Sunday, May 8, 2022

Walking Away. Can Empty Handed Be More Painful Than Heavy Hearted?

Walking away. 

For those of us who choose to travel abroad with the hope of helping, do something meaningful, and, influence an unjust reality, it is deeply painful to have to walk away empty handed. 

I wanted, upon my return home, to feel as if I had done more. Make a more meaningful impact.  I quite honestly want to take them ALL away. Pack up every little face I saw, all of those fearful eyes, bowed defeated heads, and hungry souls, and stuff them into my carry-on luggage and just head west. Cross the landscapes of the safe Nato countries skirting the western borders. Hop that big pond with our own 747 and fly the coop Big-time-America style. Just bust outta Ukraine and be done. Dust on our heels, blue skies ahead. It’s the only real tangible hope for them. The only way I can stop the suffering and save their lives. And I can’t. I don’t accept inability nor denial. It is not in my vocabulary. I didn’t go so far away to just bear witness. I went to change fates. Move trajectories make happy endings from a war. It didn’t happen. I feel defeated and guilty for departing. For leaving them behind. Abandoned and in the same predicament I found them. 

I hadn't traveled this far, 5,000 miles from home, with three days of traveling into Ukraine to see Droog shelters massively overcrowded 500 head count, and just witness the problems there. No, I came to influence them. Surely I couldn't solve many, maybe a tiny pet on a tiny scale, but, I wanted to try. Me and my ever present operative word, TRY. It just doesn't feel like enough right now. Isn't always enough,, but, it is sometimes all you have.

Two Ukrainian rescued dogs out for the evening walk.
I miss them every single day.

For more on the Ukraine trip please see my previous blogs.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Be better than you ever have to be.

What if I told you that the problem was 100% you?

Land mine marker, side of the road driving in Ukraine.

Could you accept it? Or swallow it?

What about start to process and digest it?

How capable are you of rising above and introspection?

Deworming puppies in Ukraine

It's called adulting. You will learn it at some point. Or, die bitter still stuck on the silly, petty, bullshit that takes up the first 40 years of most peoples lives. Move on, chin up, be kind, let it go. It's really never worth the effort. People either love you for who you are, accept you for what you haven't yet mastered, and wish you well regardless of the differences, or, they just don't. How is that your problem? Why does it bother you? Or, matter, at all?

Maybe it is all you? Maybe it is all your responsibility to improve your own life? Maybe, even, just maybe you have the power to improve someone else's along the way too? Maybe you just need to forgive yourself for not being perfect, try to grow kinder, and wish others luck in doing the same? Maybe it's all about perspective, independent self assurance, and living the example that makes the world a better place to be in?

Start there. Be better than you ever have to be. Kinder than you ever imagined anyone could be. And just be happy with that.

The note left with two bunnies abandoned at the clinic this week.
There are always people struggling more than you can see on the outside.

oh,, and go hug your cat.

It is impossible for me to come back from a war where everyone is afraid, suffering and unsure of what tomorrow holds, and see the staff at the clinic fighting, crying, and despairing over clean up duties. I know I am supposed to empathize, talk it all out, and find a calm peaceful resolve to the petty ridiculous juvenile puling,,, but I can't. I just can't. I can't lower my worries to include the bullying being tolerated by empowered, privileged white women who are apparently so immature it is important enough to cry over. 

Maybe I will pay for it down the road? This inability to see problems that manifest out of air from perceptions that aren't worthy of the time it takes to address it? But, then again, it was war. Maybe they all need to set foot on Ukrainian soil to remember what life might look like if you weren't so caught up in the mopping injustices of closing time?

Found in Ukraine. Broken back, poor use of her back legs, and afraid.
After two days of calm, gentle support she melted. She is the sweetest, most grateful girl. 
She is one we could save. 

... I guess the parting thought is that life is full of so many challenges. Think outside of yourself. Remember how lucky you are and how little anyone else's opinion matters.

For more on Ukraine please see my previous blogs.

