Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 22, 2023


War Animal Day

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (15:48): This Friday, February 24, is now officially recognised in many countries, including Australia, as War Animal Day or Purple Poppy Day. It began as a remembrance for the millions of animals who died in war and those animals who loyally served and still serve in conflicts. War Animal Day is now taking a more contemporary role, recognising the needs of animals killed, maimed or abandoned in hostilities like the current war between Ukraine and Russia. With millions of Ukrainians displaced from their homes, one of the biggest dilemmas is what to do with the large numbers of stray and abandoned animals in the combat zones.

We have seen harrowing and heartbreaking images of families clutching pets, with some belongings, as they attempt to flee. Dogs are tied to posts or left in bombed-out buildings in the hope that someone might rescue them. Animals are left in zoos and on farms to starve, are traded and abused and even eaten by Russian troops as bombs rain down and bullets fly.

Volunteers are risking their lives to deliver food and water from transport hubs to the frontline. It is estimated that 750,000 dogs and 5.5 million cats are owned by Ukrainian families. People who fled Russian bombs took nothing from their homes except necessary documents and animal carriers or dogs on a leash.

Australian Animal Aid, a spin-off charity of the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation, reports that Ukrainian pet owners consider their dogs and cats to be well-loved members of their families. During conflicts, pets can provide emotional comfort. In some instances, these dogs and cats were the only things that provided the victims of war with a sense of purpose and hope.

Rather than flee from the Russian invaders, 39 per cent of Ukrainians stayed in Kiev, in part because of their pets. Fewer than 10 per cent of families that evacuated the areas being shelled and bombed by the Russians left their pets behind. There have been reports that Russian soldiers have deliberately targeted animal shelters and shot dogs and cats on sight.

Much-needed basic care products are running out across the country. Abandoned animals perpetuate stray populations and are vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases, and once the conflict has ended animals that were once healthy are likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder or physical ailments to decrease their likelihood of adoption.

I want to pay special tribute to the unstinting work of the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation, a not-for-profit corporation and leading service animal charity, and its indefatigable founder and president, Nigel Allsopp, a former military dog handler who has been the driving force behind War Animal Day in this country and behind relief efforts to get much-needed supplies to the Ukraine.

He is the Florence Nightingale for animals. With the assistance of Queensland's PETstock, Nigel arranged for more than $300,000 of essential pet care supplies to be sent to the Ukraine, where it was distributed by a pet welfare organisation, the Ukrainian Pet Association Worldwide. Nowzad, a registered British charity famous for its work in Afghanistan, is also helping.

Nigel and Peter Kotzur went to Ukraine to oversee the distribution, visiting overcrowded animal shelters and seeing firsthand the destruction and the tireless rescue efforts. There were heartbreaking scenes. At one canine sanctuary, Nigel was swamped by dozens of dogs seeking attention and a warm home. At the Limpopo Zoo, animals, including big cats and an orangutan, showed signs of PTSD caused by bombings. There are more than 100,000 horses unable to flee and seek safety, with no shelter and care.

The AWAMO has provided funding to a US-based non-profit equine charity, Fleet of Angels. The AWAMO will also send fresh fodder and other fresh food for animals starving and dying in zoos and farms. Soldiers have adopted dogs and cats on the frontlines and care for them. The animals give enormous morale and psychological boosts. The cats are also a great help, fighting the spread of infectious diseases by hunting down rats and mice. Animal welfare is one of the unseen sides to the horrors of war.

It is gratifying to see Australians chipping in, and Nigel's efforts will continue in raising funds to establish a free vet clinic and rescue vehicle in Lviv. I gladly enlisted to promote the cause of AWAMO in this state four years ago. I am wearing a purple poppy today to mark War Animals Day, which will again be commemorated with a remembrance at the West Kilkenny RSL on Friday morning at 8am. Please join us.