SANTA FE, N.M. — Zivko and Jessica, like most puppies, have large, sweet eyes and seemingly boundless energy.
It's easy to forget they're fur-covered refugees from Serbia who already have a few sad tales behind them.
"(Serbia) is just kind of lawless, kind of like the old Wild West. There aren't shelters or animal control facilities," Santa Fean Mary Shepherd said.
Shepherd is fostering Zivko and Jessica. An epidemiologist with the state, she became involved with the dogs after befriending the woman who rescued the animals from certain death in their native country.
Zvezdana Radojcic, who runs her own animal rescue organization in Negotin, Serbia, got both puppies in a sick and injured state.
Someone threw Zivko over Radojcic's fence. The 8-week-old hound had broken legs and was later diagnosed with rickets and cataracts.
Jessica - or Dzesika, as she's called in Serbian - was brought to Radojcic with two broken legs by a police officer who picked the pup up after she was hit by a car.
Radojcic nursed Zivko and Jessica back to health, raising money for their surgeries and other medical care.
Eventually, she realized it was time to find them permanent homes - not an easy task in a country where many humans find daily existence a struggle.
Shepherd said Radojcic feared the dogs "would end up at the end of a chain or as a stray on the street."
"She was very afraid these puppies would end up in bad circumstances. There's just a lot of stray dogs there. It's a hard situation for animals. They don't have city shelters," Shepherd said.
Radojcic decided to look into sending Zivko and Jessica to the United States, something she'd done with another Serbian dog rescued after being chained up and raped by its owner. American animal groups and Radojcic found the dog a loving home in Colorado.
Shepherd said she told Radojcic that if Radojcic could raise the money to get Zivko and Jessica to the United States, Shepherd would find homes for them.
On April 20, Shepherd picked the dogs up at Denver International Airport and brought them to New Mexico.
She and her husband, Joseph, have spent the past month acclimating Zivko and Jessica to their new country, a process that includes visits to the dog park, puppy classes and even English lessons.
"We got a tape of some Serbian commands. We try to use those along with English so they can adjust," said Shepherd, a longtime animal advocate who, along with Joseph, was named the New Mexico Veterinary Medical Association's Humanitarian of the Year in 2011.
Zivko is a Serbian Hound, a breed relatively uncommon outside Serbia, Shepherd said. He's about 9 months old, energetic and active. Zivko is "smart and learning fast" in his classes, Shepherd said.
Jessica is an 8-month old black Labrador mix. "She's very sweet. She loves to be co-pilot in the car. She's just a very sweet little girl," Shepherd said.
Both dogs get along well with children.
Though Jessica still has a rod in her right rear leg, the pups are healthy and no longer need special medical attention, Shepherd said.
Shepherd said she hopes to find Zivko and Jessica new families "who understand the circumstances they come from and honor that and keep them safe and never let them be neglected."
"I just think both of them are great dogs," she said.
Shepherd is working with Dew Paws, a nonprofit animal rescue group that focuses on special-needs dogs, to find homes for Zivko and Jessica.
Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com