When Aaron Jackson, founder of the charitable organization Planting Peace, saw that relief work was needed at the Poland-Ukraine border, he took it as a call to action. “I saw a story about these refugees living in a train station and how it was freezing,” he told The Dodo. “About two hours after reading that story, I bought a plane ticket and flew over that day.”
Over two million people have left Ukraine since Putin’s invasion, leaving behind their homes, their belongings, nearly everything. Most of them are fleeing to Poland, where they wait at the border, in less than ideal temperatures of 45°F and colder. “There’s an estimated 48-hour wait to get into Poland. I don’t understand how people are doing a two-day wait in this type of temperature,” said Jackson. “Our biggest focus is on identifying refugees that have nowhere to go or family to put them into a safe, long-term house. Outside of getting people out of the war zone itself, getting people out of freezing temperatures is imperative.”
Jackson and his team have been focusing specifically on helping refugees with pets find somewhere to stay—securing housing is already a complicated process, and not every place allows pets.
At one point, he stopped by a local animal shelter to offer assistance. While there, he encountered a family prepared to give up their dog, a cocker spaniel named Bella. After speaking with the family, the director of the shelter turned to Jackson and translated, “They’re actually refugees and want to forfeit over their dog to us because they’re homeless and don’t have anywhere to go, and they don’t want their dog to be out in the cold.” Jackson was able to set the family up with pet-friendly housing within minutes—the timing was perfect.
His motivation is straightforward. “You have these families who have traveled 100, 200 miles to get to the border,” Jackson explains, “and they’ve walked 50 of those miles with a dog on their back. So if a person is willing to do that for their dog, I’m definitely not going to be the one to tell them, ‘You gotta get rid of your dog to find housing.’” The dedicated good samaritan has pledged to do anything in his power to get these families into housing, along with their pets, “especially since they’ve given up so much already.”
In addition to connecting refugees and their pets with pet-friendly housing, Planting Peace is donating pet food and carriers to the nine main refugee centers along the border. Their desire is “for displaced people and their pets to have healthy food waiting for them after their long journey.”