As war rages, shelters struggle to cope with a surge of abandoned pets

The cacophony of anger and desperation coming from cages at this animal shelter in Lviv is perhaps an appropriate metaphor for what Ukrainians are feeling 50 days into Russia’s invasion of the country.

The centre in western Ukraine is on the frontline of helping to care for pets deserted during the war.

Whether their owners have been killed in the conflict or forced to flee — as of 15 April, 4.7 million Ukrainian refugees have left the country — abandoned animals have been flooding in.

“Some of the animals are in really bad shape,” Natalia Tyrko, a volunteer at the shelter, told Euronews. “Some haven’t had food for a long time and many are stressed by what they have witnessed. Some of them bite and scratch themselves. We will try to help.”

The centre — previously a shelter for wild animals — is giving the pets medical attention and there are volunteers who try to calm their nerves.

Natalia said the shelter has already helped 800 dogs and cats. Some are sent to Poland, she says, while others are adopted locally in Lviv if the centre can’t track down the owners.

‘We are doing all we can’

New cages are being built to cope with the influx – on the day Euronews visit 28 dogs are expected to arrive from the capital Kyiv.

During the interview with Natalia, dogs start fighting in one cage and staff need to separate them.

Almost all the volunteers have scratches and bite marks on their hands and arms from handling the animals.

“A lot of animals come here because the owners don’t want to deal with the problems when they cross the border to Poland,” said Natalia. “Maybe, they have to live in a small apartment and don’t want or cannot have the animals there.”

One dog from Irpin — a suburb of Kyiv where the fighting has been particularly intense — is having a hard time, says Natalia.

She says it spends most of the time inside a dog house. A local volunteer tries to calm its nerves by reading books to it from time to time.

“We are doing all we can,” said Natalia. “But we need more help. We are getting all of our food and medicine from organisations and we are in need of everything.”

‘Hurt and sick’

There are no official figures on how many pets have been left homeless since Russia’s invasion. However, the internet has been flooded with pictures of people helping pets out of the rubble of destroyed buildings and being evacuated in cars from the frontlines.

There is also a government shelter in Lviv, where 34 dogs and 11 cats are currently housed.

Manager Alina Raspopova told Euronews that many are in a bad state after living on the streets. She claims they are able to find the owners in around three-quarters of cases.

“Some are hurt and sick when they come here,” she said. “They normally spend 21 days here, but it all depends. We do what we can to help them both physically and psychologically.”

They have a clinic, where the dogs and cats are taken care of. If they cannot find the owners, and nobody adopts them, they are sent back to the street, where they were found.

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