Jul. 20—Ukraine is a war-riddled country that has seen the first-hand effects of hardships and turmoil, many of which are unimaginable by people elsewhere in the world.
Some Washington State University alumni have volunteered to work at animal shelters on the Ukraine border in surrounding countries. These volunteers serve stray animals and pets that travel with refugees who are seeking sanctuary.
Daniel Fine, a 1982 WSU graduate, talked with the Daily News via a phone-type app about his current mission volunteering in Kyiv in Ukraine and Przemysl in Poland. He said the trains taking refugees out of war zones are packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people leaving their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. Transportation authorities ask people to leave their luggage behind and have their valuables shipped. Families come with their pets, but because of limited space, owners are forced to either abandon their animals or walk to shelters with them, Fine said.
People who travel with their animals run into obstacles bringing pets over borders. The US and Canada have a six-month waiting period, while Poland doesn’t allow animals into the country, Fine said. The easiest place to allow animals is Romania, I added.
“Let’s do the math: America has a 40% pet ownership,” Fine said. “Times seven million by that number, people are leaving their animals. Abandoned animals are left on the street or put into shelters.”
Before the war, Ukraine had a great spay and neuter program, but with an abundance of stray animals roaming the streets, they’ve multiplied, Fine said. The result is an overwhelming number of filling animals pet shelters in Ukraine, and not enough resources to sustain them.
Fine is a retired programmer. So, along with transporting supplies to shelters in Ukraine and spaying animals, he created software that reunites owners with their pets.
After spaying and treating animals for fleas and ticks, a team takes photos of the pet that are loaded onto a microchip. They microchip animals and the information goes on their international database. People can upload a photo of their pet to the system, and with facial recognition, the software will connect owners with their animals. Owners can see photos of their pet and also view information about where they are located.
The team’s goal is to treat 1,000 dogs and cats during Fine’s monthlong mission.
Marty Becker is a veterinarian who volunteered at a shelter on the Romanian border in April. He studied at WSU in 1980 and is the founder of Fear Free, an education program teaching veterinarians and pet caretakers to interact with animals in a stress-free way.
Learning about work being done in Romania through news outlets, he was inspired to teach border workers how to carefully handle pets. Becker said volunteers were being bit by these animals and were challenged taking care of overly stressed pets.
In his time in Romania, Becker met with the president of the Romanian Veterinary Medical Association to discuss medication and other necessities the shelters needed. He saw pets would arrive anxious, and volunteers would try to comfort animals in ways that stressed them out more. He taught volunteers how to greet animals when they first arrived, how to safely put them on examining tables and calm down pets.
Becker said he could see change in the dynamic almost immediately after teaching volunteers how to handle animals.
At Romanian shelters, Becker said he came across a lot of people and their stories. Many people who arrived with their pets were afraid of being turned away, and were relieved when they were accepted.
He was happy to witness families being reunited. When a woman and her child arrived at the shelter with a dog, cat and hamster, Becker asked the girl why she brought her hamster, and she said it was her best friend. The woman’s husband was separated from his family for a couple of months, and once he arrived at the shelter, their dog bolted to him. Becker said the dog ran to him ahead of his family from him, jumping and welcoming him to the sanctuary.
Becker said a woman packed an elderly German shepherd for 30 miles. A breeder brought 10 Jack Russell terriers in a wheelbarrow fastened with a rope to her waist from her. She traveled without shoes and, when she arrived at the shelter, her feet were black and blue.
One of the most rewarding parts volunteering on the Ukrainian border was seeing unity and kindness in strangers, Becker said.
“I saw people who had nothing, gave everything,” Becker said. “You may have lost near everything but you can never lose that unconditional love. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost all your money, lost your house, it’s unconditional love, limitless affection and to-die-for loyalty.”
Pearce can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Emily_A_Pearce.