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Australian Animal Aid's mission to help the animals of Ukraine

Last month Australian Animal Aida sub- branch of AWAMO (Australian War Animal Organisation Inc.), returned to help the people and animals of Ukraine.

The United Nations estimates as many as 3.7 million Ukrainians initially fled the country last year. Many of them are pet owners, forced to flee to bordering countries with their beloved pets without essentials such as food, medicines or apparel items.

Conflict often results in the depopulation of entire regions causing animals to be left behind. Domestic animals may be deserted without adequate access to food or water, either tied up or kept inside an abandoned building, or else left to roam the streets or running off. Many are taken in by volunteer shelters who are overwhelmed in numbers.

Australian Animal Aid has viewed the crisis in Ukraine like many and decided to do something about it. 

Last year, AWAMO President Nigel Allsopp approached several animal businesses for assistance to help facilitate the delivery of more than $500,000 of essential pet care supplies to animals impacted by the war in Ukraine. 

To ensure this aid reached its intended destinations two AWAMO representatives (Nigel Allsopp and Peter Kotzur) flew to Ukraine to oversee the distribution of emergency food relief to those most in need.

Feeding Tubes for Stray Animals 

Various food stations were set up by local volunteers at the front or in devastated regions where both displaced dogs and cats roam. These devices can be filled weekly with either dog food or water. 

A volunteer only requires thus to expose themselves to danger once a week and a wide area can be covered by multiple feeders. Some days strays have been seen line up patiently awaiting their turn.

These Australian Animal Aid feeders were donated by Bunnings and covered in artwork from school children. The 
first four feeders were named after AWAMO friends (Dr Harry Cooper, Glenda Atkins, Pam Shelton, Dr Paul Henry).

These feeding stations will be maintained by two Ukraine NGOs: Nowzad and Pet Friendly.

Just like Australians, Ukrainian pet owners considered their dogs and cats to be well-loved members of their families. During conflicts pets can provide emotional comfort; in some instances, these dogs and cats were the only things that provided the victims of the war with a sense of purpose and hope. A recent study showed that 39% of Ukrainian families chose to remain in Kyiv, partly because of their pets.

Much needed basic care products are in short supply throughout the country and this  impacts the efforts of many volunteer animal shelters caring for the animals of Ukraine.

One dilemma about rescuing stray animals in combat regions is by removing them to safety, there will be little chance in finding their owners once they return. However, do you leave them in those areas or remove them to safety and guaranteed food and shelter?

Abandoned animals perpetuate stray populations and are vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases and once the conflict has ended, animals who were once healthy are likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder or physical ailments that decrease the likelihood of adoption. To help reunite these animals is to be able to identify them.

This is why the latest Australian Animal Aid deployment in September 2023 focused on the introduction of a microchip program, training locals in animal first aid and supporting of a couple of animal shelters (sadly we can only focus on a few) in partnership with local NGOs.

Microchip in Ukraine Project

One of the main focuses in this second deployment to Ukraine was to implement a country wide universal microchip program for all animals. Ukraine does have an existing identification program run in part by the State which includes microchips and an ear tag system in small numbers. However, the system lacks commonality with the rest of Europe. This later point is noteworthy as many pets were taken across Polish and other borders by Ukraine refugees.

After participants received  a

Certificate upon completion

Working alongside Ukraine animal charities, Non-Government Organisations (NGO), the Armed forces and Lviv University, Australian Animal Aid conducted 
lectures to over 60 students on its microchip implementation and advantages to veterinary students.

Australian veterinarian Dr Lachlan Campbell is currently in Ukraine implanting 500 microchips in the Southern Region of Ukraine, whilst conducting stray dog neutering project for another NGO.

As part of the future development to improve Ukraine’s animal identification system, the Ukraine Border Force has received an initial batch of 100 microchips plus implanting and a reader donated by Microchips Australia

I must mention Doug Black CEO of Microchips Australia and his team not just for their generosity and compassion, but also for developing a new computerised system specially for Ukraine. We also received great assistance from Nowzad Ukraine CEO Liuba Mocharska. 

The benefits of having animals that can be traced and their owner, once again able to locate them after the war, will be a massive boost to people’s morale. 

Both the Deputy Minister and Lviv University Veterinary department were most interested regarding applications in the Fish and Agricultural fields. It can be used also for wildlife and zoo management. This microchipping can also be an aid in law enforcement and anti- smuggling or poaching operations.

Why is this project so important:

Generally, attachment to pets is high, with many people considering pets as members of the family. The strength of this attachment is never more apparent than in the event of pet loss in disaster, with reports of prolonged and often unnoticed or unsupported grief and poor psychological outcomes, especially in the event of forced abandonment of pets during
evacuation. The roles pets and other animals may play in supporting post-emergency functioning and resilience-building are also vital. For these reasons, microchipping is an essential part of disaster management planning.

