Connect with us


Lost Dogs and Nuclear Wastelands: The Companions of Chernobyl

There is a massive swathe of land surrounding the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Explosion. This area consists of the abandoned cities, villages, and natural areas adjacent to Chernobyl and within sight of its danger.

Enter the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Walking into the closest approximation of a post-apocalyptic setting on earth can be a jarring moment, especially for visitors to the region not really understanding what they are stepping into. For one group of people, the workers and security guards of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, this apocalyptic setting would transform into something akin to a home thanks to newfound friends of the furry sort, dogs.

Stray Dogs of Chernobyl and the Guards Who Love Them

Consider your day-to-day operations at the office. No matter what you feel about your day or your duties, you likely aren’t surrounded by the remains of a giant nuclear wasteland. Working in the Exclusion Zone surrounding the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is more than just a job, it’s a way of life and one that is being studied by the University of Cambridge.

Jonathon Turnbull is a PhD Candidate for the Department of Geography at Cambridge. For his project, he would give disposable cameras to checkpoint guards working throughout the Exclusion Zone, as well as various workers running shops and convenience stores in the area. Turnbull’s goal was simple, to allow these people to capture their daily life and to reflect upon it during an interview at a later date.

Turnbull lives in Kyiv where he operates as a geographer, studying human and animal relations emerging from the CEZ. Turnbull’s work would lead him to utilize photovoice and photo-elicitation techniques, inviting his subjects to tell their stories while photographs are carefully inserted into the conversation to evoke more information, deeper memories, and stronger feelings.

Meet the Chernobyl Puppies

In the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, an area covering roughly,4200km2 between Ukraine and Belarus has been reclaimed by nature. A wildlife haven according to some researchers, this Exclusion Zone would become a haven for stray dogs known as the Chernobyl Puppies. These domestic animals were largely left behind by soldiers to prevent contamination during the initial event, instead left to their own devices to breed in the wild.

Chernobyl Puppies have an average lifespan of just five years and this is due to a few surprising consequences. First and foremost, hunger and thirst are the leading causes of death for these dogs followed by the harsh and cold winters of Ukraine. Radiation is last on the list. At the time of this writing, Turnbull’s study suggests that there are more than 500 dogs throughout the Zone, considered descendants of the dogs left behind on the infamous date in 1986.

While the dogs that can be found around the Power Plant are easy enough to label as strays, the guards of Chernobyl wouldn’t dare to call them as such. Turnbull noted that his interviews left him with the impression that the guards felt a sense of ‘ownership’ over the dogs, including feeling compelled to care for them with food, medicine, and human contact. In return, Turnbull suggests that the dogs provide entertainment, protection, and comfort of their own. One guard said, “We pull out ticks and even buy injections for rabies.”

As the guards and puppies of Chernobyl grow more comfortable with one another, they provide a stark counterpoint to the longevity of damage that Chernobyl has caused. While dogs and humans have begun to come together in the area, the land within the Zone will remain uninhabitable for more than 20,000 years.



Tony Hawk Trades Skateboard With a 6-Year-Old

Kelly Taylor



Kids have the most straightforward, amazing imaginations. They aren’t burdened by the complications of the adult world. For example, in the case of FedEx carrier, Mikail Farrar, he found himself challenged to make the connection between a 6-year-old, Cooper Taylor, and a famous skateboarder, Tony Hawk. As the FedEx deliveryman was making his rounds, Cooper stopped him and asked the FedEx employee to deliver one, well-used skateboard titled “Tony Hawk” to the famed skate hero. Cooper’s mom was behind the boy and nodded in a knowing manner that what the boy was asking for was a bit impossible, but she was going along with it anyways. However, Farrar took the matter a bit more seriously.

