When Russia invaded her country in late February, Larysa Frisby of Ukraine fortunately was far from the war zone visiting family in the United States. Unfortunately, her cat Persik was back home in Odesa.
Frisby managed to find help to evacuate the cat as far as Warsaw in Poland, but without a way to reunite with Persik (“peach” in Ukrainian) or a long-term solution for his care, Frisby was quickly losing hope. Thankfully, our Humane Society International team on the ground in Poland saw her social media post asking for help.
After three long flights—Poland to Boston, Boston to Chicago and Chicago to Fayetteville, Arkansas—and a lot of treats and reassuring chin scratches, Persik was back safe in Frisby’s arms.
The story of this single cat illustrates what we’ve seen again and again in times of extreme crisis—people banding together to provide comfort and kindness to those around them, in whatever way they can, and to whomever that might be. It truly took a village to make Persik’s incredible journey possible. The compassion of Frisby’s fellow Ukrainians, several airlines and our HSI team carried him all the way from his war-torn home to Frisby’s loving arms, thousands of miles away.
More than 5 million Ukrainians have fled their country, many of them with nothing more than a bag or two of belongings and their beloved animals. While this singular moment feels small when compared to the immense suffering and loss, we cling to it as a sign of hope and motivation to continue our vital work on behalf of animals and the people who love them. Even in the darkest of hours, the bond between people and their pets is powerful—and undeniable—and we’re working hard to keep refugee pets with their families.
In Romania, we’re helping to provide shelter, food and supplies at a house in Sibiu, where families arriving with their pets can find respite. The home’s current residents—three women, four children and three dogs—were able to find a few moments of peace in the garden and yard this week, playing with the new ball toys we stocked there, simple offerings to provide a bit of joy and normalcy in these extraordinary times.
During the first two weeks of our unprecedented Vets for Ukrainian Pets program, which provides free veterinary care for refugees’ pets in 38 European countries, we’ve responded to hundreds of requests for treating animals in need. And we’re continuing to distribute relief packs containing pet food, leashes, ID tags and more to train stations and other refugee reception points in Poland and into Ukraine.
Here in the United States, we recently arranged a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the San Diego Humane Society to provide free quarantine and testing, as well as vaccines and other care, for dogs crossing the Mexico/California border with Ukrainian refugees. Before this partnership, refugees’ dogs had to travel a much farther distance to Los Angeles International Airport and pay a boarding fee, adding both stress and expense to an already arduous journey.
We hold these small victories—a beloved cat reunited with his family, children playing in a garden with their dogs, horses finding a safe haven far from the war zone—close to our hearts as we continue our efforts to address the terrible consequences this devastating war brings with it. The war's outcome remains uncertain, but we're called to protect people and their pets wherever trouble befalls them, and we won't back away from that commitment.