Ukrainian Refugee Animals in the Netherlands

Valerie Jonckheer-Sheehy

Laura and I were invited to visit an Ukrainian Refugee Camp which we went to visit yesterday afternoon. This particular camp, in the centre of the Netherlands receives many families every day. Some of these families bring a cat or a dog with them. These animals and their people, typically stay here for 1-2 days. We’d already written guidelines for Dutch Vets caring for these animals and also for temporary care takers of the animals including their owners whilst staying in Dutch homes or shelters. Our goal today was to see how we could help the animals, often highly distressed, literally just arriving.

We were amazed and heartened to see the fantastic work already going on. Delegations of amazing volunteers to help the refugees and their pets.

We met up with Mechtild Stavenuiter-Winkelmolen who is heavily involved in the coordination of these animals and their families. Mechtild is a committee member of the Dutch Federation of Animal Shelters (NFDO). Together with the Dutch Animal Protection Society and several other organisations, they have set up a national hotline to help all animals fleeing the Ukraine

We met Bagheera, a four-year old black cat, and his loving owner Irene and her daughter Alona. They had travelled from their home in Kharkiv which had been heavily bombed. Bagheera was greatly distressed when we met him, and even more so when a very well-intentioned volunteer picked him up. We politely intervened and had the cat rapidly returned to his owners.

His owners took us to show us Bagheera’s temporary abode. They’d travelled to the Netherlands with Bagheera in a cat carrier and they received a large dog crate for him, a big blanket, a litter tray and food and water dishes from the Hulpvoordierenuitoekkraine team.

Bagheera looked a little thin and was visibly distressed. His flea collar was a bit too tight which I loosened but otherwise he appeared physically fine.

With the permission of his owners I sprayed a blanket covering his crate with cat pheromones (which have a calming effect on cats).

Bagheera began to eat during our visit to him which was a relief to everyone as he hadn’t eaten in a few days. He even started to wash himself which is also a very good sign.

We had a great chat with Mechtild and her team and came up with some additional tips for all people working in the centre and also for the owners themselves. These simple guidelines will be translated into Ukrainian, English and Russian and spread throughout all the centres in the Netherlands.

We also looked at simple ways to protect cats in particular in their temporary accommodation in the shelter, such as by providing them with a simple cardboard box as well as the usual necessities, which they already had been given, such as litter trays, food and water bowels.

Dogs can be taken for walks etc. but it’s not very safe to let cats loose as they could escape. Some have harnesses and leashes but even still, they are mostly too scared to be taken for walks outside and we don’t recommend that for cats. We discussed simple, practical ways to quickly make one or two temporary play/exercise room for cats per camp using timeshare options so that cats who don’t know each other don’t have to share. Hopefully this can be copied in the other camps.

All in all, although we all wish that the Ukrainians could be afforded their right to live happily and safely in freedom, it was an honour to be able to help them and their beloved pets and see the tremendous work already going on by others, showing the true beauty and strength of our human race.

Many thanks to Bagheera and his loving owners Irene and Alona. It was a pleasure to meet them and we wish them and all the refugees and their animals the very best.


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