Big hearts united to help animals in Ukraine

With every step they take, they get closer to the tent. They can’t wait to go inside. They are cold, tired, and hungry, same as their companions. The tent’s door flap opens, and it is warm inside. They made it. Relieved they enter the tent. This is how refugees at the Polish-Ukrainian border in Medyka feel when they meet the veterinary team who will help them take care of their pets. One of the veterinarians is Boehringer Ingelheim employee Dr. Julie Ryan Johnson.

Refugee dogs

At the beginning of April 2022, Julie flies from the U.S. to Medyka as a Greater Good Charities veterinarian to work for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). She collaborates with other volunteers and helps welcome Ukrainian refugees, who have fled the war zone, cross the border with their animals. “What a small world,” she thinks as she reconnects with several of her US shelter clients who have also come to serve at the border. Veterinarians and technicians from San Diego Humane and Humane Society of Broward County are also part of the contingent, taking turns staffing the vet tent.

Vet Volunteers
Julie and other volunteers 

At the border, the campsite helps the refugees with provisions for the following travel. The camp is open 24/7 and includes free food from food trucks, clothes, water, Polish SIMs cards, suitcases, toys, and a resting place. As soon as people with animals cross the border, they are directed to the IFAW tent, where they can get supplies for the remainder of the trip. Accessories such as a leash, collar, harness, carrier, food, bowls, dog coats, and even cat litter are offered. The IFAW veterinary team examines the pets and gives them additional medical support.

Julie spends seven days and part of her nights here, helping the refugees’ animals recover after their long travel. "Most of the animals are dehydrated. They have been on the road for days, deprived of food and water, and need a place to sleep; they are exhausted,” Julie shares. “It is impressive to see how their owners can only relax once they have ensured their animal’s welfare. You can literally feel the strength of the human-animal bond."  

One of the things that impresses Julie the most is how the Ukrainians take care of their pets. “All animals are welcomed into the tent, including a baby turtle, hamster, rat, dog, cat, a parrot, and a giant snail. The owners have them as their priority,” she says. “They suffer a lot of stress regarding their well-being. They don’t care if they have walked for days and haven't eaten for a long time; they want their pets to be the first to get help. Then and only then can they focus on themselves, eat, and finally, sleep. Volunteers at the gate realize that if they want to welcome people, they also need to accept their animals, and so they do.”

Refugee animals

“There are people who left their homes after several weeks of sleeping in the basement after the attacks had started. A woman chose to bring her seven cats out to safety instead of her belongings. She drove with her mother and cats for hours until the car ran out of gas, and then they walked the rest of the way until they reached the border.” These seven cats were taken care of, fed up, and given a place to rest. The woman couldn’t stop crying as she had to make a big decision. She needed to place six of the cats in a new home.

George the cat“I couldn’t help it, and I brought home one of the cats – we named him Madame George. I couldn't think of a better way to help the pet owners take care of their loved ones that couldn't continue with them for the last part of their journey. I wasn't the only one; the rest of the volunteers did the same. We each adopted one. We couldn't help it." In tears, Julie adds: “Adopting a pet is no easy task. Not all animals can be placed right away, but it is always in people’s minds to find the optimal and fastest solution.”

“The animals behave incredibly,” Julie describes, “regardless of their conditions. Especially the cats, who happened to be known for their special and unique character, but this time, they surprised us all. They are friendly, mellow, and let themselves be petted. They are survivors, just like their owners."

What happens next?

Once they have rested and recovered some energy, the refugees get ready to leave for the train station. There, they would meet with Polish veterinarians who would check their animal’s health status, vaccinate them if needed, and start the animal passport process. Afterward, they are ready to transfer tJulie and Georgeo their next destination. 


“I am grateful for having the opportunity to help at the border and for the amazing people I met and partnered with. Veterinarians, civilians, colleagues, students working as translators, old and young, all left a piece of their hearts in Poland. Their dedication and passion for helping the animals and humans were my daily inspiration, no matter how tired or hungry I got. It is unthinkable to believe that despite these dark times, there is always light in the heart of people that help us get through, and for that, I am thankful.”


Solidarity with Ukraine
Ukrainian flag

Solidarity with Ukraine

We condemn military aggression against Ukraine and will contribute EUR 2.5 million to 
humanitarian relief funds for Ukraine.