In the spring of 1986, the Unit 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded and spread radioactive materials into the environment. In response to the disaster, the former Soviet Union established a 30-km exclusion zone around the facility and evacuated over 120,000 people from 189 cities and communities. The evacuees were not allowed to bring anything that they could not carry, and their pets had to be left behind. They were told they would return in 3 days, but they were never allowed to return. Their pets became abandoned.

This is one of the oldest photos of the dogs of Chernobyl that we have found. This image depicts a worker at Chernobyl holding two small puppies that dates back to a few weeks after the disaster in 1986.

After the evacuation of Pripyat and the Exclusion Zone in the spring of 1986, soldiers of the Soviet Army were dispatched to shoot and kill the animals in Pripyat which had been left behind, but it was impossible to round up and cull all of the animals in the various small villages throughout the exclusion zone. These former pets that lived in the exclusion zone, migrated to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where their descendants remain to this day.

When visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone it was not uncommon to see a large amount of stray dogs laying around the plant and in the nearby towns.

Overpopulation of dogs in Europe is a well-known problem, there are an estimated 30,000 stray cats and dogs in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv alone, but the Chernobyl dogs are different. These dogs are the descendants of pets left behind during the hasty evacuation in 1986. They have been driven out of remote areas in the zone by packs of rabid wolves that attack them. The Chernobyl dogs are malnourished, have been exposed to rabies by wild predators in the zone, and are in dire need of medical attention.

CFF estimates that over 250 stray dogs live around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, over 225 stray dogs live in Chernobyl City, and hundreds of other dogs live at the various security checkpoints and roam throughout the exclusion zone.

Out of desperation, not desire, the nuclear power plant had hired a worker to catch and kill the dogs, because they did not have the funds available for any other option, but the worker refused to do so at this point.

CFF decided to intervene to avoid this intolerable and inhumane outcome to occur.

Every year, new puppies were being born at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and the workers would take care of them during the harsh Ukrainian winter. These dogs have been exposed to rabies by the wild animals living in the Exclusion Zone.

Today, the dogs of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant rely on the workers at the station to stay alive. Some bring the animals inside and give them care if they seem injured or sick – but the workers also risk exposure to rabies by interacting with the dogs.

To help control the stray dog populations in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and prevent needless suffering, CFF started the Dogs of Chernobyl program in 2017. Clean Futures fund worked with partners to set up a spay, neuter, and vaccination program for the dogs that reside in the zone. They brought in veterinarians, veterinary technicians, scientists, dog catchers, and general volunteers from all over the world to help provide the medical care they needed. Each year a different team of volunteers came to the zone to provide medical care for the dogs.

The Dogs of Chernobyl program is dependent on fundraising to purchase the necessary medical supplies, anesthesia, vaccines, and food needed to care for the dogs in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

There are estimated to be over 700 dogs and 100 cats that reside in the zone at any one given time. It has been established that there are very minimal additions of new dogs and cats into the zone. Therefore, a community wide sterilization program will drastically decrease the number of strays that inhabit the zone over a period of years resulting in less suffering. We have already seen a decrease in the total number of strays since the program inception in 2017.

Clean Futures Fund’s Dogs of Chernobyl Program aims to provide the best care that they can for the dogs and cats while the exist in the area. This means providing year-round food for them through our feeding program, provide access to veterinary care when needed and monitoring of the individual populations throughout the zone.

It is interesting to note that there are next to no mature animals (over 6-8 years old) at the plant, and most of the dogs appear to be under 4-5 years old.

It’s a common misconception that the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant is devoid of life. In fact there are over 3,500 people each day who work among over 500 stray dogs that roam the grounds.

These dogs can be found in nearly every area of the Chernobyl site, including controlled, indoor areas. The workers have adopted the dogs in a way and save scraps of their own meals to feed them.

The dogs are driven out of the woods to the power plant by packs of wolves and a lack of food to support themselves in the Exclusion Zone.

There is a question as to whether some of the dogs are breeding with the wolves in the area. This question is to be answered through the ongoing research with collaborators.


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