To escape the war in Ukraine, Rozaliia Raison left the Cherkasy region with her Pomeranian, Perseya, and the fluffy dog’s orange chew ring tucked inside her backpack. Raison, her husband, mother, and their Pom traveled nearly 9,000 miles before reaching the U.S.-Mexico border.
But before reaching freedom in the United States, Raison and Perseya, named after the legendary Greek hero Perseus, were first separated, then happily reunited.
Taking the Dog
Flying first to Turkey, then Germany, Mexico City, and Tijuana, Mexico, the Raison family then embarked on the last leg of the journey. That meant walking 17 miles across the bridge from Tijuana to the United States point of entry in San Ysidro, California.
The trip out of Ukraine was arduous for the small troupe. Media personalities and famous bloggers with nearly two million followers on Instagram in the Eastern European country, Raison and her husband left their homes, livelihood, and possessions behind. But how did the 2 1/2-year-old white Pom handle moving from place to place? “Perseya is used to travel,” Raison said through an interpreter.
Raison and Perseya faced yet another challenge when they arrived in Tijuana. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) required all dogs entering the U.S. from Ukraine and other high-risk countries must receive a rabies vaccine. In April, the San Diego Humane Society and the CDC made it possible for Ukrainian refugees crossing the border to bring their pets along, which involved checking for rabies.
“Before April, Ukrainian pets were stopped at the U.S. border—right in our backyard,” says San Diego Humane Society president and CEO Gary Weitzman, DVM. “A few dozen animals were stuck in Tijuana, and we immediately wanted to help.”
The goal was to get these animals safely across the U.S. border and back to their families as quickly as possible.
“We decided to do whatever we could to help the animals and people impacted by this tragic crisis,” Weitzman says. “As soon as the war broke out in Ukraine, we began looking for ways to support people with pets and the animals left behind by this tragedy.”
Pets in Poland
The effort came a month after Weitzman deployed to Poland with Greater Good Charities on a mission to provide veterinary care. “I saw the world falling apart, and I wanted to do something, so I went to Poland,” Weitzman recalls. “Greater Good had a team there but quarantined due to COVID, so I winged it.”
Weitzman felt a double reason to help. “I’m Ukrainian and a veterinarian,” he says. “I rented a car, booked a motel, and went to the veterinary clinic set up by the International Fund for Animal Welfare at the Polish border. I didn’t know what to expect, but I brought some supplies.”
The veterinarian saw refugees entering Poland and walking the half-mile to the veterinary clinic with medium-sized dogs, mostly small canines, birds, cats, and even a pet snail. “Many animals were well-cared for and in carriers,” Weitzman says. “Some were dehydrated. A few had minor infections or recently spayed.”
Afraid of a rabies outbreak, the Polish government prohibited large dogs from Ukraine from entering Poland.
Weitzman hoped to get into the war-torn area to help the animals left behind. “I wanted to bring more veterinarians with me, but they blocked the effort,” he says.
Back in the U.S.A.
“Once I came home, we didn’t want anyone from anywhere turned back or stranded at the Tijuana border,” Weitzman recalls. “We worked with the CDC and established a program to admit animals 24/7.” On April 30 at 2:00 a.m., Raison, her husband, and her mother arrived at the Mexico-U.S. border and applied for political asylum. Raison learned for the first time that Perseya needed to complete a 28-day rabies quarantine at the San Diego Humane Society.
With everything Raison and her family had endured, she had never imagined separation from her dog when reaching the U.S. “I thought quarantine would take two weeks, maximum,” Raison says. “When I discovered Perseya would stay for a month, I was devastated. My dog is a family member, and we treat her like our child.”
Weitzman understood her disappointment. “If I had to leave my dog, I would have felt the same way.”
Raison’s shock soon softened. During the dog’s quarantine, the Humane Society staff provided the Pom with plenty of playtime and enrichment activities and sent the owner regular reports, videos, and photos. “Once I knew our little girl was in safe hands, I felt better,” Raison says. “I counted the days until we were reunited.”
On May 29, the quarantine ended, and the dog was released. “As soon as I saw Perseya, my tears flowed,” Raison recalls. “I flew to her, took her in my arms, and my heart jumped out of my chest. My girl is with me now, and we are safe.”
According to Raison, her toy dog looks great and has not changed. “She’s the same cheerful, playful dog she was before the quarantine,” Raison says. “My heartfelt thanks to the Humane Society for their help and care.”