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Help for Ukraine's Pets

Ann JamiesonApr 26, 2022 (0)

Bird Travelled for Days in His Jacket
Cat Carried in a Purse
Happy for the Help
Two Kittens Too Sick to Travel
Evacuees Getting Some Food and Coffee to Warm Up
The author riding in Turkey.

The people of Ukraine are not the only ones reeling under the blows of Putin's savage attacks. Horses, dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, turtles...anything living is at risk as well.

And like all of us, Ukrainians love their pets. So they lead them, carry them in their arms, or use any available container to transport them in. Who has time to look for a carrier when under deadly attack?

Dr. Dave Chico, a veterinarian from the Albany, New York area, spent two weeks recently in Poland volunteering to help displaced Ukrainians with their pets. The 2018 recipient of the American Hero Veterinarian award, Dave is no stranger to tragedy. In 2012 he responded to the typhoon in the Philippines that killed thousands of people. A devoted dog lover and rescuer, Dr. Chico works through the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Situated on the Polish side of the border crossing from Ukraine, Dr. Chico says, "At first, it was "overwhelming!" The constant stream of women and children (the men remain behind to fight) running from a blood-thirsty tyrant, leaving nearly everything behind, was heart-wrenching. These women and children were facing the terror of an unknown future. Though some had relatives to go to, and were there to catch trains to other countries, others were completely without future plans.

One older woman came through with her cat. Dr. Chico helped her with her suitcases, and tended to her cat, asking if she knew where she was headed. "I have no idea," she replied.

Twenty-five to 30 percent of the refugees came with pets, refusing to leave these family members behind. Others left their pets behind, with either plans for neighbors to feed them, or because they had no time to grab them as they ran from exploding buildings.

In some areas locals are feeding abandoned animals they know of, and organizations are attempting to feed animals as well. But such attempts can prove deadly, as mines have been planted in many buildings.

At the border, refugees are provided with food, Sim cards, interpreters, and clothes. Many humanitarian organizations are represented at each border crossing, doing everything in their power to ease the refugees' anguish. Those with pets were directed to the International Fund for Animal Welfare tent, which Dave worked from.

Many arrived with their pets in an unsafe conveyance. Cats showed up in purses, a mouse was carried in a take-out container.

One of the first steps IFAW workers take is to issue safe carriers for pets. It may seem a small thing, but to worried pet owners knowing that their pet can no longer panic and escape from them is incredibly soothing. Dave stressed how grateful all of the refugees were for this first step, and for everything they were provided with. "Just handing them a carrier and making their day a little bit easier would always bring a big smile and a 'Thank You.'"

Besides carriers, food, water, leashes, harnesses, bowls...anything the pets needed to continue their journey would be provided.

The group would get a heads-up that say an arriving cat is about to give birth, or a very large dog, was headed their way, and they would have the facility appropriately prepared for that arrival.

As any pets going into Europe needed a passport, all were microchipped, and given necessary vaccinations, as well as being checked for basic health. While pets may have already been vaccinated, looking for veterinary records in the face of bombs raining down on people's homes was not an option.

Arriving cats were quickly provided a quiet corner with a litter box so they could relieve themselves.

For the pet owner, coffee and a warming area with two outdoor heaters was provided.

Some pet owners relinquished their animals. While they got them to safety, either they were going somewhere they weren't allowed to bring their animals, or they simply had no idea where they were going and couldn't handle a pet as well.

Rescuers were in town to take these animals, and some were immediately adopted by staff members! Sometimes rescue workers babysat animals overnight, while owners grabbed desperately needed sleep.

One teenager came in with carriers containing seven cats. Her house had been bombed. She and her mother had one backpack and seven cats. Where they were headed only allowed her to take one cat, so heartbreaking decisions had to be made. The rescue workers attempted to find somewhere to go where all seven cats were welcome, but she would be taking a bus to Norway, and only one cat could come.

However, there was a happy ending. The cats got dispersed among hotel rooms being used to house the volunteers...and all six were adopted!

Initially Dave and the other vet worked 12-hour shifts, but they were able to cut down to nine hours when an additional vet was added. Two displaced Ukrainian vets were hired to work along with the IFAW. They handled the more involved cases of animals needing additional care.