P.S. I find it implausible that anyone thinks this blog is specific to them.. it is not. It is as much an internal dialogue with myself,, as it is an external discussion with the way I know see things differently. I am not the same person I was before going to Ukraine. I will never be the same. I left grateful for all we have here, all of the incredible wealth, freedoms, and access to,, well, anything here, but I came back not more grateful, but instead less tolerant. Less tolerant to other people's real problems and my ability to empathize with them. I just can't see the little problems as big problems. Isn't life all about perceptions? And isn't the answer to hardship empathy? Why is it then that I don't want them back?

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Little Things, Part One, Passport Paranoia.

Everyone is asking for snippets. Little pieces of the far away trip to share. The stocking stuffers to add flavor and texture to a place you have to live to begin to digest. Ukraine is just like that. Something you have to live, but no place anyone should want to go, at least for right now. 

kept in my passport keeper

There is the omnipresent pervasive black cloud over Ukraine. It exists, or so it seemed to me, over the entire country from the first to my last minute there. True the skies grow darker and the cloud cover closer the closer you move East, but it manifests from the clear skies at the border of Romania you leave from and arrives as you cross into Ukraine. (The borders are oddly like that,, that snippet I will share at another time). I asked myself for a long while whether this was just placebo effect. Maybe I was just imagining it? But, on the way home to Romania my carmate admitted, in fact she asked me, if I had noticed it too?

There is an overarching sense of despair, of sadness, a gloominess you cannot wipe away. Sleep away, or awaken from. Even in the off moments of peaceful aloneness it is there. Every step of every minute of your life has to be thought out. That in itself is excruciating and exhausting. At minimum you have to plan an exit for every possible scenario. How fast could you run? What do you need to take? Where would you go and how would you get there? (Remember there might not be roads, or gas, or open roads). What would you do if they (Russian troops) are at your door? Knocking, Invading, Intimidating or Interrogating? What documents do you have? Are they with you at all times? (Let me talk about passport paranoia).

one of the tokens that I carried with me to Ukraine

So I will start here..

passport paranoia. I bought a travel purse before leaving. The kind that goes around your neck, hangs at the chest. Multiple pockets to hold things. A drawstring to cinch higher or lower based on the threat and quickness for access. It was never out of my sight, save for traveling. We keep the passports in the dashboard for quick passing to the checkpoint guards stationed about every 30 minutes, and at every major town, and every key place of transport, military base, communication tower, and not so inconspicuously hidden troop bunker. I don't speak the language, and I am a visitor. My USA passport is the one thing anchoring my safety in this warzone. Yes, I guarded it with my life. There is no embassy here, and no way to call out for rescue or retrieval. The group I was with had lost all sense of passport paranoia. They were far more comfortable with fate as it might fall than I. There were many times I heard one of them inquiring as to which vehicle, or when, they had misplaced theirs? 

not so sexy,, but a needed accessory...

This was a common theme for me. Trying to grow more comfortable with the war and nullify its impact by the number of sands that have passed through the hourglass. Two weeks there wasn't long enough to soothe or ease the passport paranoia. It was just one of the many I entered and left Ukraine with. The rest of the group, who had been there for months, or multiple trips back and forth, to and from had outgrown their passport paranoia. The newness, the risk, the danger, and the paranoia had been misplaced some miles/days/weeks back. Mine remained overhead, the Linus storm of grey over the neophyte clinging a cheap no brand purse close to the heart but clung to nonetheless.

Please see my other Ukraine posts.. and please remember to hope,, you can never surrender tha,, #peaceinUkraine

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Faces, and the Ghosts. Coming Back From Ukraine.

The panes keep flipping. One after another, almost every single one a snapshot of a face that haunts me like the ghost of a departed too soon relation. Those faces. The innocence, despair, fear and immense sea of need contained within their little skinny souls. 

Momma dog and Stewie.. both equally adorable.

I see them as this: tiny souls. Lost and dependent. Expecting nothing, the same as they have known their whole lives, and yet optimistic and hopeful. Some of the dogs took days to decompress when they arrived. Days of huddling, hiding and running through the fates that lay ahead quietly in their heads. I feel as I know them all. Some hidden primitive calling from an ancestry that binds us even if we have just met. These pets cause me, I want to believe, others too, to melt. They were my singular focus. My only task and the compromise that made all of the rest of the obvious, and not-so-obvious hardships worthwhile. 

