I’m here in Ukraine, embedded with a Polish veterinary team from the Ada Foundation — an animal clinic and hospital located near the Ukrainian border in Poland. We are traveling in a convoy of two animal ambulance vans, loaded with food and medical supplies. The team’s mission is to help pets displaced by war.
We arrive at Hope Ranch, a small shelter run by Anya Zhuk, located on the outskirts of Lviv. As the team begins unloading several bags of donated kibble, I feel the friendly rub of a cat against my leg. “She’s one of the cats from the east,” says Anya, referring to the animals that come from the war zone. Volunteers from all over Ukraine are risking their lives to bring homeless and orphaned cats west, to the relative safety of shelters like Anya’s.
The team unpacks plastic cat carriers, while five rescued cats are wrangled and readied for evacuation to Poland. “In order for us to bring them over the border, Polish authorities require each cat to be microchipped and have vaccination paperwork,” says Cezar Kotowicz, my driver and trip coordinator. One by one, each cat is carefully nestled into a soft bed and blanket for the long ride to safety and a new life.
We also visit the Asylum of Mercy shelter where Natalya Kuznetsova tells us she has received hundreds of cats since the war started. The phone rings nonstop. “A private shelter with 50 cats contacted me yesterday urgently needing our help,” she adds. “But with all the fighting in the Donetsk region, it’s too dangerous for them to leave. We are trying to find them help.”
Ukraine has a very large population of cats estimated at nearly 7 million, with the majority of those being pets. “Ukrainians love cats,” Yaroslav Koval tells me. Forced to flee his small town of Chernihiv at the start of the war, Yaroslav was unable to take his pets. “My two cats have been there for a month under the bombing. Luckily a neighbor who stayed behind is checking on them. They are my children.”
Since the war began the Ada Foundation has treated more than 500 cats. More arrive each day. (Written one month after the war began. — Ed.)
“Cats from Ukraine are lacking prophylaxis,” says veterinarian Jakub Kotowicz. “Internal diseases like cat scratch fever, FIV, FeLV, are a big problem for them.”
Dealing with trauma
According to Dr. Kotowicz, the cats from Ukraine all have one thing in common. “They are highly stressed and traumatized by the deafening sounds of war,” he says. “Loneliness, sudden changes in their environment and the hardships of long-distance transportation are very difficult for them.”
To help Ukrainian cats cope with their trauma, his foundation recently built a specialized feline therapy center. “Feline behaviorism is so much more complicated than it is for dogs,” Dr. Kotowicz says. “Once cats are physically healed, we move them here, where our professional behaviorists can work to heal these patients from the traumas of war. Restoring their mental health is the final step before they can be adopted.”
Dr. Kotowicz describes the first time he traveled to Ukraine to pick up animals. “When I participated in our first convoy to Ukraine, I was very moved. Tears were flowing,” he says. “I have so much gratitude for all the Ukrainian shelters and volunteers who, at times, have risked their lives to save these vulnerable animals. The Ada Foundation is committed to be part of the healing process for as long as it takes.”
How You Can Help
We here at Catster love all animals, and we are heart-broken to see all the beloved pets who have been displaced or are struggling with their people in Ukraine as they try to flee toward safety.
Many organizations have stepped up to help the animals in Ukraine. Here are examples:
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has donated $150,000 in emergency funds to international animal welfare efforts in response to the urgent needs of animals and pet owners impacted by the war.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is working with local partners to get supplies to wildlife sanctuaries and animal shelters in Ukraine.
American Humane authorized two emergency grants to help with the IFAW’s efforts.
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) charitable arm, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) directed a $100,000 donation from Merck Animal Health to support veterinary and animal- welfare groups in Ukraine and surrounding areas, then matched it with a $100,000 grant of its own.
But it’s not just organizations. Many U.S. veterinarians have traveled to Ukraine to offer their help. Here are stories from three of them. You can follow their travels and find organizations they recommend supporting.
Dr. Marty Becker, founder of Fear Free Pets, covered his own expenses and went to the Ukraine-Romania border, where he worked closely with Romanian rescue Sava’s Safe Haven and helped provide care to pets in a tent that housed veterinary services, using the fear-free techniques he created. Learn more at drmartybecker.com.
Colorado-based veterinarian Dr. Jon Geller headed to a Romanian border crossing with Ukraine, where he was able to set up a government-approved, veterinary-licensed clinic in a large tent provided at the border station, primarily taking care of refugee pets to allow them to continue traveling through Europe. Dr. Geller added a Project Ukraine initiative to his existing nonprofit, The Street Dog Coalition, which provides free veterinary services to pets of people experiencing homelessness. Learn more at thestreetdogcoalition.org.
Dr. Gary Weitzman, veterinarian and president of the San Diego Humane Society, gathered up medical supplies and spent 10 days in a pop-up clinic on the Poland-Ukraine border with the goal of taking care of as many animals as he could during that time period. Teaming up with a German volunteer group, they provided food, supplies and first aid to the animals. Learn more about his trip by doing a search for “Ukraine” at sdhumane.org.
It’s impossible to list all of the individuals and organizations helping the people and pets of Ukraine. We ask our readers to tell us about any they have come across, and we’ll add them to a list on catster.com. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the Ada Foundation’s lifesaving work on Facebook @centrumadopcyjne.