Back in September, PEOPLE shared an article about the tough fate of dogs living in and around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine. After the disastrous explosion at the plant in 1986, most residents of the danger zone were forced to flee, leaving their pets behind.
Today, some of the ancestors of those pets still live in the region, with 250 dogs living at the plant itself, according to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International (SPCAI). Although most think of Chernobyl as a wasteland, the nuclear power plant is still up and running with more than 3,000 employees. The SPCAI says the workers do what they can for the 250 dogs living at the plant itself, but until now, they were prohibited from removing any animals from the area.
All in all, the area is home to more than 1,000 dogs, mainly descendants of the pets of the 120,000 people forced to abandon their homes in the wake of the emergency evacuation following the disaster. Since that day, Chernobyl’s dogs have died or suffered, without food, water or veterinary care. The majority of these strays are homeless, and up until recently people were warned against even petting them due to fear of radioactivity. This means that if they hadn’t been saved, the majority of the dogs would’ve died or been killed.
But those days are now over. For the first time ever, the stray pups living near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant are being rescued and will soon be legally released for adoption. SPCAI is bringing 13 of the dogs, all less than 1 year old, to the U.S. in the coming weeks. Adoption applications are now open for the 13 puppies, who are reportedly up to date on their vaccines and all will be spayed or neutered. They will also go through a 45-day quarantine period, receiving temporary shelter in the nearby town of Slavutych, and will then be “transported to carefully selected homes in Ukraine and North America.”
According to the SPCAI, which partnered with the Clean Futures Fund (CFF) on this initiative, all the puppies are playful and well socialized with children, dogs, cats and farm animals. They are in the midst of training and are “quickly learning their first four basic commands.” The agency says the pups — currently named Uki, Yuri, Yaniv, Polly, Minsk, Leliv, Kopachi, Kimovo, Desa, Atom, Cherni, Bela and Chappa — will be delivered to their new forever homes in early July.
“We have rescued the first puppies, they are now in our adoption shelter going through the quarantine and decontamination process,” Lucas Hixson, co-founder of the U.S.-based CFF, told Gizmodo earlier this month. “The goal is 200 dogs, but will likely be more in the long run. My hope is to get 200 dogs rescued and adopted in the next 18 months and then go from there.”
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A joint release from CFF and SPCAI says, “This unprecedented event marks an important partnership with the Ukrainian government, which has been reluctant in the past 32 years to allow anything to be removed from the nuclear exclusion zone.”
“In 2017, thanks to a partnership between Clean Futures Fund and SPCA International, more than 450 animals were tested for radiation exposure, received medical care, vaccinations and were spayed or neutered. The radiation testing revealed that the dogs living in the zone were not harmfully contaminated. Those results paved the way for their rescue and adoption by proving that it is safe to place them in homes.”
Any animal lovers interested in adopting a puppy from Chernobyl can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.