The power of the dog and how pets are helping Ukrainians cope with war

The power of the dog and how pets are helping Ukrainians cope with war 81 logo

Crammed into the back of the Nissan as he fled his hometown of Kharkiv, Ukraine, were two of Jake’s most prized possessions: his Nintendo Switch and Puzo, his pet pug.

Jake, 31, is among dozens of displaced Ukrainians who have refused to leave their animals behind because of the immense comfort and familiarity they have provided during a time of unprecedented turmoil caused by Russia.

“Every day after the shelling stopped, I would get up and go to the room where [Puzo] was hidden and rub it. He was soothing,” Jake, who asked that his last name not be revealed for fear of his family, told NPR via Google Meet. “He snored all the time and reminded me of peacetime.”

Those peacetimes were shattered for Jake, a network engineer, on February 24. Jake stayed up late watching YouTube videos when he decided to tune in to the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

As diplomats pleaded with Russia to back off, Jake shifted his focus to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had just appeared on television in his homeland to launch a military operation against Ukraine.

“I was sitting there for 5 or 10 minutes completely terrified,” Jake said. “And then I started hearing explosions and windows started breaking… It’s been complete chaos and panic ever since.”

Jake reunited with his wife, Dasha; her pug; her mother and some personal possessions and he hit the road on March 3 with a caravan of 20 other family members seeking safety in Ivano-Frankivsk, a city some 680 miles away.

Puzo used to get nauseous on short road trips in the past, but he was fine on this long drive west “and always wants to be in my mom’s hand,” Jake said. One of the recurring sights along the way was other families with dogs looking out of their car windows, he said.

The Health Benefits for Pets Are Real

Since arriving in Poland on March 5, Louisa Gouliamaki and other photographers have seen refugees traveling with their dogs, birds and even a turtle, she told NPR via Instagram.

Many of these animals have made it to photos. she has taken for AFP showing how pets are “members of their family, so there’s no way they would leave them behind,” he said.

“For the children, surely [it] It is reconfortable [to have their pets]a piece of his normality but also [as] something they have to take care of which gives them [a] kind of force,” Gouliamaki said.

The positive impact pets can have on people experiencing turmoil cannot be underestimated, said Lauren Powell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Pets can provide companionship, help reduce feelings of loneliness and increase feel-good hormones like oxytocin, Powell told NPR by email. Pets can also help lower our biological response to stress by lowering our stress hormones, relaxing our heart rate and blood pressure, he said.

“Past traumatic events have shown us that pets can be vitally important to their owners during stressful times,” Powell said. “They have a unique ability to provide unconditional support and companionship as they are nonjudgmental by nature.”