For Dan Fine in Edmonds, there’s only one thing that can tear him away from his pup, Kal El.
Or, actually, thousands.
We’ve seen some of what has happened in Ukraine — the bombs, the destruction that millions have escaped.
But what we haven’t seen is what they were forced to leave behind — an estimated 1 to 2 million family pets, now roaming the street, grateful for scraps.
“You’ve never seen anything like it,” Fine said. “They all come running out to give me kisses, happy to see you just like you’re coming home. And they’re just living on their own.”
Other animals have been relatively lucky to end up in a shelter that Fine visited, where just eight people are dedicated to helping these abandoned pets.
“They have swelled in size since the war,” Fine said. “People are just throwing their animals over the fence when they’re evacuating. And their whole area was occupied by Russians.
“They have currently 3,114 dogs and 209 cats.”
Fine is a tech entrepreneur who has started and sold six companies, but he decided to go to Ukraine to see what he could do for abandoned pets.
He brought donated food to any animal or family he could reach, and met dedicated Ukrainian veterinarians and volunteers.
“And they said, ‘You are missing the bigger picture here.’”
The bigger problem: Every animal he had helped threatened to multiply.
According to the Humane Society, one unspayed dog can have about 16 puppies in one year. All of those dogs collectively can have 508 puppies the next year.
By year six, that would equal out to 67,000 dogs.
That avalanche of dogs would carry another huge threat — rabies, which is already a public health issue in Ukraine for animals and people.
“So we have to stop this right now, and there’s no time to waste,” Fine said. “We’ve got to go big and go hard. And that is going after sterilizations and vaccinations.”
Fine started the Ukrainian War Animal Relief Fund to bring volunteers to Ukraine, like Kim Morgan, a vet tech from Kingston.
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be right for me,” Morgan said. “Because I could help.”
The volunteers give support and supplies to vet staff already in Ukraine, setting up mobile clinics where pets are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and have their pictures taken.
An animal’s nose is unique, like a fingerprint. The pictures go into the UWARF database.
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Vaccinations can be verified and put in so-called “pet passports” that allow animals across borders, either for adoption or even to be reunited with their families.
In one month, UWARF treated almost 3,000 animals.
“I fell in love with a number of them,” Fine said.
But they couldn’t stay.
“There were frequent air raids, you know. There were alerts on your phone that said ‘This area of Ukraine is under attack,’” Morgan said.
With the fighting threatening to close in, they reached every animal they could. They had to leave because of battle, but Fine plans to win the war.
“Heartbreaking,” he said. “(But) you got to focus on the bigger picture, right? And say, ‘How can we help more animals?’”