a result. However, Richard and Felix still take their daily walks together, but now it’s in a customised ‘pusher’.
‘Felix spends a lot of time with me and we have become like one,’ said Richard.