Ukraine, as I will remember it, is an old soul, built on organic gatherings. Time honored traditions that don’t give way to modern amenities. People live off their land. The earth is black with rich fertile soil. So dense it cements to your shoes, holds you fast to its grip. Women, the majority of which are old, bent and bowed to the earth they pay gratitude to. They are subdued, embedded, artifacts of this place. Long layered worn long skirts. Cardigan-coated, scoliosis spines topped with home-sewn clothes. Weighty, permanent, and unwaivered inside a war they will persevere through. Their fortitude is the constant of this country. They may have to live under another mans rule, lose their flag to a neighboring bully, but, they will never lose their traditions, their ages old agrarian practices, and they will never surrender their soil which blossoms forth food, flowers, and the stories of all of the women before them. The elderly who are still here are poor. Dirt poor. They tidy up their tiny quaint unembellished homes each morning and each evening. Small handless brooms held at knee level, sweep, sweep, sweep. The dirt is pushed away for a few hours only to crawl back in with the breeze. Nothing stays clean here. Nothing shines. Nothing is made, brought, or found here that wasn’t made before 1970. 

Bunkers and Checkpoints.

The fruit trees dominate. Pruned to a twisted spine, with blunted arms, the trees for fruit are forced to reach for the sun, but never allowed to outstretch their arms in glory. And yet they flower in explosions of white and pink. The afternoon breezes blowing kisses of snowflake petals. It is this beautiful as the country gets forced to live less. Less time to read, to relax, less food, almost no available gas. Less television, internet and access to the world outside of this war living its daily life and working for a brighter future of better. Colleges are struggling to stay open. Malls, and shopping centers are trying to keep entertainment and distraction of teenage goods and meet ups, open. A go-cart center still opens at 10 am, lines up the carts, and awaits the boredom of children to convince their parents to spend cash they need to bank.

Deworming puppies

The banks are open when days seem bright. They shutter when the air alarms take most of the day. They just shake their heads with “no” when you inquire as to why banking hours now permit half-days and full days of closing. There are long lines at the bank ATM machines. Most, like the gas stations are merely closed. A sign indicating an absence of indefinite length. 

For me, there was a cloud that found me once I crossed into the border. It stays the whole time you are there. The rest of the group have been inside long enough to have forgotten it. It remains, like Linus, looming above, grey/black turbulent and daunting, but like an old chronic ailment, it gets ignored by the events of the day, the tripping stones and obstacles that take up every small task. Pushed back into the subconscious where it makes its den and waits for a crack in the armor to invade and metastasize.

One of the homes I stayed at. 
She lives alone with her cats and dogs and loves her garden.

My friend had organized this trip. We had been talking about how much the wars existence, and our easy lives had burdened us. When people asked why I was considering this trip I answered honestly that I felt ‘compelled’ to go. Driven to add my voice, my anger and my actions of defiance to the pleas of a country that was once part of a dynasty and the parents wanted their kids back, even if they desired to keep their independence. Wouldn’t I want someone from halfway around the world to do the same for me? Shouldn’t every other human being with means be joining the crusade? If only to protect their children’s independence somewhere down the road? Maybe the news of a country being invaded, forced to die or surrender, be so inconceivable and unacceptable that all nations and all people stand up and just say “NO!”? I will not permit it? 

Arrival Cluj Romania airport.
One personal bag and 4 large luggage suitcases of medications and preventatives.

