Dogs in backpacks and rats in pockets as Ukrainian families rescue pets from war

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For thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, their dog or cat is the only source of comfort and hope as their world crumbles.

More than 4.2 million people have left Ukraine in the six weeks of war to date, many of them refusing to leave their pets behind despite the enormous effort required to transport them for the long travel out of the war zone.

The charity Viva animal, which operates in the UK and Poland, is one of many groups offering assistance to Ukrainians with pets at borders, distributing food, carriers, leashes and flea collars.

The group’s founder and director, Juliet Gellatley, said the stories told to her by weary refugees as they traveled through Poland were inspiring and highlighted the important role pets play in the mental health of their owners. . She said this was particularly evident in cases where children are traumatized by war.

“Some of the children have had the responsibility of caring for the animals and have a special bond with them. [Bringing them across the border] gives them a sense of belonging,” said Ms Gellatley The National.

“Leaving them behind would destroy them, they would be heartbroken. It is their friend who then shows them affection. Young children can talk to animals in ways they can’t talk to adults. He offers them a home after all they’ve been through together.

“Material goods can be replaced, but your dogs or cats cannot.

“A woman, who had her bird and two dogs with her at the border, said ‘all I want to say to other refugees is don’t leave your dogs behind, they need your love’ .

“A lady had been carrying her dog in a backpack for 15 days when she arrived in Warsaw. And a little boy had his pet rat in his pocket.

“They are essential and an integral part of the family.”

Before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Viva cared for 450 animals at its 24-hectare sanctuary in Korabiewicach, near Warsaw. Since then, it has taken in 130 dogs and cats from Ukraine, some of whom were left homeless when their owners fled the violence. The sanctuary is now full and the charity is urging people in the UK to provide a loving home for one of the abandoned animals.

Some surrendered animals have complex needs, including blindness, and require special assistance.

“There is a story behind every dog ​​and those who come from Ukraine have their own stories,” Ms Gellatley said. “There was a dog called Charlie whose owner died in Ukraine and someone brought him across the border saying he wasn’t going to survive the war. He found himself in our sanctuary in Poland and he is doing well. The vets think they may be able to fix his eyes and he may be able to see again.

In addition to housing and caring for animals at its sanctuary, Viva also distributes food for animals in Ukraine and donates pet carriers to refugees at border crossings.

Since the start of the war, the charity has raised £30,000 ($38,980) to help Ukrainian animals as people around the world are moved by the plight of suffering dogs and cats.

Volunteers listened to the harrowing stories of desperate refugees, including one who carried a shopping bag full of puppies out of the war zone and another whose elderly sheepdog was unable to walk and had to be carried on the shoulders of his owner.

“The scale of the problem for humans and their animals is vast,” Ms Gellatley said.

“To ensure that we can accept more animals into our Polish sanctuary, we have started a repatriation program in the UK, where we have brought in the British to house some of our existing Polish dogs, whose traits we know. and who do not need quarantine. . They responded beautifully, creating more space for us to welcome new refugee dogs.

Viva Poland director Cezary Wyzinsky, who led the branch for 18 years, described the situation created by the war as “chaotic”.

“Our volunteers and our resident vet, along with a refugee vet from Ukraine, were able to settle, reassure and care for the often traumatized new arrivals,” he said. “It’s a desperate situation, with two million refugees and their pets now in Poland, and the flow continues.

To donate to Viva, volunteer or provide a home for a visiting animal

Updated: April 12, 2022, 06:26

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