ashland.news
July 23, 2024

Dispatch from Ukraine: Comforting the afflicted — and getting some in return

Taking Gashtun for a walk. Paul Huard photo
July 23, 2023

Helping others, even of the canine variety, ends up helping oneself

Editor’s note: Ashland High School teacher and Ashland.news freelance reporter Paul Huard is volunteering this summer in Ukraine. Here’s his fourth dispatch about his experience.

By Paul R. Huard for Ashland.news

LVIV, Ukraine, July 20, 2023 — They say that people who volunteer in Ukraine frequently come to heal, or to be healed.

I found out recently that I am no exception — in fact, I experienced both.

Paul Huard

My modest efforts as a volunteer are deemed helpful by the people I work with. I will never tolerate the almost nightly air alerts, but at least the city has not yet been bombed again by Russian missiles. There are incredible people, people who have been in Ukraine for 18 months and people who are here only for a short time — but of all of us want to do the right thing.

We want to help.

Sometimes, the helpers are tired. I was, and I needed a break.

One colleague offered a suggestion. “You should go to the animal shelter,” she said. “Go walk a dog. It’s good for you.”

The shelter my friend recommended is the Home of Rescued Animals. Located in a park above central Lviv, the nonprofit shelter helps all manner of abandoned, exploited, abused and hurt animals. It has about 1,600 beasts under its care.

Since Russia escalated its war against Ukraine last year, the need to care for wounded and lost pets has only grown. There are always more animals and never enough people to work with them.

When I arrived, I asked the workers if I could help in any way. My lack of Ukrainian language skills made communication difficult, but eventually I encountered a volunteer who spoke Spanish because he had lived in Argentina as part of the Ukrainian diaspora.

It was a surprising turn of events, but my mediocre Spanish is better than my best Ukrainian on any day. Soon, I was led to the kennels where dogs barked and howled anytime a person walked in.

With all respect to “cat people,” “fish people,” “reptile people,” or even “gerbil people,” I adore dogs. I have since I was a child, and as an adult I have grown to respect and admire the species.

It is an animal gentle enough to play with a human baby, but brave enough and resourceful enough to sniff out bombs or walk a perimeter with a soldier.

Or, as I like to say, a dog will take a bullet for a human. A cat would just eat the corpse. (Sorry, cat lovers.)

In the section of the kennels I stood in, I counted more than 20 dogs, ranging in age from puppies to senior dogs. Most were large dogs, and all appeared to be mixed breeds.

A worker opened a cage and out bounded a sizable mutt with a handsome profile.

Gashtun, one of the more than 100 dogs at the Home of Rescued Animals in Lviv, Ukraine. Paul Huard photo

“His name is Gashtun,” the worker said. (I was later told that his name is Ukrainian for “chestnut,” a reference to his color.) He fastened a lead to Gashtun’s collar and motioned for me to take the dog for a walk.

It was more a matter of the dog taking me for a walk.

I lay no claim to specialized knowledge of canines, but friends who care for rescue dogs have told me that stress, anxiety and grief could be as much a part of a dog’s emotions as a human’s feelings. He had quite literally just been let out of his cage — his behavior was no surprise.

In a patch of shade, I sat down on a pile of logs and started to talk to Gashtun. I petted him, scratched his chest, rubbed his ears, and spoke to him in as soothing a voice I could muster.

Gashtun soaked in the attention and affection. Rolling on his side, he let me scratch his belly.

We spent time together in the shade for about 10 minutes, just getting to know one another. While there, I saw other dogs with volunteers pass by, some of the mutts missing limbs because they had tangled with Russian munitions.

Yet, they were so happy to be with people. One beautiful husky limped over on three legs with a big dog smile to check out Gashtun, and to check out me. I petted him too.

A load of cats evacuated from Kherson arrive in Lviv, Ukraine. Photo from the Home of Rescued Animals Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/461999330624925/permalink/2628269853997851/

And then I began to cry. This is quite a confession for me to make in public — I consider myself a salty, hard-boiled type that comes from the old school of reporters.

But here were these dogs, wounded physically and mentally by human cruelty, who were still willing to show affection and trust to the species that harmed them.

I thought of the dogs in my life and how I would be heartbroken if similar evil befell them.

Years ago, when I first began to volunteer to do humanitarian work, I received excellent advice: You can’t help them all, but you can help the one in front of you. Today, that meant a dog.

I let Gashtun drag me everywhere because he enjoyed it. I petted him and told him he was a good dog, knowing that I could not take him home.

An hour later, I returned him to the kennel, silently praying that Gashtun would have kindly and good people give him a home. Then, I said goodbye.

The Home of Rescued Animals, a nonprofit organization, accepts donations through PayPal at domivka_@ukr.net. Their Instagram page can be found at @shelter_domivka. Their Facebook page is found under the name The Home of Rescued Animals Lviv. You can also contact the home for further information at domivkas@gmail.com.

Paul R. Huard was a reporter who covered government and the military for Gannett newspapers. His freelance work included assignments in Estonia and Spain. During the summer of 2022, he volunteered as a humanitarian relief worker in Przemysl, Poland, where he assisted Ukrainian refugees. This summer, he will continue his work by volunteering in Ukraine.  He lives in Ashland. Email Huard at paulrhuard@gmail.com.

Read previous Dispatches from Ukraine here:

No. 1: Far from home, not far from the front

No. 2: Building may be shaken, but spirits aren’t

No. 3: Planning tip — plan for plans to change

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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