This protest, internal proclamation has the same fervor and intensity as my deep conviction to protect the animals stuck, and injured in the cross fire. Not all who fled took their pets. Not all who could leave with them did. Somewhere left with friends, or in shelters, no doubt with the hope that the conflict would be won in days, perhaps weeks, and they could return to the life that they had led in Ukriane. The shelters are burgeoning with animals. So overcrowded that they are stacked on top of each other. The weak cower in the back, hiding and huddled into tiny shivers of fur. No face, no identity. Just hoping to get a piece of the meal at its next delivery. Competition for all basic needs is reduced to brutal will and dominate strength. Very few dogs are neutered which promulgates and perpetuates the aggression, the dominance. A few females are spayed, many are not, therefore when one, or all, go into heat the hysteria climbs even higher. The idea of adding pregnancies, puppies and even more mouths to feed, souls to assuage, and frailty to protect is the chasm of the fault line that allowed the contents of my heart to fracture. There is no attempt to slow the tide here, just a pessimistic acceptance that it will most definitively worsen before there is hope for it to improve. 

Sergei sleeps at our feet during dinner.
Likely the luckiest puppy in Ukraine.

Where many countries across the globe are making humanitarian efforts to offer passage, placement and assistance to Ukrainian refugees, most are making precautionary measures to deny animals sanctuary within. The rules, the paperwork and permits, and fear of the flood have caused the numbers within the countries few shelters to explode. To care for these animals has caused internal personnel exhaustion, desperation and corruption. The opportunities to divert dog food, supplies and medications has caused most shelters to seek food from all available options. Feeding has been leftovers, some fresh, most not. It is survival at every level and consequentially the weakest will be the last to be fed or defended. 

I called her Sunshine, the others called her Piglet,,

It brings me back to those faces. The ones who have been treated like cattle. Moved by force and packs or herds. Collected in the last minutes of an eminent invasion and sent to be housed in another place that is fraught with fear and lacking in safety from fights, food access of personal preferences or liberties. These are the ones I am drawn to. The ones so overlooked and so ignored they have surrendered. The ones who make you melt with them as they learn what affection feels like and let go of the armor that they resorted to. These are the faces I filled my time, my head and my heart with. These are the faces that are burning inside of me asking to be refueled again with. These are the faces that would compel me back into a war zone with worsening conditions and very likely a death sentence to surrender, willingly or not to. Can a face call you to your own demise? It is calling me to consider it, and consuming me to submit to it. Again. 

This girl needed more than I could give her. She was still so happy to see me...
one of the many I fear I left behind,,, and in need of rescue.

Please see my previous posts about my humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

More faces to reminisce over.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Desperation, Diversion, and Deals. Life, Survival and Philanthropy Inside A War

I think I’m going to shut down the go fund me account. I had started it with every intention of sharing my excitement and inspiring others to join the Ukrainian animal rescue cause. I estimated that the plane ticket would be about $2,000 and the needed medications would be about $3,000. Therefore, $5,000 it was. Within 48 hours I reached the goal. It was the fist big step in making and sharing this experience with the rest of my friends, family and the world. 

And I’m also going to probably start collecting for Ukraine for right now. I need to figure out what’s the best way to help the animals in Ukraine. Without contributing to the corruption and diversion of these dollars that are coming into Ukraine. Everybody around the world almost everybody, is providing resources to the people of Ukraine to try to help them in their effort to fight the Russian invasion of their country. It has affected every single aspect of their lives. Food is expensive gas is almost obsolete people can’t go out at night they can’t turn the lights on they can’t socialize they’re worried about being drafted they are restricted in where they can travel and how far they can travel and it’s frightening on a lot of levels and it’s also getting worse. When it comes to the animals there are a great deal of people who are very compassionate and empathetic inside and out of the country. But they’re also very limited on what they can do. Most people that are there now are the poor and the elderly. They don’t have a lot of land they don’t have a large house and they don’t have any money. Further they were multiple times that I was there and the banks were closed I didn’t know anybody who took a credit card there was no one that took a credit card there so that means people are in long lines for the bank machines if there’s even money there which creates more hysteria and more panic things like food of all kinds are in short supply and two are very expensive. Including dog food and cat food. I saw multiple examples of this. One of the guys from our group left a bag of dog food open on the side of the road in the town that we were in because there were dogs there. The neighbors called the police because they were worried about a new identified or unknown bag even though it’s a bag looks like a bag of dog food on their street. So the police came investigated and realized it was just a bag of dog food. It’s so abnormal for people to be feeding dogs on the street in with bags of dog food because the bags are so expensive that it created a panic in the towns people and the neighbors. When we do get food and the group that I was working with was giving massive amounts of food it Hass to be locked up either. Even if it’s locked up it gets stolen and then sold to private citizens who have pets at home and can still afford to buy food. So even though we’re just providing animal food it’s being diverted or sold. I can’t even get angry at this. Because those people are using that money to buy cheaper food to try to keep these dogs life because they have so many of them. Another good example is that the shelter we were working with which has over 500 animals was taking leftovers from the army base in town which was essentially bread some meat bones leftover meat bones and a whole lot of rice and vegetables. The rescue group got really upset because they had donated food but the food was nowhere to be found. And my answer to it all was although it wasn’t above board and it wasn’t ideal these people have not turned any animals away and therefore there cages are bursting.

