Saving the Dogs of Chernobyl

By Emma Koeniger, Content and Digitial Media Coordinator

In 1986 the first Goodwill Games were held in Moscow, The Phantom of the Opera debuted in London’s West End and the No. 4 nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The nuclear accident’s devastation caused thousands of families to urgently evacuate their homes, leaving their belongings and pets behind. They soon learned they would not be allowed to return for decades.


Now, over 30 years later, workers have returned to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant but the homes surrounding it still remain deserted, except for the hundreds of stray dogs and cats that roam, trapped in this desolate land by a perimeter fence. These are the descendants of the pets left behind in 1986. They continued to live and breed in the exclusion zone with no food or care – until now.


In August SPCA International executive director, Meredith Ayan, and program manager, Lori Kalef, traveled to the exclusion zone to meet with our partners the Clean Futures Fund to help spay, neuter, and vaccinate these almost forgotten animals.    

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Dogs and cats were brought into a makeshift medical center located in the 10km zone.

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They were sedated, given long lasting antibiotics and prepped for surgery.


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Animals were “frisked” with a Geiger counter to measure their radiation contamination level. If the counter read an unsafe level the contaminated spot was cleaned with soap and water until the reading was normal, most contamination was caused by dirt and debris on the paws and fur.


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The spay and neuter surgeries were performed by skilled veterinarians from all over the world!


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During recovery, animals were given appropriate vaccinations, de-wormer, and a secondary scan for radiation contamination.


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Animals were monitored until they were recovered enough to be returned to their pickup location.


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Ear-tags containing dosimeters are being used to monitor the amount of radiation the dogs are exposed to on a daily basis.


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Over 350 animals were spayed and neutered!


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These animals will continue to receive food, water, shelter, and medical care.

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Our work is not done; future plans are being made to control the stray animal populations in the outlying zones. Stay tuned for updates!