Dogs of Chernobyl
Caring for over 500 dogs that reside in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone requires commitment and coordination of various volunteers from all aspects of life. The Dogs of Chernobyl Program is made up of volunteers who possess a specific skill set. Volunteers are interviewed and admitted to the program based on their skill set. Those skilled individuals are then divided out into separate teams to accomplish a specific task.
The veterinary team is managed by Dr. Jennifer Betz, the veterinary medical director. The veterinary medical director oversees the entire Dogs of Chernobyl program from purchasing supplies and medicines to determining how many volunteers are needed for each campaign and their specific roles. The veterinary team is made up of veterinarians, veterinary technicians and general volunteers that are also divided into specific teams.
The intake team is responsible for establishing a medical record for each animal, recording their weight, color, location, frisking them for radiation, preparing their ear tags and alerting the prep team that an animal is ready.
The catching team is made up of Veterinarians and animal handlers that have specific skills for blow darting and hand capture techniques. The lead catching veterinarian and lead animal handler use blow darts filled with sedation chemicals to capture the dogs that are difficult to get close to. The remaining team forms human corrals to help prevent the dogs, who have been sedated, from running off. The team also rounds up easy to access dogs and cats around the zone as well as pets from the settlers in the zone and guard houses. Once the dogs are captured, they then transport all animals back to the temporary veterinary clinic before they wake up.
The research team is composed of university professors, students, and government scientists. Studies related to dog health and genomics have been the primary focus. Questions of interest include: To what extant are the dogs that currently live inside the exclusion zone descendants of pets left behind following the disaster of 1986? Is there currently movement of dogs among areas of the zone and into the zone from other parts of Ukraine and Belarus? Is there any evidence of hybridization of Chernobyl dogs with the wolves that have returned to the region? Has there been effects of radiation (past and present exposures) on dog DNA and/or their microbiome DNA? Is there any evidence of radiation effects on cataract in the dog’s eyes as has been shown for other animals and humans? And, has the transmission of infectious diseases been affected by living in the Chernobyl environment? The research team is led by the Scientific Research Coordinator, University of South Carolina Professor, Timothy Mousseau and the scientific advisor, Jake Hecla.
RADIATION SAFETY TEAM
SLAVUTYCH SPAY/NEUTER AND TRAPPING TEAMS
In the Chernobyl worker town of Slavutych there are many stray and feral cats that are fed and cared for by the people who live there. Slavutych is the town that was established for the power plant employees to live, after the explosion in 1986 that forced them from their town of Pripyat. For over 3 years, Clean Futures Fund set up a spay/neuter clinic to help with the stray cat and dog problem in Slavutych as well as tended to the residents’ pets. Since the establishment of the Slavutych Spay/Neuter Clinic, over 700 dogs and cats have been sterilized there.
The trapping team consists of animal handlers who set out humane cat traps in the middle of the night, watch the traps for cats to enter and then deliver them to the temporary veterinary clinic for spay/neuter to be performed in the morning. The cats are then released back to the same area they were removed from.
In 2019, when most of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers and New Safe Confinement construction workers left their jobs at the plant, the feeding team was established. Since most of the dogs relied on the workers at the plant for food, they were now going to have to fend for themselves. Clean Futures Fund contracted people to visit the grounds on set intervals to feed the dogs and cats of Chernobyl. We also coordinated with the workers in the secured area of the plant for regular feeding by them. In addition, we constructed auto food and water feeders around the zone to allow continues access to food. Since the start of the Russian invasion we have delivered 800 kg of dog food per week to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The feeding team is managed by our logistics coordinator Ukrainian, Andii Simon.
In 2018, two groups of puppies were found abandoned by their mothers in April 2018 and June 2018. The momma dogs were nowhere to be found and the pups were left to fend for themselves. Since the Dogs of Chernobyl program was not originally set up to adopt out dogs from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, nor was anything allowed to be removed from the zone, Clean Futures Fund petitioned to the Exclusion Zone Management Authority to allow a one-time special request to remove these abandoned puppies from the zone, as they would surely succumb to the harsh environment.
Therefore, the adoption team was created. With the help of SPCA International, a temporary facility was established in Slavutych, to care for these puppies as they waited for enough time to allow the radioactive contaminants to leave their intestinal systems and deem them safe for travel. The adoptees were cared for by Natalia Melnichuk and her daughter Ira, where they spent numerous hours feeding, cleaning, training, and preparing them for travel to the United States and Canada. At the time, the United States and Canada had the least stringent requirements for dogs entering the country. Unfortunately, this has since changed.
The adoption team and SPCA International successfully placed 34 healthy puppies into loving homes throughout the US and Canada. These puppies are monitored and followed up on by the veterinary team and the research team for the rest of their lives.