Tag: Russia

Lion Cubs From Ukraine Find A Safe Home In Minnesota Sanctuary

As the brilliant but depressing Pride of Baghdad documented in horrific detail, war isn’t just hard on humans, it’s hell on animals too.

The real-life lions in that drama were left to fend for themselves when American and coalition aircraft began pounding Baghdad in 2003, and their harrowing journey began when an errant missile literally opened a path for them to walk right out of the otherwise abandoned zoo.

As Russian soldiers began pouring over the border into Ukraine and Moscow’s missiles and artillery struck population centers earlier this year, Ukrainian activists sought to avoid a similar fate for their animals and worked on getting wildlife out of the zoos and the country, but there was only so much capacity at sanctuaries in countries like neighboring Poland.

At the same time, remaining in Ukraine was untenable. After Russian forces suffered a series of humiliating ground defeats to a Ukrainian counteroffensive — fueled by weapons systems and tactical intelligence from the US and other NATO countries — Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered heavy and sustained missile strikes on civilian targets and critical infrastructure in already war-torn Ukraine.

One of his goals is to completely destroy the Ukrainian power grid via missile attacks on coal and gas plants as well as electricity substations, perhaps believing Ukraine might give up its opposition as its population freezes during the region’s harsh winters. The attacks have reached far into Ukraine, hitting the capital of Kyiv and cities like Lviv, which is more than 1,000 km from Russian territory, and some missiles have even disrupted power to neighboring Moldova. The Ukrainian people have not given up despite already enduring months of Russian artillery shelling, occupation and brutality.

But without electricity or reliable access to basics like clean water, caring for the remaining animals has become an impossibility as most people struggle just to keep warm, fed and hydrated.

Ukraine lion cubs
One of the cubs rescued from Ukraine, now living at The Wildlife Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota. Credit: The Wildlife Sanctuary

As a result, a quartet of lion cubs born several months into the war had to endure an epic, 36-hour journey that took them from Ukraine to Poland and finally to Sandstone, Minnesota, where they’re easing into their permanent home at The Wildlife Sanctuary. The facility is a non-profit and entirely funded by private donations, which means it’s not open to the public. Animals aren’t put on display, and their enclosures are built entirely for them, not for the benefit of visitor sight lines.

The lion cubs, who are all orphans, have already been indelibly impacted by the war.

“These cubs have endured more in their short lives than any animal should,” said Meredith Whitney of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which facilitated the transport of the young cats some 5,000 miles from Ukraine to the central US.

The cubs, all between four and five months old, are named Taras, Stefania, Lesya and Prada. Taras is male while the others are female.

“We’ve cared for 300 big cats at TWS and are acutely aware of the trauma many big cats around the world experience,” said Tammy Thies, the sanctuary’s founder. “From the moment IFAW reached out to request our partnership, we knew these cubs had found their forever home at our sanctuary. They have a custom, open space to explore and soft grass or hay to rest their tired bodies on. Because of the generosity of our supporters, we can provide lifelong care to big cats at our sanctuary.”

Ukraine lion cubs
Bottle babies: The cubs are all between four and five months old and were not weaned before they were orphaned. Credit: The Wildlife Sanctuary

 

Pride-of-Baghdad-1
Pride of Baghdad is a 2006 graphic novel based on the true story of four lions who escaped Baghdad Zoo during coalition airstrikes in 2003. It’s poignant, beautifully illustrated and wonderfully told, but also harrowing and deeply upsetting.

Little Ukrainian Girl Whose Family Fled To The US Is Reunited With Beloved Cat

Call me cheesy, but despite the polarization in our country, despite our disgusting political system and despite the fact that we’ve got plenty of flaws, America is still a good place to live and most Americans are good people.

I’m reminded of how lucky we have it here when I see photos of Uyghurs lined up by the thousands with their dead eyes in China’s concentration camps, and when I see clips of ghoulish Putin cronies on Russian state TV gleefully cackling at footage of destroyed Ukrainian hospitals, and laughing as they talk about drowning Ukrainian children.

