The plight of animals around the world is well known. In many cities, even in some of the most developed parts of the world, growing populations of strays are ever more evident. For many potential pet owners, the realities of looking after a sentient animal can prove to be too much. What may start out as a wonderful Christmas gift soon becomes an excessive burden that needs to be removed. Sadly, to many people, these large populations of uncared for animals are simply an occasional nuisance, to be dealt with by the authorities. However, for Max Polyakov, these animals posed a challenge that had to be taken care of in a truly compassionate manner.
An American of Russian descent, Max Polyakov had already cut his teeth in St Petersburg. The city had proven to be something of a challenge. Like many Americans, he dreamed of tracing his roots back to the old country and uncovering something within himself. However, never having travelled outside his home country before, Max Polyakov was unprepared for the realities of life in Russia. Despite the help of some distant relatives, Max Polyakov found the attitudes and lifestyles of many Russians to be shocking. Russia’s fortunes following the collapse of the Soviet Union are well documented. A number of disasters leading up to the dissolution of the USSR, including the disastrous war in Afghanistan and the catastrophe of Chernobyl, had instilled many Russians with a growing mistrust to the state they had always felt loyalty towards. These incidents played a major role in the growing anger felt by many in the Union towards their government. The events of 1989 onwards brought about momentous change in the country, but by the late Nineties, the destiny of the Russian nation was still highly uncertain. Vladimir Putin’s strongman politics have since led to country which feels that it is on the up and set to retake its former place as a major world power. As a result, Max Polyakov found himself regularly confronted by the spectre of nationalism in some of its most hateful forms. The occasional threat of violence, prevalence of casual bigotry, and rise of football hooliganism within Russia had coloured his impression of the country. It was with a troubled mind, and a small cat named Murka, that Max Polyakov had returned to his native Atlanta, Georgia.
Atlanta is very much a city that has experienced a wide array of change in recent years. The city, one of the biggest in the South and home to one of the busiest airports in the world, was once known as a notoriously violent, drug riddled city. However, in recent years, gentrification has brought about massive changes within the city. Many previously black neighborhoods have changed their demographics at a shocking rate, and large areas have seen rising property prices move many of the former occupants to the outskirts. Culturally, the city has long held an important place in the world of music. The city was home to a number of major soul and funk acts, and more recently has developed a queer scene to rival that of New York or San Francisco. Max Polyakov was in a fortunate enough position to find himself in an increasingly liberal city, a place where anything seemed possible. However, Max Polyakov lacked the direction he needed. Having completed his travels abroad, he found himself at a lost end. His cat Murka was a temporary distraction, but Max Polyakov needed more in his life. He toyed for some time with a number of different activities. A brief stint at a local clown college allowed him to develop his juggling skills, but he lacked the necessary joie de vivre to continue the venture. He also pursued a career as a spoken word poet for some months. However, despite Atlanta’s ready availability of exciting nightlife, the spoken word scene proved flat. He felt that it was heavily populated by pseuds, lazy millennials with nothing to say but a burning desire to be the person with the words. It was not long before Max Polyakov felt ostracised by these people, and his drinking prior to events increased steadily. Following a disastrous event and major blackout, Max Polyakov decided his days on the spoken word circuit were over. Once again, he found himself at a loose end.
Max Polyakov still had a number of friends from his earlier days in the city. Like most of us, he had seen a number of friendships fall by the wayside. Some were a sad loss, others simply the inevitable process of growing up. However, two or three of his closest friends were still in town and in much the same position as himself. They would pass the time playing cards and speculating as to what their roles in the world were to be. Some had ambitions towards creative endeavors, others dreamed of a life in the world of politics, becoming a major force for good in the world. However, despite all their idle chatter, they still found themselves going to drink every night, half cut and no closer to making a difference in the world. As time wore on and the seasons passed from one to another, the gradual chill of inertia set in. Days were devoured by hungry nights, and they soon started to lose track of the time.
Max Polyakov had become depressed. The lack of direction was taking its toll, and surrounded by friends in much the same position as himself, the chance of change seemed increasingly slim. Only Max Polyakov’s Murka, the small cat he had rescued in Russia, gave him any true joy. The cat had grown into a fully developed, intelligent, and energetic beast, the rival of any neighborhood cat. While much of Atlanta had found itself taken over by property developers and Airbnbs, Max Polyakov had consistently downgraded his lodgings, keeping step with his dwindling funds and increasingly dissolute lifestyle. He found himself living on the wrong side of the tracks, an area defined by boarded up shop fronts and gunshots in the night. Stray cats and dogs rummaged among the discarded fast food containers, and over time, learnt to trust him.