I am not asking everyone to jump in, give money, donate a bag of food, but, I am asking you, you reading this, to consider adopting the next time. Maybe today? Don't make up convenient excuses, jut go out, adopt a pet, and save two souls. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Common Goal

There is no argument that the focus of everyone's immense efforts here is the animals. 

Me, and the compound kitty, Mitsi.. I do LOVE her!

To have such a strong common goal is the only way this many craggy, crazy people, all deprived of sleep, food, warm comfortable beds and all of the amenities associated with running water, AND, being from all corners of the UK, (and me the single American), could coexist together for weeks on end. Life here is complicated, and full of tragedies. People are trying to live normal lives, but, it is obvious that isn't possible here. Because of the poor living conditions, the overarching fear of air raids, bombs, and all of the insecurities war can present it is difficult to lose your way if you don't have a common goal and purpose. It is the glue that keeps us cohesive. If we didn't have this I am sure all of the ragged edges of all of the hardships would crack us. I am also sure that I am the person who fits in the least here. (I think I am proud of that.)

The depth and width of the pet dilemma that is here is oceanic. Mind boggling. This is a country that has very few frivolities. Dogs roam. Cats roam. People trudge in ratty clothes, and everyone sweeps bent over, scoliosis, kyphosis, nose to the dirt, sweep, sweep, sweep. An old country, old people, old stories of war, a country of tales of having been claimed by others, broken away from them, the castaway step-child and the weight of the world with whom you never know who you will saluting to lives here. These people have so much to manage already that the pets, the kind animals, are stepped over and passed by. To be honest there is probably no way to even begin to suggest an end to this mess. As the war drags on the problems deepen, intensify and coalesce. The lesion this began as has become a metastatic cancer of a wound that never received adequate treatment to begin with. How do we try to end the plight of these animals when we started at accepted indifference?

The animals here, at the compound I stay at, were all extracted (the term they all use) from the streets and abandoned shelters after they lost their residencies to the bombs that their homes became Russian targets of. They are all scarred. Some with obvious wounds, others with anxiety based fear so deeply embedded you don't want to know the source, or, excise the reason. You just assess, be kind, exude confident optimism and take small steps one heartbeat at a time. I am a fixer. I am wired to examine, dissect, treat, cure, and claim victory. here, each of these must be set aside. Reduced, and simplified to simply what I can do in the right here, presently, now. I will go mad, abandon the cause if I try to practice medicine like I do in my well controlled, everything accessible home. There are almost no spayed or neutered animals here. I assume with every tragic life threatening ailment that they come to me with they are also passing it forward to the half dozen offspring within them. Great, the problem multiples as I gaze upon it. There is no end. No finishing point.

The dogs here at the compound came from a shelter in Alexandria Ukraine. The shelter before the war used to run with a capacity of about 40 dogs and cats. When the war hit the numbers surged to 400. When the staff could no longer manage the animals and the war they reduced the care to feeding alone. No cleaning and no exercising. When the threat of further invasions and insecurities presented the shelter staff had to make an even more perilous decision. They opened the cage doors so the pets would not be left to starve. The group when in weeks ago to find many of the animals set free from their cages. The scene they came upon was about 150 animals alive the rest in some form of eaten. It is what we would all be faced with if 5 weeks went by without food or water. The weak, gentle and submissive were not who were left to rescue. Most of these dogs are German Shepherds. All are thin, matted, and apprehensive of humans. this is what war looks like. The war of abandoning human kindness and compassion. It is the face of people we should never be reduced to become. It is also why I am here.

