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West Vancouver volunteer saving pets in war-torn Ukraine

The West Van philanthropist is trying to get ahead of a looming crisis in the animal world in Ukraine.

Daniel Fine is fixing the dogs of war.

The retired West Vancouver tech executive and founder of the Ukraine War Animals Relief Fund is recently back from his fifth trip to the war-torn country, trying desperately to get ahead of a looming crisis in the animal world.

Right from the time of Russia’s invasion, Fine felt compelled to go help the four-leggeds. He quickly wound up volunteering at a shelter on the Polish border, walking rescue dogs for 18 hours a day. It was in speaking with volunteers on the ground there that he was clued into the bigger picture.

Population explosion

Ukrainians are a pet-loving people but, eight million residents became refugees in 2022. Fine said estimates are one million animals were abandoned and left to go stray, the vast majority of them not spayed or neutered. Without outside intervention, the population of feral dogs and cats is going to explode.

“If you do the math on it, and we’ve had some data scientists take a look at it, the numbers are a little bit unbelievable.… It’s going to leave about 124 million pets in five years,” Fine said. “What I’m trying to do is vaccinate, sterilize and microchip as many of these animals as fast as I can. And we’ve done, today, just about 7,750 of them.”

When the war does end, there will be no choice but to begin culling stray animals, which Fine can’t bear the thought of.

With gunfire and shelling in earshot, Fine has had to deal with the logistics of securing vaccines and veterinary supplies, kibble, and volunteers to catch dogs and bring them to vets assisting in the effort.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said with a laugh.

Man’s best friend

With so many humanitarian crises in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world, Fine said he often feels he has to defend his efforts to help animals.

There are dozens of non-profits and NGOs with much deeper pockets mobilized to help refugees, but almost nothing available for dogs and cats, he notes. And the way Fine sees it, humans domesticated dogs thousands of years ago for our own benefit, which puts certain obligations on us today.

“We owe them something,” he said. “Now it’s our turn to help.”

Fine said he met one woman in Ukraine who spent six months hiding in a basement, coming outside only to fetch food from her garden and to help take care of nine stray dogs. For some, that existence may be hard to fathom, but Fine gets it. Caring for animals is a window into the human spirit.

“She felt hopeless. But the animals are even more hopeless. They can’t even help themselves. Giving that help to them gives you hope,” he said.

Rabies epidemic possible

But even for those who struggle with the concept of the mission for the sake of the animals, it’s also a matter public health, Fine is quick to note. As that feral dog and cat population grows, it will inevitably result in the spread of zoonotic pathogens, most frightening among them, rabies, which kills upwards of 60,000 people per year already. Two of the vets he’s working with have already been bitten by rabid cats, he said.

Risk vs. reward

There is no question that venturing into a warzone is dangerous, and even Fine’s family members have told him he’s a bit “nuts.”

Fine said they take calculated risks but still, there are close calls, including on the most recent trip when he wandered into an area off the beaten path only to find himself surrounded by Russian land mines poking through the surface of the soil.

“I’m not really frightened. I feel stupid sometimes, like I should be paying more attention,” he said. “Every time, I learn a little bit more.”

They routinely have to cross military checkpoints, but with a frontline that shifts every day, they sometimes don’t know who is in control of a given area when they arrive.

“It’s Russian, you’re dead, right? Or they’re going to hold you for ransom” he said.

Fine has seen first-hand the devastated towns and villages, the Kerson Airport in ruins, and the Ukrainian people weary of a brutal war. Just days ago, the Russians bombed a central marketplace filled with civilians, he noted.

But fine said he also sees a steely resolve in the people of Ukraine.

“They’re under a lot of stress right now. They haven’t been working. The economy is in tatters. They never know when drones or missiles are coming. Kids can’t go to school,” he said. “But the Ukrainians have their heart into the game. They are super optimistic. And everyone you talk to – men and women – are willing to fight. They’re into it. They’re going to protect their country.”

Fine said the most optimistic he can be is for Russia’s leadership to see what he’s seen and realize that the war is ultimately unwinnable for them.

Path to victory

It’s impossible to know when Russia will end its invasion or whether the Ukrainians will push them back across the borders, but Fine said taking care of Ukraine’s animals is a winnable battle and he plans to keep mustering donations.

“Every time [people] donate, we can sterilize more animals.… We can fix this,” he said. “We have a huge job ahead of us. We’ve got to do hundreds of thousands more animals. Otherwise it won’t be successful.”

To contribute to the Ukraine War Animals Relief Fund, visit

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