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Radiation Can’t Poison a Dog’s Love

A Dogs of Chernobyl Update
By Lori Kalef, Program Manager

There are over 900 stray dogs that roam the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and surrounding 30km area, known as the Exclusion Zone. These dogs are the descendants of pets left behind during the emergency evacuation that took place in April of 1986 after a reactor exploded spreading radioactive materials into the environment.

Decades later, the dogs living in the Exclusion Zone are in almost constant danger – starving, at risk of injury or attack by coexisting animals like wolves. Because the Chernobyl dogs are still radioactive, they are prohibited from being removed from the area.  But SPCA International and Clean Futures Fund (CFF) are trying to change that. Thanks to our joint efforts and the leadership of CFF’s founders, Lucas Hixson and Erik Kambarian, there is hope for these abandoned, beautiful creatures.  SPCAI has partnered up with CFF in a 3-year sterilization program in order to reduce the suffering of dogs in Chernobyl by providing veterinary care, vaccinations, feeding stations, radiation monitoring and hopefully an adoption program.  

In fact, co-founder Erik Kambarian and his family were excitedly preparing their home in the U.S. to welcome in one of the first ever adopted dogs of Chernobyl after the August 2017 Chernobyl spay and neuter clinic. Erik’s exact words were:  “I found a dog; rather she found me. I was at the tourist hotel in the town of Chernobyl getting water for the clinic and came upon an adolescent female dog.  She was docile, with a beautiful coat.  Since we were heading to the clinic I picked her up and got in the Soviet-era car for the short ride.  She calmly sat in my lap, as if she had been on many car rides, and rested her head on my arm like we had known each other for years.  I proudly brought her into the clinic, surprising our staff since I was not one of the dogcatchers.” She was tagged as dog #20, later renamed Elena, spayed and vaccinated, washed for surface contamination and was ready to come ‘home’. 

One month after Erik left in August, he asked one of their volunteers to find out how she was doing and make further plans for her arrival, but the volunteer was hesitant to tell him. Sadly, Elena had been hit by a car and killed, an all too common unfortunate reality for the strays of Chernobyl.  Even though Erik only got to hold her once, he still thinks about her and is even more driven to continue saving lives and working toward an adoption program in her honor. For now, both Erik and Lucas are hopeful that they will be given permission to bring home another dog on their next visit in April of 2018, a first step in demonstrating the safety of animal adoption from Chernobyl.

But make no mistake; the region is an especially challenging one to work in. The abandoned landscape, forest overgrowth combined with the environmental contamination provides a very unique and dangerous experience for the animals and our team.

Stay tuned for more updates in the next few months as preparations get underway for the Chernobyl spay and neuter next clinic scheduled for June of 2018.