War stories: Edmonds man’s latest efforts to save animals in Ukraine

Call it passion – determination – love. All that — and more — have an Edmonds man back in the war in Ukraine, trying to save injured and abandoned animals.

In Ukraine, Dan Fine (left) with some team members of the War Animals Relief Fund. (Photo courtesy Dan Fine)

Dan Fine had one goal: To help save displaced and lost animals caught in the fighting. This trip, his second, took him into Ukraine, into bombed-out towns, to shelters crammed with wounded, abandoned animals, and driving a forest road that he later learned might have been mined.

Tana Axtelle with Strummer (L) and Dan Fine with Kal El.

Fine and fellow Edmonds resident Tana Axtelle had spent the month of April in a Polish veterinary clinic, just a few miles from the Ukrainian border.

Dog lovers both, Fine and Axtelle were drawn by the stories of thousands of dogs and cats, even farm animals, left behind or given up as their owners fled the fighting. In April, they cleaned cages, walked wounded and traumatized animals, delivered food, raised money, and unloaded rescued animals that volunteers braved shell fire to deliver to Polish vets for treatment.

This second trip is different and potentially more dangerous. Fine (Axtelle did not go this time) led an international team into Ukraine. Among them, a veterinarian from Tacoma, a vet technician from Kingston, a Seattle trauma nurse, a Ukrainian who also lives in Washington, serving as a driver, and vet techs from Scotland, Amsterdam and Greenland – 10 in all.

Injured dog in Ukrainian shelter after surgery. (Photo courtesy Dan Fine)

They are all volunteers, working with the group he founded before he left – the Ukrainian War Animals Relief Fund (ARF) to jump-start a new spay, neuter, vaccine and ID chip project because the war overwhelmed Ukrainian veterinarians.

Dan Fine at his desk. (Photo courtesy BC-CTV, Vancouver, B.C. , where Fine also has a home)

For this new mission, Fine — a software entrepreneur — created a Microsoft-based data system to get food, medicine and supplies to Ukrainian animal shelters. The goal is to catalogue abandoned animals to get them back to their families or find new homes, and set up mobile spay, neuter, vaccination, and ID chip clinics, going from town to town to help overwhelmed vets.

On July 3 – (one day before Fine left Edmonds), ARF posted this:

Sirius animal shelter outside Kyiv, Ukraine. (ARF photo)

“Sirius Shelter is the largest animal shelter in Ukraine. Currently this shelter is home to more than 3,000 dogs and 200 cats, and they go through over 1.5 tons of food per DAY. ARF will provide 18 tons of food to Sirius Shelter, but this will be enough food for less than a week.”

That’s just part of what Fine and his crew faced. He tells the story best, so let’s start with an email he sent me when he left Poland for Ukraine:

July 9, 2022 email from Dan Fine in Przemysl, Poland

“Here Goes! Leaving for Kyiv in less than an hour. Let’s see…the food that we shipped is stuck somewhere in customs, so we had to buy food and reload vans twice. Our vet is stuck in Rwanda because KLM cancelled her flight. Our behaviorist got a bad case of pneumonia. We lost the use of one of the vans, and the other van’s alternator is out so he (the driver) has three batteries to make it to Kyiv. We struggled to find someone to convert our currency into Ukrainian and a zillion other details went haywire. But so what? This amazing team came up with alternatives and we are good to go. Declaration forms are filled out and we are headed to the border. And as we meet people, more opportunities keep popping up for us to help. ‘Naturewatch’ donated feeding tubes and we’ll mount them in key areas with hungry animals and put food in, and we are adding some stops for additional shelters that need attention. Game on!”

Fine (right) and some volunteers head to Kyiv. (Photo courtesy Dan Fine)

July 12, 2022 ARF post from Dan Fine:

“Second day in Ukraine for the Ukraine War Animals Relief Fund. We visited some villages to feed abandoned dogs and cats and to bring food and meds to small shelters. The devastation is just unbelievable…

…Russians occupied some of these villages and they left them tattered. Part of our group stayed in Kyiv at the main clinic, and we set up a small clinic (in a building with no running water). It’s going a little slower than we hoped (80 animals so far), but it’s only been two days. A great team. Tomorrow, some of us head up to the Sirius Shelter for five days. Thousands of dogs.” 

War-ravaged towns that Fine and volunteers worked in. (Photos courtesy ARF)

July 15, 2022 ARF post from Dan Fine:

“We have four clinics operating and yesterday we had a record of around 106 animals that were sterilized, chipped, and vaccinated. Part of us are at the shelter with over 3000 dogs and 200 cats. We were able to chip 167 dogs yesterday and plan to do that many or more today… We are 30 miles south of Belarus and most of the villages around here were occupied and bombed to hell. Hard to understand.”

Fine with a rescued dog he nicknamed “the old man.” (Photo courtesy Dan Fine)

July 18, 2022 emails from Dan Fine

“I was out at the clinic today and then we got a call to rescue this sweet old man. He was abandoned by his family that fled for the war and unfortunately he’s not feeling too well he’s got some wounds on his foot or leg and his side. So, we’ve taken him to a vet clinic for treatment. He’s a very, very kind dog. I can tell he’s in a little bit of pain. Soon he’ll be helped.”

 Fine shot video with the rescued dog here.

“Three members of our team left yesterday because of the mounting military threat. They are now safely in Poland. One bit of drama was that Google Maps gave us a route to the shelter, but as we were taking it, we discovered it was a logging road through the forest and then we lost our signal. We finally made it to a real road and then to the shelter. Their faces turned white when we showed them the route. They told us never to go through the woods, there are landmines everywhere and soldiers hiding in the woods.”                                                                                                           

Bombed supermarket in Ukraine. (Photo courtesy Dan Fine)

July 20, 2022 email from Angela Stoop, Ukrainian War Dogs Relief fund:

Dogs living in the bombed market. (Photo courtesy Dan Fine)

“Yesterday after a very long day Dan Fine picked me up and just across from another destroyed bridge were two beautiful black dogs living together in a badly bombed supermarket…

“We pulled over to feed them and though apprehensive one of them came immediately. While he was eating I heard the glass rattle behind me and the second one came out. They ate and that’s all we could do for them. They deserve so much better.”

Fine and a War Animal Rescue Fund team then headed to Odessa to roll out another spay and neuter clinic. They hope it can treat another 1,000 animals there.

Ukrainian vets and technicians working with Dan Fine’s ARF Foundation.

In 17 days on the ground in Ukraine, Fine and his volunteers and their Ukrainian counterparts provided more than 1,500 sterilizations and vaccinations, implanted 1,900 microchips, delivered tons of food, and launched mobile clinics to continue that work.

July 25, 2022 ARF post from Dan Fine:

“Our team kept their heads down sometimes doing up to 80 animals a day in one clinic, usually without running water, an outhouse and sometimes working on ping-pong tables. What an experience. Thank you to all the volunteers and donors. This would have never happened without you. Now, let’s talk about what we can do next.”

Fine arrives back in Edmonds in a few days. And, by whatever “Let’s talk about what we can do next” means, Dan Fine will find a way to do it.

For those who want to support the effort, here is the Ukrainian War Animals Relief fund (ARF) GoFundMe link. Fine confirms that it is a secure donation site.

— By Bob Throndsen

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