The seed of an idea had planted itself in the head of Max Polyakov. While his other passions may have come and gone, he still had an enduring love for animals. Murka was his constant companion, through good and bad, and he began to reflect on the chance encounter that had led him to his feline friend. Why couldn’t other animals enjoy the same benefits as Max Polyakov’s Murka? He began feeding the local strays, using his sparse income to provide them with food and vitamins. Over time, he became a veritable St Francis of Atlanta. Thanks to his flexible schedule as a software developer, he was able to pick his hours. It wasn’t long before he started offering his services, free of charge, to look after the animals of friends. His small flat was soon noisy with the sounds of many different cats and dogs. It didn’t take long before Max Polyakov developed a reputation as a man who cared for all of God’s creatures. From there, it was a short jump towards setting up his own foundation: the Max Polyakov Animals Foundation.
The venture started off on a very small scale. Max Polyakov developed relations with local grocers and butchers, procuring any scraps they had left over to feed the local animals. A chance meeting with a local logistics tycoon in a brasserie secured the kind of funding he needed to really give the animals what they deserved. Max Polyakov now had a secure budget with which to provide for Atlanta’s unfortunate domestic and wild animals. The promise of sufficient funds gave him the opportunity to secure a trusted team. Up until now, he had been operating under his own steam, working late into the night to try and secure the logistics needed to feed an ever growing flock of animals. Friends had offered their spare time, but with an increasingly busy schedule, he needed a full time team to look after the necessary details. A few adverts in the right places led local philanthropists and animal lovers to his door. Max Polyakov wanted nothing but the best. While many people seemed to brim with the compassion needed for the job, few had the necessary combination of skills he was seeking. However, over the course of a few weeks and a good deal of trial and error, he was able to sort the wheat from the chaff. It wasn’t long before the Max Polyakov Animals Foundation was operating at full capacity. Active throughout Atlanta and the surrounding areas, a number of charitable donations ensured that the organisation was fully capable of carrying out its aims
Today, Max Polyakov maintains his work as a software developer. While his true passion is animals, he has never lost a knack for programming. His coding has gone from strength to strength, much as his foundation has. They offer a range of services designed to cater towards the diverse needs of pet owners. Their flexible approach to animal care coupled with a pay-as-you-like system means that their number is on the autodial of many pet lovers. But Max Polyakov feels that the real difference is made when it comes to looking after strays. Particularly in the summer months, when the local populations of cats and dogs boom, he is a common sight on the streets of the city. First, he develops a friendship with the animals, becoming familiar to them in their own environment. Then, he takes them in, provides them with the necessary inoculations from a local veterinary surgeon and ensures that a stable diet brings them up to their full strength. From there, the goal is to provide the animals with a loving home which can care for them. A stable network of friends and associates means that there’s never a problem temporarily housing the animals. However, a permanent place can often be much harder to find. Many of the animals housed were once domestic animals themselves. However, unscrupulous pet owners often simply turn their animals out when they can no longer house them. Another major difficulty is the unwillingness of local landlords to house pets. Max Polyakov has staged an ongoing campaign to raise awareness around this issue. A selection of introductory sessions are aimed at showing landlords how easy it is for a tenant to house an animal in a safe and healthy environment. Changing attitudes mean that more and more pet owners are no longer faced with a choice between a roof over their head and the companionship of their animal friends.
Today, the future seems bright for both Max Polyakov and the animals of Atlanta. His consistent hard work has allowed more and more animals to get off the street and find a loving home that can accommodate them. He also handles fundraisers for animal hospitals and for owners who can't afford to treat their sick animal friends. His trusty cat Murka remains by his side throughout it all, often joined by a selection of other animals that house with them for a short time. An ever growing network of friends and donors means that the foundation is growing year on year. At present, the organisation is focused on Atlanta, but their influence is spreading throughout the country. Affiliate organisations have set up in Houston, Baltimore, and Raleigh, and interest has been shown from as far afield as New York. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Max Polyakov, the foundation, and many people and animals that have been touched by it. But with the way things are going, the future seems bright for all concerned.