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Colorado veterinarian at Ukraine/Romania border helping families fleeing with pets

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A Colorado veterinarian, based in Fort Collins, traveled to Romania to help refugees bring their pets across the border from Ukraine.

"This is not a war zone yet," says Dr. Jon Geller. "But we know a lot of people are going to be headed this way, probably in the next two weeks."

Dr. Geller spent 20 years as an emergency care veterinarian. He's also the founder of Street Dog Coalition, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping people experiencing homelessness get free vet care for their pets.

“The Ukrainian refugees coming across are also homeless,” Dr. Geller said. "We ask them what their address is and they say, 'we don't know.'"

Last week, Dr. Geller flew to the Romania/Ukraine border. The building contractor-turned-veterinarian, and now student of public health at the University of Minnesota, recruited a team of volunteer student veterinarians from across Europe to assist in helping pets meet the requirements of entering other countries.

To do this, Dr. Geller used his past skillsets to build popup tent clinics. The clinics sit feet from the entrance into Romania.

"I felt I had the right skillsets to do this," Dr. Geller says. "So we have to put microchips in them, obviously rabies vaccine, parasite control... Then we also take care of any medical problems they may be having that would allow them to continue on [with their owners]."

Josey Geller, Dr. Geller's daughter, tells KRDO it was her mother who planted the idea in her father's mind to go overseas.

"We've been watching the news, and she said, 'maybe there's a need,'" explains Josey. "Dad got on the computer, hopped on a few ZOOM calls, and within the hour, that was it. He was going."

Josey says her father was shaking with excitement when he told her the news.

"At first I was really upset that he was going," Josey says. "But then I told my mom, 'if you can get behind this, I can too.' My dad is my hero."

Dr. Geller says most people arriving on foot, or using a ferry to cross into Romania, are only traveling through, headed further west with their pets. The closest city to the clinics in Ukraine is Odesa, an area not yet involved in the war zone, but potentially could be, soon.

"I just felt like this is where I should go," Dr. Geller says. "For me it’s kind of been the best thing I’ve gotten to do as a veterinarian. They're so grateful when we do it, we feel like, hey we're doing our part to help make a rough time in their life a little easier."

Dr. Geller, Street Dog Coalition, and his team of student veterinarians want to make sure no one, and no animal, is left behind. They say they're just doing their job, but Dr. Geller notes that there's something much bigger taking place. Something he's never seen before.

"What’s really cool about being here is this incredible unification of the world in support around the Ukraine people," says Dr. Geller. "What a cool team effort. It’s like the whole world holding hands."

If you'd like to donate directly to Street Dog Coalition and Dr. Geller's efforts in Ukraine, click here.

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Natalie Haddad

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