I’m reminded of it in a much more hopeful way when I read stories like this one about 10-year-old Ukrainian Agnessa Bezhenar, whose family fled their war-torn country, spent time in Romania as refugees and eventually ended up in California.

Not only did Agnessa have to leave the only country she’d ever known and adjust to two foreign countries, and not only does she have to learn a new language and adjust to a new school, but her heart’s been broken since she had to leave behind her cat, Arsenii.

Agnessa with Arsenii
Agnessa was overcome with emotion after reuniting with Arsenii. Credit: Maria Bezhenar

Thanks to the efforts of two kind flight attendants, a volunteer at an animal rescue and her supportive new community in Cloverdale, Cali., Agnessa was finally reunited with Arsenii, a silver tabby with decidedly Buddesian looks. (No wonder Agnessa loves him so much!)

Geoffry Peters, the Californian who provided his second home to the Bezhenar family, also helped arrange to have Arsenii brought to the US.

“Can you imagine your life being turned upside down and you have to leave a country you’ve never left before, ride on an airplane you’ve never done before? Arrive in a new country, learn a language,” Peters told CBS News. “I mean, it’s like starting from scratch, only it’s on steroids. It’s like everything moving 100 miles an hour.”

Peters connected with the family through a program that helps Ukrainian refugees find homes in the US.

“Maria [Bezhenar] sent an email saying we’ve been matched and we have a family of six,” Peters said. “And so I went to my son and I said instead of renting this house, which he was planning on doing, would you be willing to donate it for two years?”

A flight attendant the Bezhenars met en route to the US connected the family with a fellow flight attendant who does animal rescue and recommended a local animal non-profit. When the staff at that rescue were told about Agnessa’s predicament, they contacted a colleague who was vacationing in Greece. That colleague agreed to travel to Bucharest, where Agnessa’s uncle had stayed behind and was caring for Arsenii. (A Ukrainian version of the Greek name Arsenios.)

The colleague brought Arsenii to California, a trip that took human and cat from Bucharest to Greece to Montreal, then Seattle and finally to Cloverdale. In all, Arsenii traveled more than 7,000 miles to be reunited with Agnessa.

waiting for Arsenii
Agnessa and her older sisters waiting for Arsenii to arrive at the airport. Credit: Maria

Much like the Bezhenar family had arrived in the US to find Cloverdale locals holding up signs welcoming them to the US, the Bezhenars greeted Arsenii with their own signs — and lots of tears — when his long journey was finally over.

It’s been a rough year filled with trauma for the Bezhenar family, but they’ve found a new community, new friends like Peters, and have the support of people in Cloverdale, who worked together to make sure the Bezhenar’s new home was furnished when they moved in. They even got a piano for the home after hearing the kids liked to play.

After her daughter was reunited with Arsenii — and began sleeping better with the comfort of the little guy snoozing next to her every night — her mother Maria reflected on her family’s new community in Cloverdale. Continue reading “Little Ukrainian Girl Whose Family Fled To The US Is Reunited With Beloved Cat”

FurryGate: Rogan, Boebert, Greene Drag Cats Into Politics With Claims Of Litter Boxes In Schools

The physicist Michio Kaku was a guest on a radio show and was answering a question about possible intelligent life visiting Earth when Joe Rogan interrupted him.

“The three pyramids are aligned with Orion’s belt,” Rogan said. “Do your research, man. Look it up.”

Rogan, who was into 9/11 truther conspiracies at the time, went on to explain how the Egyptians couldn’t possibly have built the pyramids on their own, and that aliens helped them align the positions of the giant structures to correspond to important celestial features.

Here was Kaku, one of the brightest minds in human history, co-founder of string field theory, a man whose textbooks are required reading for PhD-level physics students, getting talked over and “educated” by a pothead who rose to fame hosting a game show in which he forced contestants to eat cockroaches.

