As Western allies expand support for displaced Ukrainians in the ongoing war with Russia, a British Army veteran has set out to save the forgotten victims of the invasion – abandoned animals.
Ex-soldier Tom and his British animal rescue organization Breaking the Chains have made over 100 tons of food and medical supplies available to the war-torn country in the last two weeks.
As a former British army veteran who left the armed forces two years ago, the 34-year-old from Yorkshire, northern England, has been working in Ukraine, helping to rescue animals from bombed shelters.
“It’s kind of like a military operation,” Tom – who asked to keep his last name a secret for security reasons – told the Daily Mail in an exclusive phone interview from Ukraine.
This is a war, not a natural disaster like a hurricane or a tornado. There are many factors you need to consider. We have to understand the situation. We have to understand soil. We use maps, satellites. “
He continued, “There were people screaming left, right and center.
“It’s not just animal shelters that need our help, it’s rescuers, breeders, people who take in stray and abandoned animals, at least 1,000 places with more than 30 dogs. There are thousands of people.
In his most recent rescue, Tom and his team of four rescued 120 animals from a bunker destroyed by Russian troops northeast of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
“It’s a bunker that’s been bombed twice. No one can go there, no one can get there to help the animals, so we went in,” he said.
“900 meters (980 yards) from the Russian front. Shells fell in and around the area as we retrieved the animals. The dogs barked and calmed down.
“One guy tried to bite me because he was scared. They were all scared, but we were able to get all the animals out, which was great.” Tom transports the dogs throughout the operation in a long-wheelbase dog vehicle.
“There are already 50 different boxes built into it,” he explained. “The owner of the shelter knows his dogs and knows which dogs to put in the same crate, we can put three or four cats in the same crate. They all fell asleep as soon as the van drove away. .”
“It was funny because when we were driving, some cats escaped from the box and ended up sleeping on the dash. We had one cat on the wheel and two on our shoulders.”
Tom described the animals’ journey to a “safe place” where they met their transport team after nearly 30 hours and 1,100 miles.
The animals were then examined, watered and cleaned, and taken to the Ukrainian border, where they encountered another convoy that took them to an animal shelter in Romania.
As part of the rescue operation, food and supplies were delivered to four animal shelters in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and 50 dogs abandoned by their owners during the evacuation were repatriated. Kennels are mostly made up of larger breeds, all of which are very emaciated and require medical attention.
“Our biggest challenge is the animal shelters, because they have 500 to 600 animals. We can only bring back about 100 dogs and cats at the moment,” Tom explained.
“We want to have three more cars, two Sprinters and a 4×4 pickup. That way we can have more teams on site.
“This will give us time to rescue more animals from elsewhere and provide more food and supplies.” Tom’s vision for displaced animals in Ukraine goes beyond saving them from troubled lands. Breaking the Chains has teamed up with UK-based animal rescue organisation Dog Bus Rescue, and together they will expand an existing shelter in Romania, which will house around 1,200 animals. The shelter will be beautiful, with plenty of outdoor space and a heated interior. Once there, the dogs are screened, vaccinated and quarantined before being taken to other European sanctuaries, where they will be adopted into their permanent homes. “ Volunteers are encouraged to contact Dog Bus Rescue directly if they are interested in coming to Romania to help build the shelter. Tom, who served in the British Army for 16 years, said he was an expert working in conflict zones. At the age of 16, I enlisted in the army.’ So I was conditioned to warfare from the age of 16 until two years ago,’ he explained.
‘I was an infantryman in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the world. This is normal to me because it’s all I’ve ever known.’ The organization he founded in 2020, Breaking the Chains, is dedicated to raising awareness and assisting innocent animals across the globe, particularly dogs, who Tom credits for saving his life on several occasions.
‘I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. I’ve always had animals and have had them since I was a child. They saved my life more times than I can count while I was in the military, both physically and mentally,’ Tom said.
‘I was in a bad place when I was discharged from the British army with complex PTSD, so I got a dog who was also in a bad place, and we helped each other.’ That’s when I realized the importance of animals and what they bring to us.
‘I decided right then and there that I was going to do something to make the world a safer place for animals, and I’ve been doing it ever since.’ Tom has five dogs at home in England, including Gypsy, the devoted dog he adopted during his post-traumatic stress disorder struggles.
Tom has five dogs at home in England, including Gypsy, the devoted dog he adopted during his post-traumatic stress disorder struggles.
‘Gypsy is still with me,’ says the narrator. He is a Springer Spaniel who is deafeningly deafeningly deafening ‘Bless him, he’s a veteran himself.’