Instead, the FedEx employee got online and started trying to figure out what Tony Hawk’s shipping address was. The skateboard only had his name; kids don’t think in terms of addresses and zip codes at Cooper’s age. So, off to TikTok the driver went to see what some group-thinking could do in the digital age. It turned out to be an extremely smart move. By that evening, Farrar’s phone was getting so hot from activity, it was becoming a bit uncomfortable to hold. As it turned out, Farrar either accidentally or ingeniously tagged the video correctly, and everyone saw the info request, at least everyone that mattered in the skateboard world. Not only did the video get attention, it went viral!

As it turned out, even Tony Hawk himself got involved, a rarity given that he generally has avoided TikTok since 2018. Hawk arranged for the delivery of the board with FedEx and, in the video message response he posted, he made it clear he wanted to meet up with Cooper as well. Between the adults involved, Farrar and Hawk made the arrangement for the old skateboard to get to its destination as desired by Cooper, and, for anyone checking online with tracking, it arrived at Hawk’s address on May 27, 2022.

Farrar himself didn’t expect Tony Hawk to engage the way he did. While even as a FedEx driver he knew who Tony Hawk was, Farrar had no real hope that Hawk himself would get involved. Generally, he assumed celebrities are far more engaged in other things than answering kids’ requests. In that respect, Farrar definitely didn’t know about Hawk’s reputation of engaging with kids and skateboarding proactively, regularly going to classrooms for speeches, and showing up for charities and nonprofits when he can.

So, as the story went along, Cooper as well as his sibling, Tucker, both ended up getting a response from Tony Hawk. The two boys, literally looking skater-poster ready with long hair and over-sized T-shirts, responded on TikTok to Tony Hawk and thanked him for their presents, courtesy of Hawk. Both kids got brand new boards with slick graphics and plenty of Bones brand equipment for their new boards as well.

For their father, the whole thing is a bit of a dream come true. He skated when he was younger, idolizing the tricks and amazing aerial stunts Tony Hawk became famous for. To see his kids connect with a hero is a bit of an amazing moment for the boys’ parents as well.

Continue Reading


The Library Cat of Port Austin

Renee Yates



Library regulars expect to see books, computers, magazines, posters, notices, bulletin boards and even seminars at the local library building or community center adjacent to such facilities. However, they typically don’t expect to see a dedicated house cat and standard equipment. However, for Port Austin, a feline accompaniment is exactly what’s on order for book lovers and library fans in the local town.

Named Booker, which oddly seems to be similar to books, the orange feline wasn’t a planned acquisition for the library. Instead, the cat decided to make the place home all on its own. It helped that once the cat became a regular, the patrons and staff made a point of taking care of the cat as well. Good things happen when you’re regularly fed at the same location daily.

This September 2022 will be a solid three years since the cat showed up, and Booker isn’t making any bones about leaving. Mary Jaworski was the original discoverer of Booker. She originally found the cat had somehow snuck into her garage at home, half-blind, and unable to eat on its own. Jaworski tried to find someone to take in the cat, but nobody was volunteering or available. As the library director for Port Austin, Jaworski ended up watching and caring for the orange feline both at home and at work. It helped that the library board was also fond of cats as well. So, as it turned out, Booker was charmed; the cat not only had a home to roam around, it had multiple fans to take care of the cat as well throughout the day.

As it turned out, the patrons liked the idea of a home cat lounging around and roaming the Port Austin library on a regular basis. It made the library homey and comfortable. That helped Booker’s transition inside the library as well, after the cat was up to date on all his shots and safe around all of the patrons, including kids.

Booker wasn’t lacking anything inside the library, and there was no worry he was going to start exercising his claws on the book inventory. Instead, the cat has its own cat tree, carpet for claws, appropriate amenities for personal business, and plenty of cat toys and areas to escape when it gets busy and the cat just wants to be left alone. Booker actually became so popular, he started to develop a collection of donated toys and cat food from the locals. And if he happened to be out of sight longer than normal, everybody would start asking where he was and if everything was alright with the animal.

