The South Florida-based Big Dog Ranch Rescue packed up and went to Eastern Europe to help displaced dogs from war-torn Ukraine find safe, loving homes as their owners were forced to flee or killed by the ongoing Russian invasion.
“We just felt for these dogs, we felt for what was going… when you’re being bombed and your house is in rubble, sometimes you just you’ve got to get yourself and your kids out. Sometimes you just don’t have the means to be able to take your pets with you,” Big Dog Ranch Rescue founder and CEO Lauree Simmons told Fox News Digital via Zoom from a shelter in Poznan, Poland, that is being used to house many of the displaced canines.
The dogs were separated from their owners amid the war started by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly three months ago. Simmons’ group will attempt to reunite them with their owners, and will find homes for the ones who are now without owners.
“Many of these people are very, very compassionate, and they care about their animals,” Simmons said.
Big Dog Ranch Rescue opened, and will operate, the shelter in Poland that is expected to be needed for at least four to six months.
Big Dog Ranch Rescue has been saving distressed dogs since Simmons founded the group in 2008, and she has helped reunite pets with owners after natural disasters, works with veterans to prepare rescue dogs to become service dogs and pairs older pets with seniors who need companionship. The group celebrated saving over 50,000 dogs earlier this year and has emerged as a global voice for animal rights. Along the way, Simmons has been targeted by the liberal media for holding events at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, but she doesn’t think politics should have any impact on whether these dogs are cast aside.
“Animals bring all walks of life [together] and whether you’re conservative or liberal or Democrat or Republican, it really doesn’t matter right now,” she said. “What matters is helping these people that have lost everything and are running for their life and helping these poor animals that are left behind.”
Simmons said the number of dogs left homeless by Russia’s invasion is “more than you can count,” and she estimated the total could reach the “hundreds of thousands.” Big Dog Ranch Rescue specifically identified about 300 displaced dogs in one specific “little town” of the war-torn nation. She has seen a variety of breeds and sizes, ranging from purebred shepherd puppies to mixes of all types.
“Many, many animals were being left behind,” Simmons said. “Big Dog Ranch Rescue was used to going in to helping with hurricane, flood disasters. This was a little more difficult because it’s the other side of the world and we don’t speak the language, but seeing the pictures of the dogs with their legs blown off and dogs out there trying to find water and food and ghost town areas where everybody is left and dogs with burns on their back, and we said we had to help. We had to go.”
On Sunday, the first truck carrying dogs from hard-hit areas of Ukraine such as Mariupol and Dnipro arrived at the shelter in Poland. The first 20 dogs to arrive at the shelter were part of a four-day journey inside a cramped van that included everything from car trouble, trouble getting fuel, paperwork and documentation issues. However, for the group of Ukrainian women who helped transport the dogs to safety, overcoming obstacles has become a daily routine since Russia invaded their country.
“One of the Ukrainian women that is here that we’re housing and is going to be working daily here at this shelter, helping to care for the dogs, has been living in a bomb shelter for over 30 days with her dogs and people would be in the bomb shelter and they’d have pets and they’d leave without them. So she ended up with multiple dogs to care for that weren’t even her own,” Simmons said.
“It was daily, more dogs being abandoned in that area that had no way to find food, find water, find shelter. One of the dogs that was brought to her in the bomb shelter had a bomb hit very close by and the dog was flown several feet and has constant shaking and a brain injury from it,” she continued. “He’s recuperating, it’s only a four-month-old puppy, but he’ll have permanent damage from that.”
Other dogs have been dehydrated and Simmons said they’re “all very thin,” and many need life-saving fluids and treatment. Big Dog Ranch Rescue had hired a full-time veterinarian to care for them, stocked the Polish shelter with scales, medicine and everything else the dogs need to survive and received a food donation from Royal Canin. Next, she will head to Romania to help another shelter that has received an influx of pets as Ukrainians fight for their lives.
The Ukrainian dogs won’t be available for adoption for several months, as they need to be quarantined and deemed 100 percent healthy before going anywhere. Many of them will likely wind up at Big Dog Ranch Rescue and Americans who want to help the cause can simply adopt one of the pets Simmons and her team have already saved.
“We do have 702 dogs that are ready for adoption, already healthy, at our facility right now,” Simmons said. “Clearing space at our rescue allows us the space to save another life.”
Big Dog Ranch Rescue isn’t only helping animals, it is also hiring now-homeless Ukrainians to work with the dogs.
“By giving them housing and by giving them a job, and a purpose, for something they love, which is animals, and helping them get back on their feet is almost as rewarding as saving the animals,” Simmons said.
Big Dog Ranch Rescue has also partnered with Planting Peace, a global nonprofit that focuses on humanitarian and environmental initiatives. Simmons thinks it’s important for Americans to know that it’s extremely difficult for Ukrainians to even reach the border safely. She’s already heard tragic tales of devastation and chaos from people impacted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
“The horror stories of people that have lost loved ones and family members and their homes are in rubble and their lives are destroyed because of one very cruel, selfish man,” she said. “It’s sad to see so many heartaches, not only for the animals, but for the people of Ukraine.”
When the first truck carrying displaced Ukrainian dogs arrived in Poland on Sunday night, it didn’t take Simmons long to know she made the right decision to fly halfway across the globe and help.
“Just to see that change from when they first got out of that van to now and playing and it’s just so rewarding,” Simmons said. “I think dogs know when they’re rescued and they’re in a safe place and they’re getting loving arms around them and food and shelter they know.”
Big Dog Ranch Rescue is accepting donations and has a mission to “save 5,000 dogs every year, to heal and place them with loving families and to educate people about the proper care for dogs and the importance of spaying and neutering,” according to the organization’s website.