I wonder if as the days pass that I won’t grow more indifferent to this place then desiring to stay and help? It is the same dilemma I face at home as a veterinarian. Do I give up as others have to save my fragile soul, or provide it with barricades shrouded in tattered clothes and fight on?

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Compound, Ukraine Day 2

Day three. Or maybe it is day 2.2-7? It’s a blur. Truly. Too many airports and too many people.

I’m going to do my best to sit down every night and record the day’s events. Many days start with overly ambitious plans that are quickly thwarted by mucky, meddling bureaucrats and their tedious paperwork bound permission slips. The weather seems to waiver between wet and cold and windy and cold. Layers are important, but, running water and washing needs are absent. Dirt is everywhere. Veterinary work comes with dirt, feces, urine and disease. Hoses, showers, and washers are the waterways and weapons of our disease prevention. It is not a luxury we are able to afford here.

This place, Ukraine, is a rainbow of colors, feelings, new experiences, new and vastly peculiar people, and a far-away place that actually fits the gilded Reese’s kiss-topped churches. Huge ornate, church-like facades perch at front gates of simple small one-story homes as proclamations of religious devotional deities met by small portly women walking down narrowly beaten dirt sidewalks in long dirty dresses, blackened knee-high wellies and brightly kerchiefed heads. The land is a stream of verdant ribbons. Manicured farmland, and fruit trees blooming tiny pink flowers from their writhing skeletal outreached branches. There are no mechanical sounds. No lawn mowers, weed whackers, or small engine of any sort. It is a peaceful, humble, simple and quiet place, save for the speeding daredevil cars racing haphazardly without regard to the suggested passing center lines.

The compound that I am staying at is about 6 hours inside Ukraine from Romania. It, the compound, is about as charming as the name implies. The entry is a large industrial era door, painted steel grey, with a poorly welded handle and in need of considerable greasing. The effort required to open it insures its bomb proof. The room it opens into houses 7 dogs, all unneutered and all unhappy to be caged near to each other. The veterinarian in me is having a terribly difficult time managing the messiness. The clutter from having donations of all shapes, sizes, and species coming to and fro. The animals in cages as if suspended at the border or airport. Sort of in transit and sort of hopeful there is a destination ahead that might add permanence. It is that way within chaos. The chaos of being prepared to flee. Grab and go is made inherently more challenging with pets and their varying ailments, invalidities and apprehensions.

The first room is first filled with audible requests from the dogs. They all have human attentions to demand and they don’t take no for an answer. They bark until they aren’t heard. The second feature of note is the darkness, this is a warehouse. Converted to be a home for dogs, cats, people. The people range from the crew of women who care for the pets. They name them, walk them, clean and feed them. They also cuddle many of them in the undefined hours between interacting with the outside world, and the rest of the days tasks. There is no clock here. There is no sign of time having fluidity. There is no start, stop or circadian rhythm.

The second room is storage. It’s a cluttered mass of boxes and bottles. A make shift pharmacy for all. I'm sure that we could treat or cure anything, but, I’m not sure we could find it.

A large, heavy tarp is strung up to provide a barrier for human living spaces and dogs. Before traversing into the displaced Winnebago kitchen and the living room of pallets and towels, there is a pop-up tent for a bathroom. Women’s facilities are a bucket. I may have foul smelling armpits, hair and body odor, but, I will have massively muscular thighs.

Meals, well, this leaves much to be figured out. I’ve been here for 3 days and had one meal. A random snack bar and as much tea as I can find hot water for.


P.S. I will add photos as I can. We take great care in maintaining security and not disclosing anything that might bring Russians knocking. I will share photos and videos from the groups we are working with to add color to the stories.

Be well, love your pets, krista

here is part of the rescue efforts from yesterday; day 1, the bear and the wolf

Elza the wolf

Bolik the bear

for more on this please see;

The Announcement