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The Forgotten Dogs of Chernobyl

Saturday 19th August 2017 commemorates the 26th anniversary of International Homeless Animals' Day. This day aims to educate people about pet abandonment, feral animals and benefits of neutering domestic animals.

Depending on how old you are, you may not recall the explosion of Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Ukraine) on 26th April 1986. In its aftermath, residents of Chernobyl were forced to flee the site, leaving behind all their belongings, including their beloved pets. 

This picture shows a row of signs, each one is the name of a city abandoned after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster

The fallout - 400 times more radioactivity than was released at Hiroshima - drove a third of a million people from their homes. Nearly 1,000 stray dogs, descendants of those pets abandoned during the evacuation still live around the nuclear power plant and within the surrounding 30-kilometre exclusion zone. 

Not only are they exposed to rabies by animals within the exclusion zone but also from the rabid wolf population. Wild creatures such as boar, deer, and fish are also thriving in the zone, which ironically has taken on the character of a nature park in the absence of humans.

These poor dogs are also malnourished and in dire need of medical attention. The dogs rely on the workers still working at the station to feed them so that they can survive.

“Rabies is not only a risk for animals but also for humans,” says Julie Sanders, International Director of the Companion Animals Department at Four Paws. “By vaccinating the homeless dogs, we are also protecting the 3,500 nuclear power plant workers who come into contact with the dogs and look after them.”

Earlier this year, the Clean Futures Fund (CCF), a U.S. non-profit organisation launched an international assistance program that aims to spay/neuter and vaccinate the hundreds of stray dogs that live in that area over a 3-year period. These operations will be conducted by a team of Ukrainian veterinarians as well as volunteer vets from around the world.

Clean Futures Fund has partnered with a variety of organisations including, SPCA International, Project VETS, Four Paws International to bring 8 veterinarians (1 from USA, 1 from Portugal, 1 from Austria, 5 from Ukraine) to Chernobyl to conduct these operations in 
August, 2017. There are also 15 international volunteers (from USA, GB, JAP, GER, AUS, UKR, NOR,) who will be coming to assist the veterinarians.

The Dogs of Chernobyl Program will reduce the threat of human exposure to rabies and provide a humane option for managing the stray dog population in the area”, said CCF co-founder Lucas Hixson.

Little Tarzan found in March 2017 - Photo Credit (and first image): FOUR PAWS / Thomas Halasz
This will have ongoing benefits for the Dogs of Chernobyl including little Tarzan who was born in March this year and found by workers, who have been caring for him and his mother ever since.

After the evacuation in April 1986 some people decided to return to their houses and one of these people was Rosalia Ivanovna. 
Stray dogs Becky (left) and Samantha (right) - Photo Credit: FOUR PAWS
Before the accident, Rosalia was a teacher whose house was always open to visitors. She was always fond of dogs and she ended up adopting two strays - Samantha and Becky.

Rosalia was finally forced to leave the exclusion zone in the winter 2015 but her dogs were left behind without food and warm shelter in the middle of the cold Ukrainian winter. Despite being alone these dogs survived and they are now just two of the dogs helped by this project.

These ‘forgotten victims’ will finally be remembered.

Dogs of Chernobyl Program: a puppy being tested for radiation - Photo Credit: FOUR PAWS / Thomas Halasz

We'd like to thank Emily Reeves and the team at FOUR Paws Australia for bringing this story to our attention. To find out more about how you can help their efforts around the world, visit their website or Facebook page.

If you would like to donate to the Clean Futures Fund or help another way please visit or the campaign page at

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