Moldova, at the Ukrainian border we also treat animals to calm children down

For the first time we have a vet. “We have never seen so many pets together with people fleeing a war. Caring for the animals also means giving psychological support to the families.”



In Palanca, a border town between Moldova and Ukraine, only 60 km from the fighting, so many people arrive. There you can feel so much fatigue and worry, but also relief. No more fear, only the need to put the pieces back together and leave again, this time for Europe. Germany, Spain, Norway. Ten minutes from the border crossing, INTERSOS together with UNHCR has activated assistance services for people in transit. People and not only. Every day we meet many families, children, elderly people, accompanied by their pets. “Our cat is a member of the family to all intents and purposes,” says Irina, who has returned to Odessa to fetch her daughters’ cat. Mother of two girls, she fled the bombings, leaving behind her father and her two animals, a dog and a cat. A month ago, she and her girls reached Berlin and settled there. But these days our staff met her again in Palanca, with her cat.


This is the first time that there is a veterinary doctor on our staff. “Together with the refugees, there are also a lot of pets, especially dogs and cats,” says Pierangelo Casale, veterinary for INTERSOS in Moldova. We assist the animals, he explains, “but at the same time we act on people’s well-being. Our presence is a symptom of the sensitivity of those who arrive, it is the first time that it happens that people fleeing bring their pets with them. They are part of the family, if the family flees, the animals go with them”.


Helping animals to give psychological support to families


Veterinary assistance is part of the broader framework of psychological support for families and children forced to flee. Khateline and her mother came from Mykolaiv, together with their cat, Tom. They approached our vet because due to stress the cat kept breaking its nails trying to open the cage. At first they did not want to communicate, they were very agitated. Then during the vet visit, they started to open up and tell their story: the cat had been entrusted to them by a friend who had enlisted. When the bombing increased, mother and daughter decided to leave Ukraine and take Tom with them. “We were afraid we wouldn’t be able to cross the border because the cat doesn’t have a passport and now we are worried that we won’t find a place that also welcomes animals,” explains Khateline, heading with her mother to Germany.


Pets, like people, also suffer the trauma of the conflict, arriving tired and frightened from the journey. Pierangelo Casale says that most of them suffer from stress, “it means that they are animals that are used to not moving much and this quick and sudden transition, together with the loud noises of the bombing, creates stress and worry. They arrive here in Palanca nervous and bewildered. Before the visit I try to calm them down, for example by using valerian”. The focus of a frontline veterinary intervention is to try to convey tranquillity to the people who arrive. “The presence of animals has a significant impact especially on boys and girls, who feel calmer having their dogs or cats with them, this makes them less worried”.

Flavia Melillo
Flavia Melillo