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Millions of people are fleeing the war in Ukraine. But cats, dogs and even bears are also arriving in Germany as refugees. Part of their welcome package: a rabies shot.
Perhaps Luna, too, will never forget the two weeks she spent on the run: the hectic departure from her home in the city of Kharkiv, the ride in the packed train cars in the arms of 21-year-old Adana, the four newborn cats on a blanket on a fellow traveler's lap, and the arrival in Cologne after stops in Poland and Hanover.
Now Luna scurries like a little whirlwind through the apartment, making a giant leap onto a nearby chair, back to the floor and from there onto the sofa. Luna is a Jack Russell terrier, just six months old. For Adana, who fled Ukraine with her mother and two little brothers, she has long been more than a dog. She is a ray of hope, a lifeline and a rock in these dark times.
"When we are very sad, we play with her. Luna makes sure that we all stay close. She gives us positive feelings and helps us work through bad emotions," said Adana.
Luna was a New Year's gift for Adana and her three siblings — her oldest brother, 18, had to stay behind in Ukraine. The family briefly considered leaving the dog with him in Kharkiv, but then decided against it. And when they finally arrived in Cologne, exhausted, it was Luna who helped the family find a place to stay.
Jan, a volunteer helping Ukrainian arrivals at Cologne train station, noticed the dog and knew instantly that he had to help the family.
"I imagined that I was a refugee and had to flee; then, of course, I would take my two dogs with me. And I had read a newspaper report on how difficult it was for families with pets to get accommodation. So then I decided to take them in," he said.
And so, Luna from Ukraine now lives together with two other dogs: Wanda from London and Lilou from Paris. Jan is a photographer, he quickly emptied his photo studio to make room for the refugee family. Luna's first order of business was a trip to the veterinarian.
"We had her vaccinated against rabies," said Jan. "And then the vet said Luna also had to be chipped and quarantined for three weeks."
Luna has had her microchip and registration since Friday, an effort organized by the aid organization Blue-Yellow Cross. The German-Ukrainian association has already brought more than 400 Ukrainian refugees to Cologne. Many of them have brought pets, but it hasn't always been that easy.
Unlike Germany, Ukraine is not yet considered to be free from rabies. Animals entering the country from there aren't allowed to stay in refugee shelters; instead, they're sent to an animal shelter upon arrival, where they are vaccinated and must remain in quarantine.
Following the strict regulations, German animal shelters are at risk of being overloaded. And Ukrainian children, already traumatized, are further upset by being separated from their pets.
"All Ukrainians must be provided with accommodation allowing them to keep their pets," said Thomas Schröder, president of the German Animal Welfare Federation. "A separation would be an additional burden for humans and animals, to be avoided under all circumstances."
Since the conflict began in late February, German animal welfare activist Babette Terveer has made two trips to Ukraine.
"It is unacceptable that we shift responsibility to countries like Hungary and Poland, which already have problems with animal protection," she said. "Germany does not allow the direct entry of animals from Ukrainian animal shelters because of rabies, but instead insists on a 30-day quarantine in EU countries like Hungary. And there they have to be vaccinated, even if they have documented vaccination from a shelter in Ukraine."
On her first rescue operation, Terveer set off in the direction of Ukraine with a 12-ton truck, four vans and 18 tons of animal food. She unloaded the food at a spot some 15 kilometers (9 miles) beyond the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, and in exchange took 35 dogs from animal shelters in Kyiv.
The convoy also arranged to transport six refugees along with their pets, including a woman who was inseparable from her 10-year-old German shepherd.
"The refugees are all totally exhausted, and so are the animals," she said. "Many pets have just been packed into shopping bags, because everything has to happen so fast when they flee."
Every few days, she added, volunteers risk their lives to drive to Kyiv and rescue 10 to 15 dogs per trip.
The animal shelters in Ukraine are full of dogs and cats. But there are special cases, too. Magdalena Scherk-Trettin is a wildlife project coordinator for the German branch of the animal protection organization Four Paws.
"We have long been cooperating with partner organizations in Ukraine," she said. "After the war broke out, we were contacted by an organization that runs a sanctuary in the Kyiv region with seven bears, who had been rescued from abusive captivity. And they were afraid for the animals. We then evacuated them to our sanctuary near Lviv."
The bear sanctuary in Domazhyr, western Ukraine, already cares for 29 bears. For three of the seven new arrivals, the journey has since continued on to Germany. Bear cubs Asuka and Popeye are now romping through a bear park in Thuringia, and one bear has traveled on to a sanctuary in northern Germany. A happy ending, at least, for these animals, said Scherk-Trettin.
This article was originally written in German.
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