Celebrity status probably wasn’t in the cat’s original plans, but Booker seems to have adapted quite fine to all the attention he gets on a regular basis. The kids play with the cat when he wants activity, and, in turn, Booker has been an attraction to bring more kids to the facility and into reading in general. And Booker is quite good at hamming it up for the crowd. He loves the petting, getting held, sitting next to patrons on the furniture and is not easily spooked by the human activity going on daily. In fact, Booker is probably one of the best behaved cats most people will meet.

Finally, Jaworski notes, Booker has a habit of wanting to sound out any new arrivals he hasn’t seen or smelled before. If there are bags or belongings, he’s all over the stuff before the patron realizes what’s going on. That said, Booker isn’t about to have a team under his leadership. One cat seems to be more than enough for the library and its customers for now. Ironically, Jaworski herself is allergic to cats, but she tolerates Booker. Ultimately, the cat earns his keep attracting more than the normal flow of patrons to the Port Austin library, easily justifying the operations and helping the library grow.

Continue Reading


Heartfelt letters from Virginia students help Locate Homes for Pups

Renee Yates



Nothing moves the heart as quickly as when a child makes a genuine plea. This is even more so if the child’s plea is related to something that could impact lives. That’s exactly what happened when several second graders realized that some unwanted pups were in desperate need of homes. The genuine innocent pleas for help reached many homes and sparked quick responses.

Shelter animals in need of a new home are being promoted by a team of primary school kids.

In Richmond, Virginia, students in second grade at St. Michael’s Episcopal School have produced artwork as well as accompanying letters written from the viewpoints of cats and dogs to possible “parents.”

“Hello! Potato Chip is my name. One such anecdote began, “I’m a Pitbull!” If you don’t mind my kissing you a million times a day, I promise not to injure you.” Slurp! Animal shelters are great, but I’d rather live with you!!

Christie Peters, the Richmond Animal Care & Control (RACC), Director, told the media that she and her son’s teacher, Kensey Jones, collaborated on the initiative.

Peters said that Jones was the “inspiration” behind the lovely letters.

According to Peters, “the students were concentrating on persuasive writing and they produced pieces as though they were advocating in favor of the shelter dog that is seeking to get adopted”. So, “That’s the coolest idea… we should do it.” “I said,”

Students at St. Michael’s were given a cat or dog from RACC, according to a school spokesman.

As a result, they were “briefed” on the animals’ history and disposition.

To encourage people to adopt an animal, these stories and images were tacked on the exterior of kennels and placed in the hands of passersby.

Jones, who is also a volunteer at the RACC, noted in a press release that this classroom project partnership allows her to combine her two greatest passions: children’s reading and aiding animals in need.”

As one teacher put it, “I am very proud of my pupils for rising to the challenge and writing excellent persuasive essays from the perspective of a RACC dog.”

“All dogs, particularly Snow [the puppy ambassador], deserve a happy home.” Danielle Petroski, a second-grader at St. Michael’s Catholic School, expressed her joy at being able to help rescued animals find new homes.

According to Peters, there were around 24 stories concerning dogs and one about a cat.

Students were instructed by Peters and Jones to focus on RACC’s oldest residents, as well as those who had lived there the longest, as well as creatures in need of “a little additional attention.”

Once their narrative was written and then read, eight animals were swiftly adopted, according to Jones.

This is such an innovative way of bringing exposure to this school, and I hope it’s something other shelters throughout the nation do to promote their shelter animals, Jones added.

Continue Reading


Big Retirement for an Agriculture Control Dog

Kevin Wells



Four years might seem like a short period of time, but for a dog it can be a lifetime of service. Service dogs don’t stop; they are on 24/7 and in their short amount of time on Earth they are able to do a lot of amazing things. So, when it came time for Podder to retire, his career was due for some heavy acknowledgement before his last day of service.

