The Pets of War

Soul Mates

According to the National Institute of Health, various studies show that owning a pet, particularly a cat or dog, can have many benefits for people. They include; decreased stress, lower blood pressure, reducing loneliness, increasing feelings of social support and improving one’s mood.

There are also other aspects that bond a person with their pet including trust, comfort and finally, unconditional love.

Like soul mates, people and pets can sense each other’s feelings, from happiness to being scared or as is the case now in Ukraine, the emotion of being terrified.

A Ukranian soldier helps a woman and her cat cross a destroyed bridge over the Irpin River. Courtesy: Vadim Ghirda/AP.

War has only strengthened the bond between owner and pet or in other cases, the union of people and animals who previously had no relationship. These new partnerships now brought about by the horrors of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The prospects of being gruesomely injured or killed in an instant leaves humans and animals living a shared experience of just trying to survive. While food and shelter are critical needs to endure, so is the emotional support each group gives the other for getting through another day.

“You cannot share your life with a dog, as I had done in Bournemouth, or a cat, and not know perfectly well that animals have personalities and minds and feelings.”

Jane Goodall

“Previous traumatic events have shown us that pets can be vitally important for their owners during stressful times,” Lauren Powell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, told NPR in an email. “They have a unique ability to provide unconditional support and companionship as they are not judgmental in nature.”

84-year-old Antonina from Irpin sits in a wheelchair with her 12 dogs after arriving in Kyiv. Courtesy: Vadim Ghirda/AP.

For those Ukrainians who want and are able to leave the country, they are bringing their pets with them. To make it easier to get their nonhuman companions across the border, neighboring countries have relaxed their rules to bring animals into their nations.

To support those who care for the animals, organizations around the world are providing money and supplies to Ukraine.

“The entire Petco family is heartbroken by the suffering and touched by the love Ukrainians have for their pets, often carrying them as they flee their homes and country for safety,” said Petco Love president Susanne Kogut, who’s company is donating $1 million for helping Ukranian pets and pet families.

A woman and her cat prepare to board an evacuation train out of Odesa. Courtesy: Yurii Zozulia/Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

But many more are staying and giving support to their own pets, or those animals wandering among the ruins of Ukranian cities. That includes shelters for dogs and cats, manned by citizens putting their own lives at risk for the benefit of pets that once belonged to others.

“The most horrible part is when you’re not able to reach a place and you know animals are suffering there,” Olga Chevganiuk of UAnimals, a Ukrainian animal welfare organization, told Vox. “It’s not possible to reach all the areas, or it’s pretty difficult because of the danger, so you have to find real brave people who will agree to go near these areas in danger.” 

A firefighter in Odesa rescues a cat from a damaged apartment building. Courtesy: @MNS.GOV.UA/Zenger.

Lviv is 45 miles from the Polish border. It’s a major transit point to get out of the country for refugees. In total, nearly 4 million people have fled the country with over half going to Poland, according to the United Nations. Not all of them were able to depart with their pets.

Over 1,500 animals are being taken care of at the Home for Rescued Animals according to 24-year-old manager Orest Zalypskyy.

“There’s been no system,” Zalypskyy told Al Jazeera. “We just have many volunteers who head out and fetch them.”

“We are all bitten and scratched. Zalypskyy said of his volunteer teams. “The animals are very stressed.”

A respite from war, cats and people spend time together in Lviv. Courtesy: Cat Cafe Lviv/Instagram.

Also, in Lviv, Serhii Oliinyk and his partner Marta, run the Cat Cafe Lviv that has 20 cats and are keeping their establishment open despite the war.

 “Offers of help are coming from all over the world,” Oliinyk told Newsweek.

“We often hear air raid sirens, but we are still safe,” Oliinyk said. “We don’t have a panic, we stay with the kitties and are ready to defend our city. When we found out that the war had started in our country, we realized that we would never leave our country, that this was the only place where we could see ourselves in the future. So, we tried to continue doing the things we did every day—doing our job, preparing food and drinks for people who came to our cafe to get in a better mood thanks to our 20 cats.”

A woman fleeing the fighting in Ukraine with her pets. The caption reads; Dark times are better seen by bright people! Courtesy: uanimals.official/Instagram.

“As this conflict continues, people and animals in Ukraine are suffering alongside each other, particularly in those animal shelters and homes were leaving animals behind has simply been an impossible decision to make,” Andreea, Roseti, the Humane Society International/Europe’s Romania director said in a statement.

“There are large numbers of pet dogs and cats roaming the streets who have become separated from their families; they are bewildered, traumatized and in need of help, Roseti continued. “The tragedy of war doesn’t differentiate between two legs or four, and together with the Red Cross we will get aid to those people in Ukraine desperately asking for help to keep their animal friends alive in this crisis.”

Courtesy: u/Kusias_mom/reddit.

For their unprovoked attack on Ukraine, Russia is facing severe sanctions from many nations, corporations and other institutions. Those sanctions impact cats too.

The International Cat Federation has banned Russian cat owners from the organization’s parades and competitions.

The ICF, also known by its French acronym, FIFe (Federation Internationale Feline), released a statement outlining their sanctions.

“No cat belonging to exhibitors living in Russia may be entered at any FIFe show outside Russia, regardless of which organization these exhibitors hold their membership in,” FIFe said.

Currently the FIFe’s restrictions are in place until May 31, but “will be reviewed as and when necessary.”

Luckly for the Russian cats and their owners, they’re not facing missiles, bombs and bullets like their Ukranian counterparts.

Julia Lazarets with her cat Gabriel after arriving safely in Przemysl, Poland. Courtesy: Daniel Cole/AP.

As the carnage continues, Ukrainians and their pets have each other to weather the storm as best they can. Comforting each other through every explosion, fire and collapsed building; people and pets are doing the best they can to see the day the Russian military is expelled from their country.

That’s what soul mates do for each other.

Слава Україні!

2 thoughts on “The Pets of War

  1. Sad, but also very uplifting to see so much help and support being offered from around the world. These poor creatures don’t understand what is happening anymore than the rest of us do. 🐈🐕


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