///The loving ties that bind

The loving ties that bind

The courage of animal rescue in the face of war

The world is full of things that divide us: borders, politics, religion, race, traditions, and most brutally of all, war. But there are also many things that connect us to one another and to our planet. One of those things is our compassion for animals and our commitment to help the helpless even at great cost.

Like you, I’m watching what is happening in Ukraine with absolute horror. My heart goes out to the people — the elderly, the babies, all those children clutching stuffed toys, the brave soldiers — and of course, the animals.

Photo: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images

A woman flees with her cat in her arms, near the Kyiv train station.

Every image I see of cats and dogs in the arms of their terrified human companions tears at my heart. I wish I could take all the animals in Ukraine and put them in my house right now until they could be reunited with their families, and I’d keep all the shelter pets safe as well.

That’s a crazy beautiful fantasy, isn’t it, but there’s no place for fantasy in war. Ugly reality demands that we do what we can now, and many organizations and individuals are rising to the occasion, showing what animal rescuers are made of: courage, devotion, creativity, and nerves of steel.

As I write this, more than 2,000,000 people have fled the death and chaos of the invading Russian army, and many of those refugees have refused to leave without their beloved pets. Today, governments are recognizing how important it is for people to be able to escape disaster with their entire families, including their pets. Many countries, from Poland to Romania and from Germany to Finland, have relaxed restrictions to allow pets from Ukraine to enter the countries with less red tape, while still protecting their own populations against rabies. This will certainly lessen the burden for shelters in Ukraine but will doubtless add to the work of rescue groups in neighboring countries.

In Ukraine itself, animal rescue groups of all kinds, large and small, are standing up to the worst to protect their charges. At the Cat Café Lviv, in the western part of the country, Shrhii Oliinyk and his small staff are keeping the doors open and caring for the 20 or so cats in their charge. They are sharing 50 percent of donations they receive with their army, which is “fighting for our bright future,” Shrhii says.

Photo: The Dodo.com

With sanctuaries across the country, Shelter Ugolyok is an independent organization that cares for more than 500 animals, including horses, cows, goats, pigs, geese, chickens, sheep, dogs, cats, ponies, and donkeys. Staff and volunteers are hunkered down with the animals, providing food and comfort as well as they can, despite the shattering explosions and billowing smoke just miles away. Founder Alexandra Lavitska says the group is sharing its limited resources with neighbors: “We started to support local orphanages that ran out of food and meds,” she writes on Instagram. “Today sent them first funds…I hope world community do not mind us to help not only animals?”

The courage and generosity of people like Shrhii and Alexandra take my breath away. And they are just two of tens of thousands who are risking their lives to save the lives of lost and homeless animals. Rasma Krecia, a Latvian volunteer, has traveled to Lviv to transport animals across the border into Poland until the war is over. Rasma, like so many others, could not sit by and do nothing. “If I have an opportunity, if I have a large van, if I can bring food here and take some animals back to safety, I can’t stay at home,” she said.

One of those animals is Charly, a handsome handful of a cat who traveled for 40 hours by train with his people, Natalia and Volodymir Horobets. The trip was difficult for super-active Charly, and the Horobets feared he might be trampled by the crowd, so they reluctantly decided it would be best to settle him with a rescue group while they tried to find their footing in a new country. The farewell was heartbreaking. As they parted, Natalia, whispered in her cat’s ear. “Charly, my little one, you will come back home, but you need to stay in a different place for now, you will be good there.”

And I haven’t even mentioned the zoos! Regardless of whether you approve of zoos or not, the poor animals there are in peril. The staff at the Kyiv zoo — where thousands of animals are trapped — has moved into the facility providing round-the-clock care. Imagine the terror those animals feel. I’m thinking of elephants who can feel vibrations in their feet from miles away. Just think of what the bombs and explosions feel like to them!

Photo: Heidi Levine, Washington Post

Kyiv Zoo Director Kyrylo Trantin comforts Horace, a 17- year-old Asian elephant, at the Kiev Zoo on March 4.

Not long ago, I was thrilled to help two brave rescuers who, in other parts of the world, are also saving lives despite staggering odds. In Kuwait, Alina Lazaryeva operates a small organization with a big heart called Kuwait Animal Aid. She and Dr. Jackie Holdsworth, (@theveterinaryvoice) of Long Island Veterinary Specialists, have become friends. Jackie and her sister often foster cats from this organization, so when Jackie asked me to help, I said yes!

That’s how charming, treat-loving Prince and Pickleball came into my program…from the streets of Kuwait to the Manhattan skyline to a loving new family in Brooklyn. Wow! What a thrill it was to help them on their journey and to know that people like Alina are on the ground making a difference.

Just one year old, Bonnie Belle (now called Willow), a sweet and beautiful Scottish Fold, was dumped…literally…at a dump site in Kuwait, rescued by Alina and her team, and flown to New York, where I had the pleasure of caring for her until she went to her loving new home in time to celebrate Valentine’s Day. For some reason, many Scottish Folds are homeless in Kuwait. Why? It breaks my heart.

At Clalilla Animal Rescue in Havana, Cuba, Claudia Andreatte, does rescue in her home. She takes in stray animals, many with special needs, vets them, and places them in rescues or finds them homes. She has been in contact with Karla Agostinello, North Shore Animal League America’s Rescue Manager, through a mutual friend. When Karla told me about Claudia and a young cat with a difficult condition, I immediately wanted to help.

Claudia found Pandora as a tiny kitten abandoned by her family. She cared for her for the first 18 months of her life, but Pandora needed medical help. Her back legs are deformed, and her poor little eyes need surgery to remove the lashes that are growing into her eyeballs. Her leg condition is inoperable, but like so many special needs pets, she doesn’t let it stop her one bit. All it took was one post on my Instagram, where she caught the attention of a great young family, which
meant I was able to get her from the Dr. Jackie to her forever home, without her having to come to me. Her eye surgery will be in a couple of weeks.

Left, Pandora with Claudia in Havana and with her new family, where she’s called Lola Pandora!

While researching this blog I realized that despite all the death and destruction of this horrible war, the heroes outnumber the villains, whether they’re saving animals or helping the old and infirm onto trains or playing with terrified children. It is so important to realize that everyone can do something, and that by acting we are connecting with others who share our hopes and values. I know you’ll find your own way to be a “war hero,” to help save lives in whatever way you can, whether through donations or moral support. Do some research and discover how you can be a hero for the desperate people and helpless animals of Ukraine.

In the meantime, hold those you love close to your heart.


P.S. North Shore Animal League America is launching its 22nd annual Tour For Life®, in partnership with my friend Rachael Ray’s Nutrish®. The campaign will run throughout March and April and will visit shelter partners in 53 communities and 37 states, hosting adoption events for the local pets. Tell your friends and share this opportunity to reach across the country and help find homes for animals near and far.

By |2022-09-20T12:46:45-04:00March 14th, 2022|