“Prepare to cry”: looking back on a month spent helping Ukrainian war dogs


These are faces you won’t forget – Ukraine’s “dogs of war”.

A dog at the rescue shelter in Przemysl, Poland. (Photos by Dan Fine)

Over the past month, Edmonds residents Dan Fine and Tana Axtelle have helped to care for and love these survivors of war: some abandoned by refugees, others abandoned, many of them injured, all of them scared.

Rescue teams are trying to rescue these abandoned dogs in Ukraine.

Thousands of pets and livestock are victims of the fighting. Many shelters had to give up their pets when they entered Poland.

Tana Axtelle with new friends.

Axtelle knew she had to help. She has trained dogs for K-9 Companions, a service group that provides animals to people with disabilities and professionals in healthcare, criminal justice and schools. She and Fine left Edmonds in late March to work at a rescue shelter just 10 miles from the Ukrainian border in the Polish town of Przemysl. A veterinary clinic is one of the emergency shelters there.

Dan Fine with a rescued Ukrainian dog.

Fine’s passion for Ukraine grew years ago when he opened an office for his tech company, Fine Solutions. Fine also worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, training dogs.

Throughout the month, the My Neighborhood News Network reported on the couple’s work — here and here.

Axtelle returned to Edmonds in mid-April and Fine has just arrived home. As he prepared to leave Poland, I asked Fine to share some of their experiences – here are his words and photos from “The Dogs of War”:

“Today is my last day in Przemysl and it is normal that the sirens in the air start to sound. I didn’t hear any missiles today, but I heard some last week when they hit Lviv across the border.

“In times of war, survival is often more difficult for domestic animals. Stress is one thing, but we humans have lost our survival skills. Now they deal with landmines, shooting, missiles or just finding something to eat.

“Tana and I were in a unique position where we could drop everything at any time and go on a journey, not knowing where we would end up. The only goals we had were to make a difference and do good.

Tana Axtelle walks a rescued dog in Przemysl, Poland.

“Walking the dog was our stability. You wake up at 5 a.m. and start taking the dogs out of the shelter at 5:30 a.m. Then you leave for the Sanctuary at 6 a.m. and walk the dogs until 9:30 a.m. They all need to get out there, stretch their legs and do their business…. I gathered my Apple Fitness results. In 24 days of walking with dogs, I took 586,163 steps or 263 miles”

“Then they take you back to their cage for breakfast. From 4 p.m. you walk them again, but during this session you can spend more time with them.

At the rescue shelter

A number of rescuers – including several from the United States – volunteered to drive deep into Ukraine to deliver supplies and bring back animals.

Louis, an Atlanta volunteer, points to Russian missile shrapnel in his dog rescue van.

“As they were making one of their deliveries, they were attacked by Russian planes,” Fine said. “The van was hit by shrapnel during the attack, but fortunately the team were not inside, but were hiding behind a wall.”

The van with a crew of volunteers traveled hundreds of miles to Karkiv, Ukraine to deliver supplies and rescue an elderly woman and her dog. Everyone is now safe.

An example of injuries suffered by some animals.

“Today should have been a day of playing in the garden, chasing a ball and digging in the dirt for Paulo,” Fine said. “Instead, he is recovering from eight gunshot wounds. He was rescued from Ukraine and brought to Poland for treatment. He spends his days healing at the ADA Foundation in Przemsyl, Poland. He is the “one of the few, one of the lucky ones. You can see the pain on Paulo’s face when I walk him. He’s always happy to go back to his too-small cage for his breakfast.”

Click here to watch the Dogs of War video that Dan Fine recorded. Disclaimer: Parts of the video contain graphic images.

(Many animals did not survive. The photo below shows where rescuers prepared to bury these victims.
Survivors face long and difficult recoveries.

“Heart has gorgeous blue eyes and a cone, two stumps for his hind legs and a collar that says f**k Poutine. Such a sweet dog. Today I saw a dog that lost two legs from the same side. They gave him a prosthetic back leg. I didn’t take a picture.”

When Dan returned to Edmonds, he made this final entry in his rescue diary:

“Prepare to cry. I know I did. This morning I rolled over in my bed unable to sleep as I am still on Warsaw time. Kal-El (Dan’s dog) did a little growling noise, so I reached out and patted his head while he yawned. My first thought of the morning was how grateful and lucky I am that I didn’t have to make the choice that many Ukrainians did to leave my beloved pet behind while fleeing for my life.

Fine and Axtelle have created a Go Fund Me page as a secure donation site to support injured animals: https://gofund.me/7ab09058

— By Bob Throndsen

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