It is hoped that this project will enhance and supplement the ways displaced animals can be reunited and identified in this war torn country.

When such a catastrophic event overwhelms a community, the first instinct for many is to grab their loved ones and head to safety. Many people cannot likewise imagine leaving their animals behind but haven't included the necessary preparations in their own emergency plans.

Planning for animals in the response and recovery phases of disasters is crucial to mitigate the negative effects that the loss or separation of animals can have. The human-animal bond can influence people's decisions during emergencies including how they will respond and when or if they evacuate.

Most people will want to take their pets with them during a major evacuation. However, there may be circumstances were this is not practical. In this case microchipped pets have a chance to be found and reunited with their family.

AWAMO staff work with a Ukraine NGO Nowzad who have a warehouse in Lviv, which acts as the distribution and collection centre. It is run by CEO Liuba Mocharska. an amazing lady and her son Vol, both qualified Veterinarians 

When requests for assistance come in, then they transport aid to the front. At the front lines several volunteers that live and remain locally then pick up the food aid transferring it into smaller cars so as not to drawn attention and distribute food on the streets in tube feeders like AWAMO supplied. 

Another Ukraine NGO we work alongside is Pet Friendly. They specialise in improving a local dog sanctuary as well as training and educating civilians in first aid and animal related issues.

Lviv Animal Shelter

This dog sanctuary some 40 kilometres out of Lviv is a place of refuge for many dogs that have been transported from the front lines to this relative safety. 
Originally built for around 50 dogs, it houses around 500 at present. 
All volunteers are doing an amazing job but are simply overwhelmed. It is awash with mud and many of the dogs remain dirty as there was no clean water, but they are all well fed, thanks to the owners’ sacrifices.

I first came here last year and wanted to help. We sent them fiscal aid to buy food at the time. But that was a temporary fix, what is needed is to improve the infrastructure, namely building new kennelling, a better electricity supply and fresh water.

As the last time I entered the compound, I was swamped by dogs all trying their best to say in their own way - pick me take me home. It’s been a while since I had a tear in my eye. One dog however took my eye - it was Boris. Boris a pure-bred German Short-Haired Pointer had been there in the same cage twelve months ago when I first visited. I have decided to try
and bring him home to Australia. Yes, we have plenty of dogs in need of a home in Australia, but I feel his repatriation to Australia will send a good message that the animal plight is not forgotten by Australian animal lovers.

Apart from food with winter encroaching in Ukraine they need better shelter and food storage areas. AWAMO has in its shipment various winter coats for dogs as well as dog bowls and collars, leads and blankets. These have been donated by the Women’s Auxiliary RSA, in New Zealand. These will help in the coming cold months but this is just one of many shelters that need help...

What do they need?

Apart from food, they need free veterinary assistance and medication for such things as flea and worm treatment. But most importantly they require basic necessities such as clean water, food and shelter

Ukraine NGO Pet Friendly has made the first leap in providing a new well that pumps fresh clean water to the shelter. This is a vital improvement from the state of the water that the previous rusty old well produced. The next phase AAA has provided funds for is the piping of this water underground to the kennel area. At present a volunteer must carry buckets of water to each kennel, a very labour-intensive task! Structures such as a food preparation area is needed due to a large rodent problem, and we hope to help fund this too.

Electricity supply is rudimentary, that is when it does work. We have a generator for them on the shipment and several outdoor gas heaters.
The kitchen food preparation building is dark and smoky, it is manned almost all day
by the sanctuary owner’s elderly father
All the dog food is cooked on a labour-intensive old wood-fired oven. To feed all the dogs it must run all day, smoke billowing inside a shed, itself barely standing, as it is so old. This is another project to replace this building and stove. A better electric cooker will enhance the process. But as stated the electric power is unreliable. I believe the answer may lay in solar power for the sanctuary.

New kennels are slowly being built to replace ad hoc structures; these will improve the quality of life for these confined dogs. The existing kennels all have dirt floors whereas the new will have cleanable flooring.

One issue in Ukraine is there are no formal government regulations when it comes to breeders or kennel owners or sanctuaries such as this. In Australia, a council would likely
shut this operation down from hygiene to OH&S issues, but that is not an option here, as it’s all they have to help the dogs of Lviv.

The staff and volunteers do an amazing job here, they work under adverse conditions, holding day jobs to support the dog sanctuary. There is no council or government support.

Regardless however of the updated kennelling space, there is still an issue with dozens of dogs having to share an area that is ideal for only one dog. Dogs also live in an abandoned double story house on the property, not ideal but shelter from the elements.

First Aid Training

One of the AWAMO team Alan Watson ex- NZDF dog handler and trainer demonstrates the art of applying a bandage to an injured paw. One of several common injuries caused in war especially in the aftermath of debris from bombed buildings.

