Wags and kisses reunion for war-separated pair
Before fleeing a war zone, Lucy had already suffered a sad start to life. An acid attack when she was very young left her blind and alone at a Ukrainian animal shelter. But her luck changed when she met owner Liam, a British man who was studying at university in Dnipro, one of the country’s largest cities.
Liam says: “The university was involved in taking some food to the animal shelter to donate and that's where I first met her and she stood out from the other dogs obviously because of her disability. She just seemed very vulnerable so I was drawn to her more than the other dogs.
“And after meeting her, I just couldn’t stop thinking about her so I contacted the shelter and agreed to look after on a trial basis initially but I fell in love with her straight away.”
When the Russian army launched its assault, Liam knew he had to evacuate but there was no way to bring Lucy to the UK immediately. Through the animal shelter, he arranged for a foster carer to look after Lucy while he sought a way to bring her to safety.
Strict rules in place to prevent rabies and other transmittable diseases from entering the UK meant that once on British soil, pets arriving from Ukraine have to undergo a period of isolation. For Lucy, that meant a four-month stint in kennels.
With her sad early life leaving Lucy worried by new people and experiences, and her disability meaning new environments could make her anxious, Liam was devastated to be parted from the little crossbreed who had come to rely on him so much.
Speaking about being separated from Lucy, he says: “It’s difficult, because obviously with her disability she doesn’t know where she is. So it’s been stressful, I think particularly for me because she can’t see, so she’s quite an insecure dog at first when she meets new people. A lot of sounds scare her.”
But thankfully for the pair, Blue Cross stepped in to help just when they needed it most.
Some 80 years after we had done so during the Second World War, Blue Cross once again opened our doors to the pets of refugees needing to be quarantined before joining their human families in safety.
The facilities at our Hertfordshire rehoming centre, near Kimpton, have allowed us to care for dogs and cats fleeing the Ukraine conflict under quarantine restrictions while also providing much-needed physical and mental exercise on our secure site. And these desperate pets have also benefitted from the expertise of a dedicated team used to ensuring the security and happiness of pets going through hard times.
All of the pets who have been forced to leave their home country have had to cope with travelling thousands of kilometres, been separated from their human families, and come suddenly into a kennel environment when they were used to the comforts of home, but for Lucy - who cannot see - the experience has been even more unnerving.
Aaron Potter, Blue Cross Animal Welfare Assistant, explains how the team put together a bespoke plan to ensure Lucy felt safe in her temporary home, involving vocal cues to help her become familiar with her carers and the area.
“We put blankets on the floor of her kennel with a gap between the blanket and the wall to help Lucy to map her surroundings and avoiding knocking herself on the wall,” Aaron says. “We spoke to her so she knew who was there and had special words for things such as ‘step’ for climbing up or down steps, for when she went outdoors. We also put down treat trails to guide her through narrower paths.”
Over the weeks and months, Lucy grew in confidence. She was soon running through the long grass, nose to the floor, learning about the world around her through scent.
She quickly came to rely on the team, trusting that they were never far from her side when out on walks, says Sarah Miller, an Animal Welfare Assistant who cared for Lucy.
“Lucy would regularly check in with the team when out on walks to ensure she knew where we were and reliant on us speaking to her regularly so she was familiar with the walking routes.
“We feel very proud to have worked with these amazing pets. To hear what they and their owners have been through to get to this stage is inspirational. Lucy’s story particularly tugged at our heart strings and often we called her ‘The Wonder Dog’ as she inspired us to keep doing what we were doing.”
And although forced separation was difficult for Liam, he was pleased to know Lucy was being looked after. He says: “It's nice to know she’s in good care and people have been looking after her, and she’s got the outdoor space because she loves being outside. So yeah, it's been nice kind of knowing that she’s been cared for properly.”
At Blue Cross, Lucy had a little slice of home and although the team missed her company when her mandated-isolation period came to an end, they were delighted she was being reunited with her beloved owner.
And first on Liam’s list for Lucy as they reunite? “Lots of cuddles,” he says. “She’s going to meet my mum; my mum’s really looking forward to meeting her. So we’re going to do that, take her for a nice walk, and just settle her in. Just get her back to her normal routine.”
After all the pair has been through, those simple pleasures of cuddles and a walk with family are all that really matters.