When Jon Geller saw footage of refugees fleeing Ukraine, he knew he had to help. Without hesitation, the longtime veterinarian boarded a plane for the Ukraine-Romania border. Working with local volunteers, Geller and his nonprofit, Street Dog Coalition, set up a tent clinic to provide free veterinary care for the pets of Ukrainian refugees.

“Pets, whether here in the U.S. or abroad, provide a feeling of security and grounding that can be therapeutic for anyone experiencing profound stress,” Geller said. “Being able to provide free services in a spirit of unconditional love has been the most rewarding aspect of running Street Dog Coalition.”

In addition to veterinary care, volunteers provided European Union pet passports to refugees. These vital documents contain vaccination records and other identifying information about each pet. Without it, the owners would most likely be separated from their furry companions.

Dubbed “Operation Ukraine,” Geller’s work was not without its challenges. For one, resources in Ukraine are more limited than in the States. Secondly, the language barrier presented a problem that had to be overcome with the help of volunteer translators and, as Geller admits, translation apps.

Photo by Jon Geller

Technology also played a key part in overcoming the logistical issues that arise when conducting work halfway across the world.

Geller and his nonprofit were able to harness FirstBank’s mobile banking tools to access funds on the go.

“We have been able to use the convenience of our FirstBank account, especially features such as Bill Pay and Zelle®, to instantly access funds to reimburse volunteers’ travel expenses and pay for supplies,” Geller said.

Geller has since returned to Colorado, but the border clinic is still in operation, staffed by local volunteers and others from Colorado and elsewhere in the States. The nonprofit is also actively collecting supplies to help Ukrainian veterinarians carry out their important work. 

About Street Dog Coalition

In 2015, Jon Geller started Street Dog Coalition in Fort Collins with a mission to provide free medical care and related services to pets of people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. The Street Dog Coalition has since expanded to over forty cities across the U.S. The nonprofit is moving toward a One Health model to provide healthcare and other services for the pet owner as well as the pet. It is offering free medical, dental and counseling services for pet owners at some Street Dog Coalition clinics in an effort to “help at both ends of the leash.”

To learn more about the Street Dog Coalition and to help, please visit The Street Dog Coalition.

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