May 20th, 2022
By Beth Gammie, RedRover Director of Field Services
The human-animal bond endures, even in times of war.
I recently took a couple weeks off from my work at RedRover to volunteer with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) in Poland helping refugees from Ukraine with the pets they brought with them when they evacuated.
The IFAW aid tent was set up in the village of Medyka, just hundreds of yards from the Ukrainian border, along a path that evacuees traveling on foot took into Poland. There were many stations offering aid to humans, but IFAW’s was the only one dedicated to helping people with their pets. IFAW staff and volunteers traveled from all over the world to help because we know what animals mean to their people, and we wanted to help those refugees who, in their most desperate time, brought their pets with them to safety.
Day after day we saw refugees, mostly women and children, walk along the path rolling suitcases and carrying with them what they held dear. When people had to leave their homes, possibly forever, they brought what they cared about most. Of course, this included their pets.
While escaping bombing and worse, they carried their pets in anything they could find – cardboard boxes, laundry baskets with cardboard tops taped on, and carriers. Kittens arrived tucked into jackets, dogs were walked and carried, and cats were transported in backpacks. And when refugees brought their pets into our tent for veterinary care and supplies like food, leashes, collars, and secure carriers, their gratitude was palpable.
Through translators they shared their concerns about their cats, dogs, turtles, and ferrets, and when they saw their pets were going to be all right, more than one broke down in tears – which of course caused all of us helping to tear up as well.
Thinking back, I realize what I saw in that tent those two weeks was love, pure and simple.
I saw love from the Ukrainian people for their animals, leading them to carry their pets for days; and love back from those animals to their people. I saw love and gratitude from these folks fleeing for their lives for those of us who were there to help care for their animal loved ones. And I saw love from the volunteers for the brave people of Ukraine doing everything they can to keep themselves, each other, and their animals safe.
The bonds of compassion and kindness prevail, even in times of war. As this devastating crisis continues to unfold, we’re grateful for the individuals and organizations stepping in to provide aid to those in need.