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Please Do Not Pet the Radioactive Puppies

Pripyat was not much more than a small, snowy town nestled in the Ukrainian Soviet Social Republic before the fateful day of April 26, 1986. When a nuclear accident occurred during a station blackout drill in the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, dozens of people became ill from radiation poisoning in the hours that followed. Evacuation orders were promptly issued thereafter by Soviet officials, over twenty-four hours after the nuclear blast. Buses immediately arrived to collect the thousands of residents of Pripyat who only had, at best, a few hours notice to gather their essential belongings and evacuate.

Left behind were the pets of Pripyat. Soviet officials did not allow them to be relocated with their owners. Thus, the people of Pripyat were forced to abandon their pets, with most choosing to believe that they would be able to return for them in a few days. This, of course, would prove to be untrue. Gone forever were their owners; the pets of Pripyat now had to survive on their own.

After evacuation efforts were completed, military personnel were dispatched by Soviet authorities to track down and kill any domesticated animals they could find. Obviously, they did not manage to scout out and shoot every single pet; a substantial population of pets, particularly dogs, remained. Over the past two decades, the canine population has exploded, now composed of hundreds of the original dogs’ descendants.

Even today, these dogs face the harsh realities of life. For one, they are severely malnourished. Fueled by a lack of food and water, canine mortality has peaked. The majority of puppies born in litters each spring aren’t expected to make it past one year of age. Another hardship the dogs encounter is the competition they have with the wildlife that has since flourished in Pripyat. Wolves, for example, are not only potentially vicious enemies to the dogs but also a predation risk and source of rabies. It is common to see dogs resorting to eating grass or digging through dumpsters for their next meals.

Efforts both in Ukraine and around the world have been made to address this animal rights crisis. Plant workers, tourists and the elderly villagers who have moved back to Pripyat at their own risk have all attempted to provide care for the Chernobyl pups. Their help, however, only reaches a limited extent — they technically aren’t permitted to interact with the dogs. Because their fur contains radioactive particles, Ukrainian officials forbid anyone from petting the dogs or removing them from Pripyat.

Filmmaker Drew Scanlon, who made a short YouTube documentary about the animals living in the ghost town surrounding Chernobyl, recounted his experience to Huffington Post. He commented on how heartbreaking it was to see little puppies come up to him seeking attention, but not being able to help them.

Fortunately, the Clean Futures Fund is a nonprofit organization that has recently devoted its resources to bettering the living situation of the Chernobyl pups. In its five-year plan, the organization plans to spay and neuter the dogs, administer rabies vaccinations and set up food and water stations throughout the exclusion zone. By partnering with local veterinarians and international relief organizations, the Clean Futures Fund seeks to improve the quality of life for the literal underdogs of Chernobyl.

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