I thought of that cringey interaction this week after reading about Rogan insisting school districts are accommodating kids who identify as cats by replacing toilets with litter boxes in school bathrooms.

Rogan’s source was rock solid if you’re the type of person who thinks ancient aliens traveled thousands of lights to the Earth of deep antiquity to teach human beings how to stack stones on top of each other: Rogan’s friend’s wife, who works at the school district, insisted the litter box story is true.

Like previous claims of school administrators gone mad in service to alleged furries, Rogan’s claim was intentionally nebulous and unverifiable. He didn’t name the school, the district or the teacher. We have to take his word for it.

If you like that sort of thing, I have good news for you! Rogan’s in great company.

Marjorie Taylor Greene — the congresswoman who once claimed “Jewish space lasers” were responsible for California wildfires, the shining testament to US education standards who warned “the Gazpacho police” will imprison patriotic Americans, the genteel stateswoman who said scientists are creating fake meat in “Peach tree dishes” to “zap” Americans — has also warned of the apparently widespread practice of furry school children shitting in litter boxes.

Not to be outdone, Rep. Lauren Boebert has co-signed the cat conspiracy, telling donors that evil cat-loving people are hell bent on destroying wholesome American values by unleashing cat-identified children on an innocent and unsuspecting public.

Say it enough and it becomes true

The claims have been repeated so many times that they’ve spread to school board meetings and state legislatures across the country, perpetuated by gerontocratic leaders who think The Onion is a real news source. Two current gubernatorial candidates, in Colorado and Minnesota, have also repeated the claim.

“Schools are not disclosing that they are allowing children who identify as snakes, cats, whatever, they’re providing litter boxes for the [student] cats,” a Tennessee state representative said during a hearing in September. “And obviously it’s very disruptive to the learning process. If a child has that much of a self-identity issue they probably need a different environment, and it’s creating a lot of anxiety, a lot of confusion with the children who are boys and girls.”

“But Big Buddy,” you might be thinking, “I thought you said PITB was apolitical and you’re a moderate?”

It is, and I am.

I dislike all ideology equally because it invites people to abdicate their responsibility to think for themselves. I believe our two-party system and the divisiveness it fuels could be the ruin of our great nation, particularly at a time when polls show up to half the US population expects to fight in an ideologically-driven civil war. I worry that we are doing precisely what our enemies want by feuding amongst ourselves. Indeed, we know for a fact that “troll farms” in countries like Russia and China exist to sow the seeds of division and crank up poisonous political rhetoric online.

But I’m also against pure, abject, mind-boggling, depressing, Idiocracy-style stupidity and the idea that anything is true if someone says it is. Neither party has a monopoly on this kind of thing.

In particular, I’m not a fan of injecting cats into the American culture wars. (Although it’s not just cats at this point. A Texas school district was forced to deny rumors that administrators were allowing “furries” to eat out of dog bowls in school cafeterias.)

We already fail these innocent creatures in myriad ways, from allowing declawing and doing little to improve weak animal welfare laws, to tolerating the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable for people to shoot cats with arrows, BBs and real firearms as some grotesque form of entertainment.

Now people want to use cats as the rope in a perverse game of cultural tug-of-war, which could further degrade their status and lead to more proxy violence against them.

Cats are vulnerable, and are already targets of hate

Violent criminals, including the perpetrators of the recent mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, often get their start by killing cats before “graduating” to humans.

Cats are also frequent victims of redirected anger, with studies showing they’re abused and killed in domestic violence situations because they’re viewed as extensions of the feminine, or simply because killing them causes emotional distress to the people who care for them.

Of domestic violence victims who have pets, more than 70 percent of their abusers also took their rage out on the victims’ pets.

Politics have pervaded and infected so many things, cats and dogs are now staked to territory on either side of the political fault lines.

