As we find ourselves in the midst of another holiday season, all of us at Clean Futures Fund and the Dogs of Chernobyl program would like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful supporters and followers who have helped us reach our goals in 2017. We could not have accomplished the first ever spay/neuter and vaccination clinic at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and Exclusion Zone without your generosity and of course, our amazing team of veterinarians and volunteers. There is so much more we need to do for the forgotten strays of Chernobyl and we hope that we can count on you to stay part of our team as we plan for 2018!
Because of you, we were able to spay, neuter and vaccinate over 350 stray dogs and cats during the course of the inaugural August 2017 Dogs of Chernobyl program! While we are very proud, we also recognize how much work still remains in front of us. There are still over 1000 animals to treat in the region.
We are also so grateful for all of our partner organizations that played an integral role in our work for the 2017 Dogs of Chernobyl Program and would like to thank each and everyone of them for their help in so many ways. Two of our biggest partners this past year were Dogs Trust Worldwide and SPCA International. A special thank you to Dogs Trust’s expert dog-catcher Brian Faulkner who provided much needed feedback and support in that area; and to SPCA International’s Executive Director Meredith Ayan and Program Manager Lori Kalef who visited our operations in Chernobyl and pitched in for a couple days at the clinic.
We knew this program would be challenging from the very beginning for many reasons aside from the obvious: abandoned landscape, overgrown forests, safety hazards and environmental contamination. Some of these areas are like jungles, with mazes of buildings and overgrowth of trees and shrubs. Other areas are wide open and bordered by woods, giving the dogs free reign to run and hide.
However, one might say the logistics beforehand were even more taxing!
As you can imagine, setting up the first ever animal related project at the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster has many limitations and restrictions. Acquiring the necessary permissions, funding, finding the right partners, veterinarians, volunteers and overcoming language barriers were just a few obstacles we successfully overcame. Because of the difficulties with receiving goods into Ukraine from elsewhere in the world, we had to procure veterinary supplies and equipment locally and then figure out a way to get them into the Exclusion Zone. In Chernobyl, you simply can’t get in a vehicle and go where you need to go, but with great perseverance, we were able to figure out ways to do so because we were committed to seeing the program through and now look forward to applying the model we created for our next clinic in June of 2018.
After the initial capturing of the dogs, they were transported back to the make shift hospital we set up in an abandoned building and brought into the reception area. Since we were working in a contaminated environment, every animal was screened for external radioactive contamination before they were admitted into the clinic. Animals that had surficial contamination over safety levels were washed (decontaminated) until they met all safety criteria.
As the animals were inspected, each dog was given a unique identification number and physical data like weight and sex were collected and updated on their paperwork. The animals were then given antibiotics for precautionary measures and for any existing medical conditions, and then brought to surgery. During their recovery, a microchip was implanted beneath their skin for identification purposes and they were given a combination rabies and complex vaccine, and other medications when deemed necessary.
Before the animals woke up from anaesthetic, they were placed on the whole body counter and a measurement was taken of the internalized radioactive materials that have been collected as a result of living in a contaminated environment. They were then transported to a secondary recovery room to be monitored until they were ready to be brought back to the area they were caught.
There were also numerous injuries and diseases that we were presented with. Many puppies and dogs were greatly affected by mange and were given doses of Ivermectin to treat and manage this awful condition. When we followed up with these animals in November 2017, we were so happy and amazed to see how fast they recovered after our treatments!
One case that particular stood out to us and broke our hearts was a stray dog that was brought in with a severe bite on the neck from a wolf. The wound so large and infected, it was likely a few weeks old. Thanks to Dr. Sovtus and Sergei we were able to debride the wound and close it up while the dog was in our care!
We had a great group of veterinarians and volunteers that supported us throughout the program. Our surgical team faced uncommon challenges related to the hostile environment that we are not privy to in North America. Because we are primarily working with stray animals, there was no way of knowing their medical history or even when the last time they had a meal. Thanks to the incredible experience and ability to operate under pressure by our veterinarians like Dr. Terry Paik, Dr. Felipe Dias and Dr. Pavel Burkazkey, were we able to operate such a successful clinic without any major issues.
Our team was so dedicated to the goal of treating as many animals as possible that one of our incredible group of volunteers gave their own time and energy during one of their weekends off to hold a free spay/neuter clinic for stray cats in Slavutych, the worker city outside Chernobyl where our team stayed during the program. The response from the community was so great that by the afternoon we had to turn people away because we were running out of supplies and time! We were so grateful for the support of the community in all of our operations and plan to revisit that area to help more animals in 2018.
It is our goal to have the majority of the animals sterilized by 2020 and then transition those goals into a ongoing monitoring and care program for the remaining animal population. If we can raise enough funds with YOUR help, we would also like to hire local veterinarians to provide routine medical care and establish feeding stations as well as better shelter from the elements.
Long-term, we plan to establish a rescue/rehoming program but we still have a lot of work ahead of us in order to receive special permission from the Ukrainian government to be able remove the animals from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Slavutych and Chernobyl will always hold special places in our hearts, not just because of the history, but also because of the animals and people that still live there and the lives they lead and endure. We couldn’t be more passionate about our work are so grateful to you for believing in us and our cause for the Dogs of Chernobyl. We remain committed to providing the best care and manage. We are honored for this opportunity to make such a meaningful difference in the lives of the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the stray cats and dogs that live in the area.
In preparations for the June 2018 Dogs of Chernobyl clinic, we are currently accepting volunteer applications.
With enormous gratitude,
Erik and Lucas