14 photos show the abandoned pets of Chernobyl and the humans who want to save them.

The dogs must have known something was wrong. As hours, then days passed, they must have waited by the door, listening to the town's sudden silence, wondering when their masters would return home.

In the early hours of April 27, 1986, the people of Pripyat were told to evacuate their town. Something had gone wrong at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. People were already getting sick. They could take their important documents and food with them. Nothing more.

As nearly 50,000 of them climbed onto buses, many ended up leaving their family pets behind. It probably didn't seem like such a big deal — officials had told them they could return in just a couple of days.


But they'd never come home again.

That was 31 years ago. Today, the original inhabitants of Pripyat are long since gone. But the pets — the pets are still there.

Two stray dogs with an old cooling tower in the background. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Well, their descendants are, at least. About 900 stray dogs live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone — 1,000 square miles of restricted, still-partially contaminated Ukrainian forest about two hours north of Kiev. The radiation is high enough that visitors are limited in the amount of time they’re allowed to stay.

An abandoned building in Pripyat, within the exclusion zone. Photo from Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Many of the dogs live around the power plant, which puts them in contact with the men and women working on sealing it. And that's a problem.

Several thousand people work in the exclusion zone every day. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

The workers are there to build the sarcophagus, a huge steel and concrete structure that will seal off the still-dangerous former nuclear power plant. The dogs have learned to rely on the workers and the increasing number of tourists for food.

Without humans, the dogs would have to compete with other forest animals for food. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

But for every pup who is friendly towards or at least tolerates humans, there are many more who shy away or could even be dangerous. There's also the risk that they could catch and spread rabies or other diseases from the wolves and other animals that live in the zone.

Radiation isn't the only danger in Chernobyl. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

But one group in particular wants to change this. Meet the Dogs of Chernobyl.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

The group is made of vets, volunteers, and radiation experts from all around the world. Launched by the Clean Futures Fund and working with Ukranian officials, the group runs a recurring vaccine and neutering campaign for the animals.

The campaign runs for several weeks each year. During that time, vets capture the dogs and give them check ups and shots.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Rabies vaccines in particular will help keep both the dogs and humans safe.

Not all of the dogs are people-friendly. Tranquilizer darts help the process along for the shyer animals.

The man with the blowgun is Pavel "Pasho" Burkatsky, a professional dog catcher from Kiev. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

The pups also get spayed and neutered in order to keep the population in check...

Bob Barker would approve. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

... and given a radiation check.

A Geiger counter reveals this dog has had about 20 times the normal dose of radiation. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Researchers are still learning what the long-term effects of the radiation have been on animals and plants.

Ultimately, they are tagged and released.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Some of the dogs are also getting collars with radiation sensors and GPS receivers in order to map radiation levels and help researchers learn more about the inside of the exclusion zone.

Locals were initially suspicious of the group but warmed up when they saw how well the animals were being treated.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

The old, official method of dealing with the dogs had been to shoot them. The vets' presence put a stop to that. Within a week, the vets were canteen celebrities, says Lucas Hixson, the group's co-founder.

When they held a weekend event in the city to help spay and neuter stray cats, so many locals showed up to help they had to turn some away.

The campaigns run for several weeks a year, with this year being the first run. Two more are planned, although more might be in the works, Hixson says. They're raising money to hire a full-time veterinarian to stay year-round.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

They might even be able to help the dogs find their way back to the homes and families they have lost.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

In the future, young animals might be able to be adopted or trained as service or therapy dogs, Hixson says. The descendants of those abandoned pups might once again find themselves waiting eagerly at the door.

Only this time, there's someone coming home to them.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less