So how long will it be before an Alex Jones type claims the government is using cats to spy on Americans? The best conspiracy theories always have a nugget of truth to them, after all, and in the 1960s the CIA tried — and failed, spectacularly — to use cats implanted with transmitters to spy on Soviet officials.

How long before a Boebert or a Greene tells a crowd that it’s their patriotic duty to shoot “liberal cats” on sight? How long before Tucker Carlson follows up one of his thrilling UFO/crop circle/cow mutilation investigative specials with a breathless exclusive about America-hating cats?

“Why do so many cats want to see America burn? Why do cats like to line their litter boxes with the American flag? Does the government allow cats to vote? Hey, I’m just asking questions!”

If you think that’s outlandish, I’d point out that we’ve been there, done that.

Tucker Swanson Carlson has already claimed that “decadent rich people” who “detest the country” like to plot America’s downfall from cat cafes. Those evil America-haters stroke cats and sip lattes while “working through the night to destroy” our great nation, Carlson told his viewers. I’m not making this up.

Europeans almost extirpated domestic cats in the middle ages when people were convinced they carried the Black Plague, and cats had even bigger targets on their backs after the Inquisition’s most overzealous prosecutors insisted felines were used in Satanic rituals.

Likewise, my Google News alert for cat-related articles shows a depressing, never-ending feed of stories about people chugging beer and shooting cats with BB guns, mystery killers strangling neighborhood kitties and “hunters” who put arrows through these sentient, innocent animals who have the mental and emotional capacity of three-year-old human children.

And there’s already plenty of nonsense online about how our choice of pet reflects our political beliefs, as well as unhinged rants about the kind of people who prefer cats. There are even research studies about the intersection of politics and attitudes toward companion animals, and research shows certain people consider cats “liberal” because they don’t adhere to social hierarchies and don’t recognize authority.

Is it really a stretch to imagine some 85, deep into a case of Miller High Life, taking target practice at neighborhood cats because he sees them as evil, feminine, America-hating animals? Are we sure it doesn’t happen already?

Politics really does ruin everything.

This Good Boy Has Helped Defuse 150 Russian Explosives In Ukraine

This is a cat blog, but every once in a while Little Buddy the Cat magnanimously allows us to issue well-deserved props to dogs who do extraordinary things, like Patron, a two-year-old Jack Russell terrier in Ukraine.

The bomb-sniffing good boy has so far sniffed out 150 dangerous explosives, including landmines and live ordnance left behind by the retreating Russians, according to Ukraine’s foreign ministry. He finds the explosives, tells his human buddies, and the de-miners go to work on neutralizing the devices.

Not only does Patron help save lives at a crucial time in the war, when Russian forces are covering their retreat with mines and other traps, he’s also a handsome little guy and he happily cuddles with kids who could really use a little brightness after what they’ve endured. Is there anything Patron can’t do?

Patron and other bomb-sniffing dogs perform a critical task as they help their human handlers sweep cities and towns before civilians can return. While some “experts” predicted Ukraine would fall in days, the country has shocked the world by not only enduring the Russian invasion, but pushing the invaders back after inflicting heavy losses on them.

Making home safe for returning refugees

As a result of their failure Russian units are consolidating in eastern Ukraine, and some Ukrainians are cautiously returning to what’s left of their cities and neighborhoods for the first time since the Feb. 24 invasion. Since Russia abandoned efforts to take Kyiv and the entire country, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been returning home every day, according to a United Nations report.

While Kyiv was a ghost town just a few weeks ago, people have returned to the streets, bakeries and cafes have reopened, and churches are holding services again. Patron and his buddies are making sure hidden mines and other traps are neutralized before people come home, avoiding further tragedy after so much loss.

