After finding out his human attended the Maryland Renaissance Faire over the weekend — where vendors sold giant turkey drumsticks, roasted turkey and fried turkey — Buddy the Cat threatened military action against his human.
The silver tabby cat was magnanimous and didn’t give his human the cold shoulder after the latter returned home after several days away, but flew into a rage when he saw photos of the Renaissance faire.
“What is this?” the angry cat said, confronting his human with photos of a stall offering plump turkey legs. “You knew they had all sorts of turkey and you didn’t bring me?!? Et tu, Big Buddy?”
Turkey stall at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Annapolis, MD.
Sources say Buddy was last seen mumbling about “raising [his] legions” and stewing in anger over his human’s thoughtless actions.
“I was left here all alone for three days with only someone coming by to feed me pate while you attended a festival, drank meade and had a grand old time?” Buddy asked.
The feline’s anger intensified after his human pointed out his cat sitter used to happily play with him until he attacked her on two of the three previous occasions she cared for him.
“Fake news!” Buddy yelled. “Erroneous! You must make right this grave injustice, human, or face my wrath! And by correcting this grave injustice, I mean only turkey will salve my wounds.”
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.
Patron is a service dog in #Chernihiv. He has discovered over 150 explosive devices in #Ukraine since full scale #Russian invasion began. Patron works closely with deminers to make #Ukrainian cities safe again.
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.
A dog called Patron, who works with SES rescuers in Chernihiv, has helped defuse nearly 90 explosive devices since the beginning of the full-scale invasion 🐶 One day, Patron's story will be turned into a film, but for now, he is faithfully performing his professional duties. pic.twitter.com/2PpT8p4Yfr
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.
Patron atop a destroyed Russian tank.
Patron is one of many animals living through war in Ukraine and enduring alongside their human friends.
A Ukrainian EOD tech shows explosives found by Patron, the bomb-sniffing Jack Russell terrier.
When he’s not helping his buddies find dangerous explosives, Patron cuddles with kids.
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.
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
Human beings have lived in the city known as Aleppo for more than 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest continually-inhabited settlements in human history.
But as the raging civil war in Syria expanded and bombs began to fall on the country’s largest city, there was an unprecedented mass exodus — reducing Aleppo’s population from 4.6 million in 2010 to less than 600,000 by 2014.
Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel was one of the stubborn few who stayed. His wife and children fled to safety in Turkey in 2015, but anchored by his commitment to people who couldn’t leave, Aljaleel stayed behind to continue driving his ambulance and feeding a growing population of abandoned cats.
At first friends and acquaintances turned to Aljaleel to take their cats as they prepared to flee the crumbling city, knowing he was fond of felines and would care for them as his own.
Others heard about the “cat man of Aleppo,” and soon Aljaleel’s home became a sanctuary for former pets from all over the city, which was becoming a ghost town.
With few remaining people to feed them — and food sources like restaurant dumpsters drying up — hungry stray cats started showing up too.
“Since everyone has left the country, including my own friends, these cats have become my friends here,” Aljaleel said in 2016, as a BBC camera crew filmed him among the hundreds of cats in his care.
One day a car pulled up and a little girl stepped out, cradling a cat.
Her parents “knew there was a cat sanctuary here,” Aljaleel told the BBC at the time. “The girl had brought the cat up since she was a kitten. She cried as she handed her over to me, and they left the country.”
For many people leaving the city in search of refuge in Europe or elsewhere in Syria, the decision to leave a beloved pet was agonizing.
But entrusting a cat to Aljaleel and his makeshift sanctuary — where the animal would be fed and well cared for — was much more palatable than making it to the border of an EU country only for a border guard or customs official to refuse the cat entry, forcing families to choose between pet and safety.
For people like the little girl, knowing their cats were in Aljaleel’s sanctuary meant maintaining a tie to home and hope that they could return.
“I’ve been taking photos of the cat and sending them to her in Turkey. She begs me, ‘Send me photos of her. I miss her. Please promise to return my cat to me when I get back.'”
That was in 2016. Almost five years later it looks like the young girl won’t be returning to Syria, and her cat is likely dead.
After Aljaleel’s makeshift cat sanctuary swelled to include more than 200 cats, things took a turn for the worse.
The Syrian government and rebel forces dug in, calling on allies for support and resources. ISIS and Iranian-backed insurgents entered the fray, seeing opportunity to advance their own interests amid the chaos.
So too did Russia and the United States. Both countries treated the conflict as a proxy war, with Russia backing Assad and his Syrian government forces, while the US and its allies threw their support behind an opposition that grew out of the Arab Spring in 2011.
The US and Russia provided the combatants with training and weapons systems, increasing the destructive firepower at the command of the belligerents. Both countries sought to advance their geopolitical ambitions in the region when they entered the conflict.
In internal memos justifying intervention in Syria, the US State Department predicted the civil war would flare out in months. Instead, the war has now lasted more than a decade, and in a move The Guardian called “a bloody end to [former President Barack] Obama’s reign,” in 2016 the US dropped 26,171 bombs on countries in the Middle East, with Syria absorbing the lion’s share.
Perhaps it was one of those bombs — or a bomb from Russia, or one of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s own warheads — that obliterated Aljaleel’s sanctuary. It’s unlikely anyone will ever know. But one thing all sides agree on is that the chlorine gas was courtesy of Assad, who has not hesitated to use chemical weapons against his own people in the bloody war.
Weeks after Aljaleel was featured in a BBC short about the impact of the war, Aljaleel “watched helplessly as his cat sanctuary was first bombed, then gassed during the intense final stages of the siege of Aleppo,” per the BBC.
Some 180 of the 200 or so cats who found refuge with Aljaleel were killed by the bomb and the chlorine gas, and the stubborn man who dug in his heels and cared for Aleppo’s cats while everyone else fled finally gave up on his city.
Aljaleel and his cats survived the power outages, the destruction of the water works, the food shortages and a military siege of the city, but now the Cat Man of Aleppo was just a cat man in an ambulance.
He packed the few surviving cats, his meager possessions and a few sick, injured or elderly people into an ambulance and joined a convoy of civilians escaping the crumbling city. It was a tense and perilous journey, as those who fled knew Assad had no reservations about targeting his own people if it served his goals.
After seeing his family and recovering in Turkey, and with the help of an Italian benefactor and a growing community of supporters on social media, Aljaleel took his cats and his friends to a rural area in Syria, far from targets of opportunity, where he purchased a plot of land, put down roots and began his sanctuary anew.
Ernesto’s Paradise is home to several hundred cats, plus four monkeys, horses, rabbits and dogs. There’s a playground for kids and — after a long search to find a veterinarian who hadn’t fled — Ernesto’s finally has a doctor in the house too.
The civil war in Syria has created perhaps the worst refugee crises in modern history, with millions fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in search of sanctuary.
The war had claimed 387,118 souls as of December 2020, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Another 205,300 were missing and presumed dead, according to SOHR. In addition, more than 88,000 people have been tortured to death in Assad’s prisons, while thousands more were taken by ISIS and other terrorist groups operating in the country.
But “children and animals are the big losers” in war, Aljaleel told the BBC, and that’s why he chose to return.
“I’ve always felt it’s my duty and my pleasure to help people and animals whenever they need help,” he said. “I believe that whoever does this will be the happiest person in the world, besides being lucky in his life.”
You can follow and support Aljaleel’s work via Twitter, Facebook and by visiting his sanctuary’s official site. Direct donations to the sanctuary can be sent here.
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.