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Puppies or Mutants? Would You Adopt a Dog from Chernobyl?

A disastrous calamity of 1986 is brunt into the pages of history. A large portion of northern Ukraine now looks like a wasteland and cannot be used for any purposes for who knows how many more years. Thousands of people were moved from their houses and promised that they would soon walk through doors of their homes soon enough. None returned.

Nonetheless, despite the abandonment, life finds the way. There dogs who still roam the outskirts of the zone and dwell deep into the exclusion territory. They are possibly descendants of those unlucky pets left behind during the explosion.

A very interesting artistic take on the matter was made several years ago when someone named Drew Scanlon decided to spend some time to investigate what happens to animals inside the zone.

While some people are still working within the zone and regularly visit it, the territory is mostly abandoned. However, the puppies of Chernobyl still wonder around near rare settlements of people who returned back to the homeland despite strict prohibitions.

The fur of these small pets is radioactive and may possess danger for people. Thus, the director of the YouTube documentary Scanlon was not allowed to pet one of them. The crew behind the camera decided to work hard to give these dogs a new home and treatment they deserve and need.

Stray puppies play in an abandoned, partially-completed cooling tower inside the exclusion zone at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on August 18, 2017.

The Clean Futures Fund — a nonprofit dedicated to helping communities in the aftermath of industrial accidents — is spearheading a five-year plan to spay and neuter the dogs and cats roaming in the area, then set up food and water stations and a veterinary clinic to help care for the animals.

The fund’s plan, which kicked off this summer, involves partnering with Ukrainian veterinarians and other volunteers, as well as organizations in Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Anna Sovtus, a Ukrainian veterinarian working with The Dogs of Chernobyl initiative, tends to a stray puppy she had just washed in the bathroom sink at a makeshift veterinary clinic inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

The dogs suffer from a lack of food and water, as well as predation from wildlife that has flourished in the area’s relative absence of people, Lucas Hixson, a radiation specialist and Clean Futures Fund co-founder, told HuffPost. While the dogs are surviving long enough to breed — and overpopulate ― it’s extremely rare to see one live to old age.

A dog is seen next to a sign of radioactivity in the abandoned city of Prypyat near Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 8, 2016.

To avoid radiation exposure, humans are heavily restricted when it comes to where they can go and what they can do within the exclusion zone. But there’s no way to enforce those regulations on free-roaming canines.

“The rules of man mean nothing to the world of dog,” Hixson said. “They lay, they dig, they roll around, they drink puddles.”

The result is dogs with radioactive particles on their fur and inside their bodies — though researchers don’t know exactly how much.

Employees at the plant technically aren’t supposed to interact with the dogs, but many have grown strongly attached to the animals, feeding and playing with them.

“Many of these workers have adopted some of these dogs almost as pets,” Hixson said, though they aren’t permitted to bring the dogs out of the area.

Workers with a stray dog at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in August 2017.

Hixson said there probably aren’t “immediate health hazards” related to radiation from petting the dogs, though he would “definitely suggest washing up afterwards.”

However, the dogs pose another risk — rabies, which they can catch from encounters with local wildlife. Rabies, which is fatal if untreated, is a particularly scary threat in Ukraine, since the country depends on its supply of human rabies treatment from Russia. After years of conflict, supplies are dwindling.

Vaccinating the dogs and shrinking the population via spaying and neutering will reduce the rabies risk, Hixson said.

A stray dog stands at a monument outside the new, giant enclosure that covers devastated reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in August 2017.

Clean Futures Fund’s work also involves trying to gauge just how much radiation is present in the dogs’ bodies. The findings could open up the possibility of Ukrainian officials allowing some of the dogs to leave the exclusion zone and ultimately be adopted.

Regardless, Hixson said he hopes his group’s work will improve life for the area’s dogs and safety for the people around then.[1]

“I think there will always be a population of dogs in the area,” he said. “But hopefully, we can get down to a manageable population where they can have a good quality of life.”

You can learn more about the Chernobyl here.

[1] During the preparation of the article were used the materials of the site http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/puppies-chernobyl_us_59c694f9e4b0cdc77331a46f