While IFAW stayed on the Polish side of the border, a German group of vets crossed back and forth across the border bringing food and supplies for animals stuck in Ukraine. Twelve hundred dogs are stuck in one shelter in an active military zone, in need of food and water, with Ukrainian shelter workers trying to help them all survive. Polish groups travel to the shelter to provide supplies as well.

Dave was heartbroken by the mothers and children forced to leave their husbands/fathers/brothers behind with no idea if they would ever see them again. On top of that, schooling for these kids has been completely interrupted.

Language barriers of course provided challenges, as the Polish and Ukrainian languages are not similar. But high school kids pitched in as interpreters. One seventeen year old, Leo, whose parents had stayed behind, was hired by the vets and was amazing.

"He was on his own in a war zone, trying to help. He worked so hard! He'd try to help anyone, he was indispensable, a very mature young man. And so appreciative of what we were doing!"

Amid all the panic, fear and uncertainly, the good side of humanity shone through at the border. "People came from all around the world to help," says Dave. Paramedics arrived from France and Spain along with a Jewish medical group whose medics came from both Israel and the U.S., an Egyptian response organization, and faith-based groups such as Sikhs who gave out supplies and had a food truck and distributed clothing.

Central World Kitchen was staffed with people from all over the world preparing food for evacuees. Siobhan's Trust, located across from the vet tent, supplied coffee, tea, and food 24 hours a day. They were also great at finding a place for spontaneous volunteers who showed up with no specific organization to work with.

When things were slow, Dave got a chance to chat with other volunteers. They came from the U.S., Scotland, the Netherlands, U.K., France, and Spain. Some of them drove all the way from the U.K.! Some were on their vacations and dropped everything to show up and volunteer. Most traveled at their own expense, and stayed from one to three weeks.

One of the German members made trips into Ukraine to bring supplies in and dogs out, fully aware of the danger and yet doing it anyways.

The IFAW, which maintains offices all over the world, sent people from the U.S., Mexico, UK, and Germany, while Dave was there. In the two weeks Dave worked, it provided services to over 1400 animals!

Dave says, "It was an amazing experience working with the volunteers from all over the world helping people and animals impacted by the war in any way that they could. While in many cases we didn't speak the same language, we worked together using Google Translate to overcome language barriers and help people. Knowing these people left comfortable lives elsewhere in the world to assist was humbling and amazing to see. I never saw anything other than cooperation and mutual support among volunteers from the myriad organizations on the ground."  

EU countries opened their doors to a certain number of refugees in each country. Many had relatives in those countries. Italy, England, Ireland, and Scotland were just some of the countries accepting refugees.

When asked what the best way would be for others to help, Dave advises donating cash. The people on the ground in any situation have the best idea of what is needed, so sending them the way to purchase these items is most helpful. In addition the money stimulates the local economy because relief workers pick the items up locally.

While charities for Ukraine are sprouting up everywhere, there are definitely scams that aren't going to help. If you'd like to support animals and pets in Ukraine, Dave can't say enough about the IFAW ( and all that that they do. They rescue animals all over the world, and if they're not actively involved, support other organizations on the ground at the emergency.

The invasion of Ukraine is horrendous and the carnage sickening. But good people around the world are doing their best to pitch in and make things better. While you may not be able to get to Ukraine and volunteer yourself, supporting legitimate rescue and humanitarian groups is just as vital to the lives of people and animals.

Those animals are incredibly important to the Ukrainians, for they have a saying that is integral to their culture. "To save an animal, is to be human."

Ann Jamieson was writing stories when she was in grade school. In high school she wrote for the school paper. A college professor urged her to go professional.

After following her teacher's advice, she graduated with a degree in English and began writing scripts for educational films. This was followed by a weekly column for a newspaper, along with writing for equestrian and travel magazines (combining her two loves).

Ann's For the Love of the Horse series followed beginning in 2005, all collections of true stories about horses. She now has four volumes available, with a fifth in progress. In addition, Ann moved her stories online for those who prefer to read electronically, starting a subscription series called A Horse in Your Inbox.



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