‘Get Ready to Cry’: Reflecting on a month helping Ukrainian dogs of war

These are faces you won’t forget – the “war dogs” of Ukraine.

A dog at the rescue shelter at Przemysl, Poland. (Photos by Dan Fine)

For the past month, Edmonds residents Dan Fine and Tana Axtelle helped to treat and love these war survivors: some given up by refugees, others abandoned, many of them injured, all of them afraid.

Rescue crews try to save these dogs left behind in Ukraine.

Thousands of pets and farm animals are victims of the fighting. Many refuges have had to give up their pets when they entered Poland.

Tana Axtelle with new friends.

Axtelle knew she had to help. She has trained dogs for K-9 Companions, a service group that provides animals to those with disabilities and to professionals in health care, criminal justice and schools. She and Fine left Edmonds at the end of March to work in a rescue shelter just 10 miles from the Ukraine border in the Polish town of Przemysl. A veterinary clinic there is one of the rescue shelters.

Dan Fine with a rescued Ukrainian dog.

Fine’s passion for Ukraine developed years ago when he opened an office for his technology company, Fine Solutions. Fine has also worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, training dogs.

Throughout the month, the My Neighborhood News Network has reported on the pair’s work — here and here.

Axtelle returned to Edmonds in mid-April and Fine just arrived home. As he prepared to leave Poland, I asked Fine to share some of their experiences — these are his words and his pictures of “The Dogs of War”:

“Today is my last day in Przemysl and it’s fitting the air sirens would start to wail. I haven’t heard any missiles today, but I did last week when they hit Lviv, across the border.”

“During war, survival is often more difficult for domesticated animals. Stress is one thing, but we humans stripped away their survival skills. Now they deal with land mines, being shot, missiles or just finding something to eat.”

“Tana and I were in a unique position where we could drop everything at a moment’s notice and go on a journey, not knowing where we would end up. The only goals we had was to make a difference and do good.”

Tana Axtelle walks a rescued dog in Przemysl, Poland.

“The dog walking was our stability. You wake at 5 a.m. and start taking the dogs at the shelter out at 5:30 a.m. Then you leave for the Sanctuary at 6 a.m. and walk dogs until 9:30 a.m.. They all need to go out, stretch their legs and do their business…. I threw together my Apple Fitness results. In the 24 days of walking dogs, I did 586,163 steps or 263 miles”

 “Then they pull you back to their cage to get breakfast. Starting at 4 p.m., you walk them again, but during this session you can spend more time with them.”

At the rescue shelter

A number of the rescuers – several from the U.S. – volunteered to drive deep into Ukraine to delivers supplies and bring back animals.

Louis, a volunteer from Atlanta, points to the Russian missile shrapnel in his dog rescue van.

 “While making one of their deliveries, they were attacked by Russian jets,” Fine said. “The van got a piece of shrapnel from the attack, but fortunately the team was not inside, but taking cover behind a wall.”

The van with volunteer crew drove hundreds of miles to Karkiv, Ukraine to deliver supplies and rescue an elderly woman and her dog. All are now safe.

An example of the wounds some animals have endured.

“Today should have been a day of playing in the backyard, chasing a ball and digging in the dirt for Paulo,” Fine said. “Instead, he has been recovering from eight gunshot wounds. He was rescued from Ukraine and brought to Poland for treatment. He spends his days healing at ADA Foundation in Przemsyl, Poland. He is one of the very few, one of the fortunate. You can see the pain in Paulo’s face when I take him for a walk. He’s still excited to get back to his undersized cage for his breakfast.”

Click here to watch the Dogs of War video Dan Fine has taped. Warning: Parts of the video contain graphic images.

(Many animals have not survived. The photo below shows where rescuers prepared to bury these victims.
Survivors face long and difficult recoveries.

“Heart has gorgeous blue eyes and a cone, two stumps for back legs and a collar that says f**k Putin. Such a sweet dog. Today, I saw a dog that lost two legs on the same side. They gave him a prosthetic rear leg. I didn’t take a picture.”

When Dan arrived back in Edmonds, he made this final entry in his rescue diary:

“Get Ready To Cry. I Know I Did. This morning, I rolled over in bed unable to sleep because I’m still on Warsaw time. Kal-El (Dan’s dog) made a little grunting noise, so I reached over and stroked his head as he yawned. My first thought of the morning was how grateful and lucky I am I didn’t have to make the choice many Ukrainians did of leaving my loved pet behind while fleeing for my life.”

 Fine and Axtelle have established a Go Fund Me page as a secure donation site to support the injured animals: https://gofund.me/7ab09058

— By Bob Throndsen





  1. Thank you Dan and Tana for taking the time to make a difference to help these poor, sweet, innocent animals! Your sacrifices and bravery are admired. All for the love of dogs, who love us unconditionally.

  2. Dan and Tana are good friends of mine and now you can see why! They put their hearts and skills into action – for people, for dogs, for the good of the overall community. BRAVO dear friends!

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