Animals Partnering With Humans to Protect Communities

Podder worked as a detector dog for the San Diego County Agriculture, Weights & Measurements Department. In that role, his canine nose was a key instrument in searching for and finding problems, particularly with products or materials that needed to be stopped before they entered California, or those that represented a risk that could damage a market in the state. For example, an illegal chicken-fighting risk in the 2000s just about wiped out the chicken industry in California and the west when an outbreak of Newcastle Disease started spreading stateside. Animals like Podder work as a frontline defense in stopping such risks.

Get Ready to Party

The retirement party for Podder was a big affair, even if it seemed small in human terms. Congregating at the Waterfront, San Diego County employees and management along with a canine partner in the same program, Venus, attended to honor Podder’s service, acknowledge the important work of the dog and give him a big send off in dog terms. Not to mention, Podder got to munch on a ton of dog treats as well as a thank you, which probably meant more to him than all the speeches and clapping. Forgetting the whole affair by that evening, Podder was probably wondering where he could get more of the same treats that night.

Shifting to Easier Pastures

Podder received a specific service award for his four years of dedicated work for the County, and there was also a certificate for the dog’s program manager as well. As a mix between a beagle and a Labrador breed, Podder had an excellent mix for the work he was applied to, stopping agricultural goods from skipping quarantine controls as well as blocking goods that would have otherwise created serious problems for California agriculture.

At age six now, Podder is in his official senior phase per work requirements, and he has developed a medical condition as well that hampers his abilities. So, the dog will spend the rest of his days just being a normal canine in an adopted home. However, everyone suspects Podder will have his nose in every grocery bag that comes in the house door, including anything snuck in a backpack. So, those characters looking to sneak a Twinkie package or two to skip dinner probably need to think twice. Podder, as far as the dog is concerned, will probably still be on patrol regardless of his official send-off ceremony.

Continue Reading


The Letters for the ‘The Best Dog’ Ever

Kelly Taylor



People love their pets and practically support an entire industry of manufacturers who produce everything from specialized pet food to holiday sweaters for people to buy. However, it’s not often one comes across a person who is so infatuated with their dog that they want the whole world to know about it. That person is Roman Duncan.

The story starts with a puppy named Maggie. Picked up by the North shore Animal League American, or NSALA, the young dog was put up for foster care because it needed time before it could reach the right age for adoption. In the meantime, the hope was that a foster family would help the young dog adjust and grow, specifically becoming used to being around people at a young age to make it more adoptable. Maggie was a pit bull mix, so proper rearing would make a huge difference quickly in her adoptability. As it turned out, Roman Duncan’s family won the opportunity to be that foster family for Maggie.

A Puppy That Was Never Meant To Be Permanent

Roman was not under a mistaken impression that eventually the dog would be his; the boy always knew from day one that Maggie would only stay with them for a short while and then be adopted out. However, that didn’t stop him from bonding with the puppy very quickly. And, ultimately, Maggie did end up being relocated to the organization’s shelter in Port Washington to improve her odds of being adopted.

Roman figured, probably correctly, that he was not going to see Maggie again once she shipped off. So, in a creative way of helping himself deal with his feelings of loss for the puppy, the boy decided he was going to write a series of letters to Maggie’s new family to tell them how wonderful the dog was. He packed the letters full of compliments for Maggie as well as instructions for the new family on how to get the best behavior from the dog. Cuddles and hugs were in big abundance in Roman’s details.

A Surprise in the Paperwork

Finally, the day came for Maggie to go to her new shelter and prepare for her eventual adoption. Roman found the opportunity to tuck his letters into Maggie’s regular paperwork so it would be missed. The letters were found as the rescue program personnel were processing the dog and logging it into their New York records, Maggie’s new destination. Roman’s details about Maggie’s manners, personality and just being gosh darn cute melted everyone’s hearts who read them. In fact, the NSALA team was so inspired by Roman’s letters, they decided to use them to help market other foster puppies and convince families to help the program grow with additional foster homes.

Continue Reading