In 1986, tragedy struck the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine when the Unit 4 reactor failed, spewing nuclear waste and radiation throughout the nearby city of Pripyat. The Soviet Union evacuated 120,000 people and established what's now known as the Exclusion Zone, covering 1,000 square miles. Those forced out of their homes had to leave behind their pets. And like first responders to the disaster, these dogs and other animals were subject to radiation.
Over 30 years later, hundreds of stray dogs live in and around the power plant, along with scores of other animals that call Chernobyl home. Though efforts have been made to cull the canine population, the dogs of Chernobyl still prove remarkably hardy. Now, they're getting a chance to live in loving homes, thanks to the efforts of multiple nonprofit organizations devoted to animal welfare. In 2017, organizations began offering the Chernobyl dogs medical attention. And in summer 2018, two groups brought the first batch of dogs to the United States to experience life outside the Exclusion Zone.
Few Of The Dogs Live Beyond The Age Of 4Photo: Shutterstock
One of the most striking things about the dogs living in Chernobyl is that they're all relatively young - most do not live past 4 years old. Though disease, malnutrition, and wolves and others predators contribute to their short lives, the main cause of death remains the harsh Ukrainian winters.
For the most part, the dogs depend on workers at the plant to feed and care for them.
Organizations Have Partnered To Help The Dogs
Four Paws, an organization devoted to helping animals in need, and the Clean Futures Fund, which supports "communities affected by industrial accidents," have partnered to help dogs living in the Exclusion Zone.
Their goal is to spay, neuter, and vaccinate the dogs - not only to stop breeding, but also to protect them from rabies and other contagious diseases they've been exposed to while living in the wild.
Dogs Have Been Cleared For Adoption
SPCA International and the Clean Futures Fund have partnered to make the dogs available for adoption in the Ukraine and North America. In 2018, more than 200 dogs were cleared for adoption, including at least a dozen bound for the United States. They were captured and quarantined for 45 days in the Ukrainian city of Slavutych before being shipped to the United States. Only dogs younger than 1 year old will be released for adoption.
Reports vary about how many dogs were available for adoption, or how many ended up in the United States. Anyone interested in adopting one of the dogs should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Available Dogs Are Thoroughly DecontaminatedPhoto: Shutterstock
Tim Mousseau, a biologist at the University of South Carolina who has studied the effects of radiation on wildlife in the Chernobyl area, told Newsweek that before dogs are cleared for adoption, their fur is cleansed of radioactive dust, and the animals get thoroughly screened and examined. "They certainly pose no significant threat to anybody handling them," Mousseau said.
The dogs also appear to be free of genetic deformities, even though other wildlife in the area affected by the radiation have shown abnormalities, such as increased cataracts in wolves and albinism in birds.
According to SPCA International, who partnered with the Clean Futures Fund to release the dogs for adoption:
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.