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Help for Forgotten Dogs of Chernobyl

FOUR PAWS vaccinates and neuters 120 stray dogs within the nuclear exclusion zone


BOSTON - AUGUST 17, 2017: The explosion of Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26th, 1986, is regarded as one of the worst nuclear catastrophes in history. Over 120,000 people from 189 towns within the 19-mile exclusion zone, the prohibited area set-up around the disaster, had to evacuate. Many pets were left behind – most of them dogs. Thirty years later, hundreds of stray dogs live inside the exclusion zone.


FOUR PAWS – an international animal welfare organization – is working with the nonprofit organization Clean Futures Fund (CFF) to provide rabies vaccinations, medical treatment, and neutering services to 120 dogs living within the exclusion zone. CFF has put together an international veterinary team who will carry out medical treatment for the stray dogs of Chernobyl in the coming months. To contribute, FOUR PAWS has sent an experienced veterinarian and provided medicines and veterinary equipment needed to complete the project. “Our goal is to vaccinate and neuter 120 strays from the exclusion zone and the nearby surroundings within two weeks. In addition, we will also treat injured and sick animals. It is a very ambitious plan, but given the experience that we have accumulated over the years, we are confident that we can manage it,” stated FOUR PAWS Veterinarian Oleksander Senchuk.


Descendants of the abandoned dogs of Chernobyl currently wander the nuclear power plant near the Ukrainian ghost town, Prypjat. Due to wild animals who also live within the exclusion zone, the stray dogs are often infected with rabies, posing a risk to people who work at the plant. “Rabies is not only a risk for animals but for humans too,” remarked Julie Sanders, FOUR PAWS International Director of Companion Animals.  “By vaccinating the stray dogs, we are also protecting the 3,500 nuclear power plant workers who come into contact with the dogs and look after them. By neutering the strays, we will achieve a long-term reduction in their population, improving the welfare of the dogs. When their numbers increase, the chances of survival are greatly reduced due to lack of food and shelter in the extremely cold winters.”


The abandoned pets and later generations survived within the radioactively contaminated area, even after it was declared “open season” and soldiers were allowed to hunt the animals after the nuclear catastrophe. “Originally, the dogs retreated to the surrounding woods after the exclusion zone was established, but packs of wolves and food scarcity forced them back to the abandoned city and towards the still-active nuclear plant. There, the workers began to feed the dogs and they have stayed ever since,” explained Sanders.


Safety precautions for the team

The project was originally started by CFF. Before the start of the project, extensive research was done to minimize the health risks the environment poses to the team. “We are following strict health and safety protocols to ensure the safety of our team. As part of this, it is mandatory to wear appropriate clothing to ensure that the team is protected from the radiation levels,” explains Lucas Hixson, co-founder of CFF. Furthermore, the stray dogs of Chernobyl will be thoroughly washed and scrubbed before every medical treatment to reduce the risk of contamination. “There is no risk presented by the surgery and open wounds. The radioactive contamination of the dogs is very low so that it poses no risk to humans,” says Hixson.