TAMPA, Fla. - A South Florida rescue group has saved more than 100 dogs displaced in war-torn Ukraine. Earlier this month, Big Dog Ranch Rescue opened a shelter in Poland near the Ukrainian border to care for the dogs and are providing jobs to Ukrainians to help run the shelter.
Many families were forced to leave behind their dogs when they fled Ukraine after Russia invaded. Now, many of these dogs are in the arms of loving caretakers.
"They're defenseless without the help of humans. They have no way to survive," Big Dog Ranch Rescue founder Lauree Simmons said.
Simmons, who runs Big Dog Ranch Rescue in West Palm Beach, noticed the need, so back on May 17, she and her team traveled to Poland to help. They started by first sending money, food and supplies to shelters inside Ukraine, but realized many were at capacity, so they opened their own shelter in Poznan, Poland after the city donated a unused shelter for them.
"They're voiceless, and they have no way to get food or get to safety," Simmons said. "They don't know what's going on. They're hearing sirens all night long, bombs going off. They're being injured, their homes and rubble, they are starving. They can't even find fresh water."
As Simmons explains, she and her team are not allowed inside Ukraine. For the last two weeks, shelters and other organizations operating in Ukraine who've been risking their lives to save dogs in the area are now bringing them in van loads to the Big Dog Ranch Rescue shelter in Poznan.
"The dogs will be there for several months while they go through a medical treatment," Simmons said. "Spay and neuter, all of their vaccinations and get their travel passports. We're hoping to reunite some of these."
At least 100 dogs have been brought to the shelter and are now being cared for by a licensed veterinarian and five other full-time employees. Simmons is hoping to employee more Ukrainians in need when she heads back to Poland next month. It's an effort solely made possible thanks to generous donations.
"We're thankful for the people that have already donated and are supporting this effort because it's heartbreaking and these animals really need us. It's really their only hope," Simmons said.