Aaron Jackson has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. As soon as the founder of the charity organization Planting Peace saw that relief work was needed at the Poland-Ukraine border, he immediately hopped on a flight.
I was basically reading news stories and seeing news footage two weeks ago when it was all starting,” Jackson told The Dodo. “I saw a story about these refugees living in a train station and how it was freezing, and about two hours after reading that story, I bought a plane ticket and flew over that day.”
Jackson didn’t anticipate focusing on helping refugees with pets, but when he arrived, he realized the dire need to keep these families together.
“Two million people have left Ukraine and the majority of those people are crossing into Poland, so housing has become an incredibly complex thing to find,” Jackson said. “It’s even more complex when you have a cat or dog, because there’s limited spaces and not every place allows animals.”
Jackson and his team have been working to identify refugees with pets who need long-term housing and, a few days ago, he found himself in the right place yet again.
Jackson had stopped by a local animal shelter to offer aid and was speaking to the director outside when a family approached. Walking in front of them on a leash was a beautiful cocker spaniel named Bella.
After speaking with the family, the shelter director turned to Jackson and said, “They’re actually refugees and want to forfeit over their dog to us because they’re homeless and don’t have anywhere to go, and they don’t want their dog to be out in the cold.”
Within 20 minutes, Jackson was able to set up the family with pet-friendly housing. The joy on everyone’s faces was evident — including Bella, who couldn’t stop wagging her tail. “It was really awesome the stars aligned like that,” Jackson said.
As well as connecting families with safe housing, Planting Peace is donating pet food and carriers to the nine main refugee centers set up along the border. He wants displaced people and their beloved pets to have healthy food waiting for them after their long journey.
“You have these families who have traveled 100 miles, 200 miles, to get to the border and they’ve walked 50 of those miles with a dog on their back,” Jackson said. “So if a person is willing to do that for their dog, I’m definitely not going to be the one to tell them, ‘
You gotta get rid of your dog to find housing.’ I’m going to try to do anything in my power to get them into housing with their pet — especially since they’ve already given up so much already.”
Thanks to Jackson and Planting Peace’s work, families are able to stay together and find the food and comfort they need. As Jackson knows, pets are family, too.