Vancouver non-profit helps Ukrainian refugees keep their pets (PHOTOS)

Apr 7 2022, 8:00 pm

The self-proclaimed “crazy dog lady” who founded Vancouver’s Animal Food Bank is working hard to keep Ukrainian refugees and their pets together as they go through war, transience, and poverty.

The project actually started with providing support to organizations working on the ground in Ukraine, Nicole Frey explains.

“It initially started with us helping him set up feeding stations at those refugee intake centres and to help him find housing for pets of refugees,” she said.

Instead of sheltering dogs, the Animal Food Bank focuses on keeping owners and furry friends together through tough times. Its mandate is to “provide services and support so happy, loved pets can stay with their guardians,” but Frey jokes that the motto is, “Winging it since 2019.”

“Some days we just don’t know what we’re going to be up against, but as soon as we find a gap, we do our best to fill it,” she shared, adding that’s what they’re doing with their aid for Ukrainians.

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Dogs in Ukraine/Vancouver Animal Food Bank

The food bank worked closely with representatives from other non-profits Breaking the Chains and Planting Peace to assess needs in Ukraine. One of them is in the war zone there, doing its best to transport animals to safety.

“We’re in constant contact with him, just trying to make sure we can provide support,” she said.

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Dogs in Ukraine/Vancouver Animal Food Bank

The Vancouver Animal Food Bank’s contact from Planting the Peace primarily helps refugees entering Poland and Romania get what they need to keep and care for their pets.

She recalls one situation where a Ukrainian family had to surrender their dog because they couldn’t find any pet-friendly housing while fleeing the war.

“It was this beautiful moment where the stars aligned and he showed up there and was able to allow them to keep their dog and take them to pet-friendly housing he secured,” she said. “It’s really amazing to be a part of that.”

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Dogs in Ukraine/Vancouver Animal Food Bank

Frey says she wouldn’t have been able to do it without the lessons she learned while helping BC’s fire and flood evacuees keep their pets over the years.

“When I watched the events starting to unfold in Ukraine, I was like, ‘I bet you they’re going to face some of the same hurdles that people in Canada face when they’re evacuating with their pets,’” said Frey.

“It was really that simple: What can we do to help and how do we make sure that anyone who’s able to escape with their animals has some support services there for them?”

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Dogs in Ukraine/Vancouver Animal Food Bank

BC’s natural disasters and supply chain issues also validated that people will go above and beyond to feed their pets, demonstrating the need for their work.

“They will spend their ESS voucher for pet food versus feeding themselves. They’ll sleep in their cars. We had people sleeping in cars because they couldn’t find a hotel that was pet-friendly,” she said.

“All of those hypotheses and philosophies we had really were revalidated in the fires and floods of 2021, and I took a lot of those assumptions with me when I was approaching the organizations able to be on the ground in Ukraine, Poland, and Romania.”

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Dogs in Ukraine/Vancouver Animal Food Bank

Frey says she mostly gives people who contact her the “benefit of the doubt,” and doesn’t ask for much information before sending the goods.

Anyone who asks them or one of their partners for help housing a dog while they live through war will get as much help as they can provide, she adds.

Their mandate doesn’t align with “the old-school philosophy of means tests, meaning people have to prove they’re poor, have to prove need,” said Frey.

“I do anticipate we will be taken advantage of here and there, but I refuse to let the few impact the many. It’s not going to happen very often,” she said.

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Dogs in Ukraine/Vancouver Animal Food Bank

Running the pet food bank is a volunteer position for her and everyone else who works there. She does it out of passion and goodwill and encourages anyone who needs a helping hand to reach out using the email on their website.

“If you are a refugee and you’re reading this, if you’re hosting a refugee and you’re reading this, or you know a refugee who has pets and you’re reading this — reach out to us,” she said.

As more Ukrainian refugees arrive in Canada, she says they’ll be trying to support them too. For now, they’re stocking up on supplies like dog beds, leashes and collars, harnesses, food, and medication.

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