Posted on Mar 08, 2023

Last week, Dr Jon Geller (DVM) shared how his organization, The Street Dog Coalition (started in Fort Collins and since copied by 50 US cities) used their experience to provide veterinary care to pets of Ukrainian refugees crossing the border from Ukraine into Romania. Some members may know Dr Geller as the doctor who provided emergency care to their pets in Fort Collins for over 20 years (Please see last weeks’ Rotogear for the rest of his unique CV).

On the first slide were photos of the early (winter 2022) crossing from the southern tip of Ukraine into east Romania at what became known as the “blue vet tent”. The Isaccea border station became an “Olympic village of sorts” - to date providing preventative and minor medical care to over 500 pets.
An early success was illustrated - Victor and his dog, Alpha. The typical vet patient receives Rabies vaccination, preventive care, and a pet passport. “Pass-the-hat” donations helped Victor and Alpha cross the Romanian border and into Germany as the two completed their journey.
The international press highlighted the gravity of the situation – “hundreds of dogs found starved to death in cages in Ukraine” as well as the 100 that made it alive into Poland. The blue tent houses the “Blue Vet Group” which is manned by Ukrainian vet students and DVM volunteers from the US (often from Fort Collins). The group often works 12–14-hour days. Eastern Europe loves its paperwork and entry into the EU requires vaccinations, a microchip, parasite treatment and a pet passport.
Other DVM volunteers have provided additional services – treatment of a lame elephant at the Odessa Zoo and the transfer of 9 lions from another Ukraine zoo to the US (Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO). Rabies is widespread in the Ukraine dog and cat population and all animals need to be “revaccinated” as they continue their journey. Similar situations occur in other war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
A video showed Russian bombing of an apartment building - followed by the sounds of barking dogs. Six million refugees have left the country. Pets left behind lead to overpopulation and the spread of disease (Rabies is both fatal in dogs as well as people).
Generally, animals wounded in war have not been the focus of this program or other similar organizations active in the country. However, some dogs have been treated and accompany soldiers as companions or work as codefendants (e.g., bomb-sniffers). Another organization, Paws of War provides pet food to the dog and pet population.
A recent large donation to the Blue Vet Group financed a mobile medical/surgical trailer which will be used inside Ukraine. It was built in Phoenix and currently resides in London. Its mission is “10,000 animals, 10,000 miles in 10 months”. Logistics abound before its launch (power, staffing, road conditions, and security -to name a few). Could it be “targeted” by a Kamikaze drone?
The final slide illustrated the line connecting The Street Coalition in Ft Collins and the effort in Romania - 2 ladies sitting with their dogs - one homeless in America and the other in Ukraine - illustrating to this writer the “oneness” of humanity.
A short period for Q & A followed.
  • Q:  What is the condition of animals left behind (dogs, cats, and even wild horses) in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl?  A: At least 250 dogs inhabit this area. An increase in cancer or other radiation diseases have not been noted (to Dr Geller’s knowledge).
  • Q:  Where will the mobile unit travel in the country?  A: Starting at the border with Poland it will focus on the rural areas, and it may go as close to the front lines as the volunteer vets choose to venture.