Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Fairfax is on a very special mission in war-torn Ukraine. Sue Bell, the group’s founder and executive director, and Shana Aufenkamp, who has been volunteering with Homeward Trails for 16 years, took a two-week trip to Ukraine earlier this month.
The duo is volunteering in a temporary Ukrainian shelter focusing on three things: caring for the dogs and cats in the shelter, identifying and flying 30 cats back to the U.S., and raising awareness and funds to provide pet food that will be distributed to shelters, animal owners, and caretakers in the war zone.
“Due to the U.S. ban on bringing dogs from more than 100 countries we are only able to bring cats back,” says Bell.
When a city or village gets bombed or becomes occupied, pet owners, caretakers, and shelter workers are forced to flee. Many animals are left without shelter or a food or water source. As winter approaches, this will likely result in the death of many pets.
The temporary shelter Bell and Aukenkamp are at takes in animals to hold for owners or gets them to rescues in other countries.
“Donating to Homeward Trails to cover the costs of transporting the animals is vital,” Bell says. “We literally cannot due this without the funds.”
Fostering and adopting is also key. “These are amazing animals who deserve a chance at a peaceful life,” Bell adds.
As far as her own personal experience, Bell has found that it reinforces how animals are often unrecognized victims of war. We don’t often see the plight of animals who are caught in the war zone in media coverage.
“Their suffering is real and heartbreaking, and helping these animals is also directly helping the people who love and care for them — with all there is on the minds of Ukrainians, knowing the animals they love and care for are safe goes a long, long way,” Bell says.
Some of the cats Bell and Aufenkamp are helping include Ukraine Mist, who was found in a smoky village crying for help. There’s also Zelda and Mipha, a mother-daughter duo. Then there’s little Suki, who almost didn’t survive a broken leg.
Homeward Trails also shared the story of Johnny, a dog who had been shot by Russian soldiers, which left his back legs paralyzed. He dragged himself a mile to the safety of local rescuers who took him in. He is the first dog Bell, Aufenkamp, and other volunteers see in the morning and the last at night at the shelter. Walkin’ Pets by HandicappedPets.com donated set of wheels so Johnny can get around more easily.
Mishel, another cat at the shelter, was brought to the shelter by her owner, Irina, along with many dogs. Irina’s home had been bombed, which consequently killed many dogs and farm animals. Mishel was burned and injured by fire and shrapnel but her owner was able to get her to the temporary shelter before she was forced to leave Ukraine. Luckily, Mishel was recently reunited with Irina, and was able to go back with her to a new home.
More information on Homeward Trails’ efforts can be found here.
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