One of the first training sessions we conducted was at the Lviv Veterinary University, students were in their third year of training and where very receptive to advanced emergency canine first aid principals.

You might wonder why a few Australians volunteered to teach K9 first aid in Ukraine, well regardless of the students being trainee Vets, specialist areas such this are in demand. Both
professionals and civilian who work with or have pet dogs in Ukraine may benefit from these emergency procedures. Due to random shelling and drone attacks many pets are injured.

This course enables pet owners as well as professionals to render first aid until professional veterinary assistance can be given.

Techniques taught apart from basic health and administration of medications, included K9 CPR, bandaging, blast wounds, shock management including application of drips, gun wounds and other trauma related injuries common in a war zone.

The students benefited by learning from the operational experiences of my team; namely with more than 70 years of combined professional full time military or police dog handling experience between the three team members.

Above is a promotional poster placed at university and various conference centres where the team conducted advance emergency K9 first aid training for both civilian pet owners and university veterinary students to government canine units from civil defence to armed forces.

CPR K9 manakin and training items left behind

We left behind many friends both new and old from this and our previous deployment to Ukraine last year, when Australian Animal Aid was the first Australian charity to support the Ukraine crisis after the Russian invasion. We also left behind animal first aid training materials for local NGOs to continue what we had started.

These items included life like canine CPR manakin - a lifesize training dog used to practice bandaging and restraint techniques, plus training manuals and PowerPoint presentations to conduct future K9 first aid training. Further instruction was given to selected staff from local NGO Pet-Friendly to enable them to be instructors and continue the training to be implemented.

Training was given to several government organisations including the Border Force and the military and civilian organisations such as Search & Rescue, plus private citizens interested in protecting their own pets in case of Russian drone attack which sadly happens. Further training was given at the Lviv University to Year 3 veterinary students.

Australian Animal Aid decided to leave the CPR manikin with the Border Force as they have a training school where it will be used to train new handlers.

Australian Animal Aid instructor Alan Watson trains the Border Force future instructors on K9 CPR  one last time prior to the handover 

Australian Animal Aid has committed to provide more CPR manikins to the army, and Lviv University veterinarian training school.

After consultation with local Ukraine charities and officials it seems a very practical way for Australians to help is by helping fund improvements for animal shelters, but number one priority is the establish a mobile clinic to treat dogs and cats.

So, the campaign starts again to raise funds for a vehicle and help to establish a free mobile clinic to treat animals.

Animal Ambulance Concept

Using an Animal Ambulance would result in both a transportation requirement and a hygienic and professional facility to conduct emergent operations or local temporary clinics. There is also a third role an Animal Ambulance can be utilised for and that is as a mobile spay/ neuter surgery. This is a growing concern in Ukraine as all these displaced animals are breeding. Without a future neutering programme this naturally will exacerbates the problem of feeding the already starving displaced animal population.

A New Zealand charity has already delivered seven ex- ambulances from that country to Ukraine for human use. Thus, the need to send vehicles from Australia, there are no spare ambulances in Ukraine for animal consideration.

The aim is to seek the donation of two vehicles suitable to carry two persons and a small veterinary facility to facilitate small scale operations in-situ with the capability of transporting or evacuating animals from hostile environments.

The vehicles will be operated from Lviv by charities Nowzad and Pet Friendly and the hope is to train local vets for long-term operations. This ambulance is a long-term investment. Post the current war it will be required for up to a decade after hostilities end.

Firstly, the concept and need has been identified and accessed by Australian animal experts in the field whilst operating in Ukraine and local animal charities in that country. The vehicle would be designed by AWAMO in cooperation with veterinary surgeons. It would be operated in-situ by local Ukrainian staff. The vehicle will be marked with the donors graphics so they will receive international media and public relations exposure.

(More details to come...)

written by Nigel Allsopp, October 2023

About the Author

Founder and President of AWAMO Nigel Allsop (MA, RSL ANZAC of the year Australian Citizen of the Year) has over 40 years of animal related experience. Ex: NZDF and ADF. Dog Master RNZAF, Qld Police Service explosive detection dog handler, wildlife Ranger, Zookeeper. Internationally recognised subject matter expert on war animals. He's also the author of 15 published books on animals including one on K9 First Aid.

About Australian War Animal Organisation (AWAMO)

The Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation Inc. (AWAMO), a registered not-for profit Incorporation is made up of community members from diverse backgrounds that have the like minded aim to recognise the deeds and sacrifices of all animal species, who have given their lives and their loyalty, serving alongside their human comrades.

AWAMO has four main core activities which include: the establishment of memorials, fiscal and material sponsorship to veteran Service dogs, education and sponsorship to various animal projects assisting veterans or animals.

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