More than two weeks ago, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Since then, many people have fled the war zone with their pets. You see cats in backpacks, dogs on leashes, guinea pigs in jacket sleeves.
Despite the bombs and gunshots, people don’t just get to safety. Leaving their own animals behind is not an option for many, which is why entering the EU with pets has already been made simpler.
Mieke Roscher has been a professor at the University of Kassel since 2014, teaching the history of human-animal relationships (human-animal studies).
Mrs. Roscher, a dog is a man’s best friend, they say. Is that correct?
So overall: yes. We have lived with dogs for 20,000 years and have become accustomed to canine sociability. In this co-evolution between humans and animals, we have become more adapted to the dog. We can read him better and, above all, he can read us better.
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Why do we have pets?
We have relationships with certain animals that release endorphins. Especially with animals that have a so-called evidence of you: This means that they recognize us as a counterpart and we also recognize them as a counterpart. This is how we build relationships, we also communicate with them, even if this communication is mainly non-verbal and one-sided. We do not understand them, but we treat each other with the help of gestures and facial expressions. From this base we build relationships with animals and these can be very close, so they can also be described as friendship.
How bad is it for refugees from war zones when they have to leave their pets behind?
It’s dramatic and you really shouldn’t underestimate it. This is a relationship that is like a relationship with a human being. Of course, it cannot be said that he replaces a partner or children, but he is just a friend. And leaving friends behind and especially under the circumstances where you don’t know what’s going to happen to them, they get along, who takes care of them, that’s totally dramatic of course.
Therefore, it is not surprising that they take their animals with them. You can’t just call them and ask how they are. If you leave the animals in a situation like that, you will never hear from them again and that makes it even more difficult.
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Can animals help process the trauma of war?
There are some studies that confirm it. With American geographical indications [Soldaten], who have returned from Afghanistan, there are real programs where they are placed with dogs to treat post-traumatic disorders. It has been shown that animals can also help with these types of crisis interventions.
So are dogs somehow always part of a war?
I am currently capturing the relationship between humans and dogs during World War II. In reality, the dogs were tested and the fit ones were drafted into Wehrmacht service and separated from their families. On the other hand, many people have tried to defend themselves and get around this by claiming that their dogs are too old, sick or too small.
Didn’t you want to give away the dogs?
They tried to keep their family together. There were also harsh penalties for those who embezzled their dogs. However, many have agreed to mess with the regime and that shows how close this relationship is and that despite extreme war situations, people are willing to preserve the animal.
At the Kiev Zoo, the zoo director even moved there to continue caring for his animals.
It is a very similar phenomenon. War is an exceptional situation in many respects. Our relationships change. Those who were once allies are suddenly enemies. But the animals are always the same. Loyalty plays a very important role. When situations change and change, you need something stable. Something you can also trust emotionally. The Berlin Zoo was heavily damaged during the war and very few animals survived. But the animals that survived became symbols of survival and overcoming in the post-war period.