Patron has been helping clear Chernihiv and its surrounding environs. The northern Ukrainian city, which is about 150 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, has been designated a “Hero City” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The title has also been given to cities like Kharkiv, Volnovakha and Mariupol, and marks sites where Ukrainians dug in to defend their homes despite the brutality of the Russian invasion.

“One day, Patron’s story will be turned into a film, but for now, he is faithfully performing his professional duties,” staffers at Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security wrote on Twitter when they shared a video of Patron last month.

Cats have your back, dawgs!

Buddy the Cat salutes Patron and says cats “would totally would help sniff out explosives, but the dogs seem to have a handle on that and we don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder.”

Instead, Buddy said, he’s sure the felines of Ukraine are engaged in some other kind of dangerous, patriotic work, such as reminding humans when it’s dinner time, keeping seats warm and providing delightful company to the war-weary.

In Ukraine, Cats and Dogs Suffer Along With Their Human Companions

If you’ve got a cat who doesn’t handle the Fourth of July well and gets freaked out by the annual fireworks, imagine that multiplied by about a thousand, with no respite.

Then imagine that, instead of reassurance from calm humans who know the explosions are just part of a celebration, the cats and dogs of cities like Kiev pick up on the anxiety of the people around them, sensing their fear, reading their body language.

War takes a terrible toll on humanity, a fact that’s been well-documented for centuries, but much less has been written about the suffering and fate of animals in the crossfire of forces they can’t comprehend. (One outstanding take on animals in war is 2006’s Pride of Baghdad, a heartbreaking account of four lions who escaped Baghdad Zoo as US bombs rained down on the Iraqi capital. While Pride of Baghdad is a fictionalized account of what happened to those lions, the story is sadly, infuriatingly true and remains one of the lesser-known accounts among the tens of thousands of stories told about the toll of that war.)

In Ukraine, where the Russian military has taken control of the local airspace and destroyed the country’s airports, people are taking their pets and what possessions they can as they try to escape by land via routes to the border that are backed up by 15 miles or more.

Ukrainian soldier with stray cat
A soldier holds a cat in Mariupol, southeastern Ukraine. Credit: Aleksey Filippov

Meanwhile, as all men of fighting age have been called to stay, stray dogs have been a comfort to Ukrainians on the front line. The soldiers feed the dogs, and the hyper-vigilant dogs alert the soldiers to any unusual activity they pick up on.

“She immediately barks or growls if the enemy is planning an attack. It’s safer and calmer with her – no wonder they say that a dog is man’s best friend,” a 21-year-old Ukrainian soldier named Mykyta told Agency France-Presse as he gave an affectionate pet to a dog adopted by his unit.

Stray cats are cozying up to the soldiers as well. Dmytro, a 29-year-old soldier, said a black cat he named Chernukha has kept him company and helped him cope.

“You come back to the post, lie down on the bed, and here comes Chernukha,” Dmytro told AFP. Chernukha “lies on your stomach and looks at you as if she wants to be petted. It’s a sedative.”

Like many Ukrainians, staff and volunteers who man the country’s shelters have remained defiant and refused to leave. In Kiev, staff at Best Friends shelter are rationing food and trying to locate more.

“It is very difficult and scary for [the animals] and for us. Due to the fighting, suppliers of food for animals are not working,” a shelter staffer told Newsweek. “We need help now with animal food and its transportation to the shelter. We will also be grateful for the financial support.”

Getting food is already difficult and will become more so as Russian troops push further into the capital and civilians hunker down in homes, basements and bomb shelters.

Nastya Aboliesheva, who works for Kiev-based Happy Paw shelter, said “no one is willing to risk their lives to deliver what is needed.”

“Our work now remains important and necessary, because animals do not understand what is happening and also need food and treatment….the main thing that people can help now is not to throw their animals at random, but to be near them or to evacuate with the animals,” she said. “We very much hope that local authorities in Kyiv and other cities will allow people to take animals in boxes to bomb shelters.”

Top image: A Ukrainian soldier petting a cat. Credit: AFP