The Dogs of Ukraine

The summer of 1939 was an emotional rollercoaster in Europe. Neville Chamberlain had signed the “Peace in Our Time” treaty with Germany the summer before.
I’m sure that most of the population believed that war was inconceivable in “modern times” — after the Great War (the war to end all wars).
Then in the summer of 1939, Germany and Russia signed a nonaggression pact — in which they secretly split up Poland. That September, Germany invaded Poland. (And the Polish Calvary tried to take on the German Blitzkrieg on horseback.)
On September 3rd, England (linked by treaty to Poland) declared war on Germany, and World War II, the inconceivable war, began.
Inconceivable: (def) Not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally
And here we are. In 2022. We are exactly like many European and American citizens in that fateful 1939 summer. We are watching a land war develop in Europe, watching in horror, praying that it stops. Wondering if we will get drawn in. Wondering if we have a moral responsibility to help. Wondering what the cost would be to help. Know that as individuals, we are powerless. We are the grass under the feet of fighting elephants. We realize that we may have missed a dark corner of human nature in our belief that this could never happen again.
The Novelist, Anton Myrer, wrote in Once an Eagle, “Once the drums begin to beat . . . there is nothing ahead but fear and waste and misery and desolation . . . once the engine has started it must shudder and rumble to the very end of its hellish course, come what may.”
Much is being written, as well it should, about the suffering inflicted on humans as the drums beat. In our living rooms, on our social media, we are witness as never before to the hellish course of war.
There is such incongruity. Russian tanks crushing Audis and Toyotas. Russian Rockets destroying modern Apartment buildings and homes. It is as if someone took a World War II film and photoshopped an Apple store into the footage.
And because of who I am and what I write about, I see the dogs of Ukraine. A woman holding a wounded Chihuahua. A younger woman carrying a Husky puppy on the route to Poland. A German shepherd with a red collar running through the rubble. A mix-breed wrapped in a Ukrainian flag.
We see seconds of what they must be enduring twenty-four hours of every day. We hear the sirens. But we cannot smell the war. And smell is a dog’s primary sense.
How terrified they must be as the Russian noose wraps around cities and the shelling, and the rocket attacks increase, and there is the smell of cordite, smoke, and fire everywhere — and the smell of death.
Ukrainians, the millions that have fled, are taking their pets with them, as we would, right? There are dogs on leashes and cats, parrots, and rabbits in crates. They are running for their lives.
Take a minute and imagine what it would be like for you to flee. Conjure up an image of you having days or hours to get out, to leave everything, to take your animals, food for them, water for them, and run to a new country and new unimaginable future.
What’s worse is that in times of war, of catastrophes, we rebalance the scales of who we can save and who we cannot. It is the triage of war. An elderly parent or a dog? What if you had to choose?
Maybe because of circumstances, you leave a bag of food on the floor and a bowl of water, and the door to your home open, for a dog you cannot take. Then you hope that she’ll survive until you get home. This is war, and sometimes you can only do your best, not what you want to do.
As I write this, our two dogs are running around, oblivious to everything except the toy rabbit they are play fighting over.
In my worst nightmares, I cannot imagine having to make the decisions that Ukrainian pet owners must be making now. I cannot imagine our dogs running, terrified, through the rubble of war. I cannot envision the futures they face, win, or lose, whether they go back to their homes or become permanent refugees.
We won’t know for a long time until this war shudders and rumbles to the very end of its hellish course.
(If you wish to help, you can donate to the Humane Society International at www.hsi.org)

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