Back to the war zone: Edmonds man bound for Ukraine to help rescue more animals

He’s going back. This time into the war zone – in Ukraine – to help save more abandoned pets.

A wounded dog from the fighting in Ukraine (Photo by Dan Fine)

Edmonds resident Dan Fine is going back, though friends have told him: “I don’t know why you’re doing this… I don’t get it.” Fine and fellow Edmonds resident Tana Axtelle spent the month of April in a Polish veterinary clinic, just a few miles from the Ukrainian border.

Dan Fine with his dog Kal-El.
Tana Axtelle with Strummer

Dog owners and dog lovers both, Fine and Axtelle were drawn by the stories of thousands of dogs and cats and even farm animals left behind or given up at the border as their owners fled the fighting. They cleaned cages, walked wounded and traumatized animals, delivered food, raised money and unloaded rescued dogs and cats that volunteers braved shell fire to deliver to Polish vets for treatment.

But this time, it’s different. This time, Fine (Axtelle is not making the trip) is leading a team into Ukraine to work at a shelter 80 miles north of Kyiv, which houses more than 3,000 dogs and cats. The team will also help rescue animals out of a landfill in the city of Chernobyl, earlier the scene of fighting. Three months ago, Russian troops pulled out of Chernobyl; now Fine and his crew will go in.

Dan Fine with a rescue Ukranian dog.

“I have something that just triggered and flipped a switch inside of me,” Fine said. “Every day something changes, if not by the hour.” He knew he had to go back; to do more. “I want to prove that we can do this, and we need to prove this is important; no one seems to care.”

On July 4, Fine will lead an international team to Ukraine. They include a veterinarian from Tacoma, a vet technician from Kingston, a Seattle trauma nurse, a Ukrainian who also lives in Washington, serving as a driver, and vet techs from Scotland, Amsterdam and one even from Greenland – 10 in all.

Ukrainian Animals War Relief Fund – ARF – web page.

They are all volunteers, working with Fine’s new group. He founded the Ukrainian Animals War Relief Fund – ARF — to jump-start a new spay, neuter, vaccine and ID chip project after the war overwhelmed Ukrainian veterinarians.

“When Russia invaded, the Ukrainian government stopped the spay and neuter program to go fight the war,” Fine said in a news release announcing the new effort. “There are millions of animals wandering loose around Ukraine or stuffed into shelters that were designed for a fraction of the size they are currently handling. Here’s the problem: if one pair of dogs or cats have a litter of six, and those litters have a litter, in six years, 67,000 animals will be produced alone. This will have catastrophic consequences.”

Fine said ARF plans to create mobile spay and neuter clinics — first in Kyiv, then rolling out additional units, which they hope will treat 1,000 animals a month. Fine is a tech entrepreneur who consulted for Microsoft for years and the company has signed on as a sponsor.

“We are proud supporters of ARF’s mission at Microsoft,” said Justin Spelhaug, vice president and global lead of tech for social Impact. “As Ukrainian pet owners endure heartbreaking decisions, ARF is providing real relief and compassion in the form of food, medical care, and shelter to these innocent animals.”

ARF has contracted with a vet clinic in Kyiv to start the project. Then, the group moves 80 miles north of the capitol. where a shelter is trying to cope with more than 3,000 abandoned animals.

The Sirius animal shelter in Fedrovika, Ukraine. (Photos courtesy Sirius shelter)

From there, the group intends to go into Chernobyl – not far from the Chernobyl ruined nuclear reactor – to gather up some 60 dogs living in a landfill.

ARF’s Goals:

–  Set up and run mobile spay, neuter and vaccination MASH-style clinics.
–  Install a Microsoft tech platform to route food, medicine and supplies throughout Ukraine.
–  Create a database of abandoned animals to reduce chaos at 1,000 shelters
–  Catalog abandoned animals to reunite them with family, if possible, or get them ready for adoption.

 The project is powered only by donation. ARF has secured four vans, rented a vet clinic, will deliver 18 tons of pet food and has found housing for the team. Fine told me he has raised $30,000 of the estimated $50,000 it will take to accomplish all this. An example of the expense — microchips to ID the dogs will cost the team $5 each, added Fine. He said they still need donations and ARF has a secure GoFundMe page here.

When they went in March, Fine and Axtelle were some 15 miles inside Poland, safe from the fighting. This time, he and the new team will spend all of July in Ukraine. “I’m talking to a lot of people there,” Fine said.“I feel pretty safe.” That was before Russian troops shelled Kyiv again this week.

But Fine is used to making things happen: “I feel like I can do this,” he said. “I’ve got to prove that we can help (spay and neuter) 500 animals while we are there.” That will kick-start the program – and give the Ukrainians the tools they need to take over.

“It’s going to be great,” Fine said.

— By Bob Throndsen

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