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A local resident has been rescuing animals in need in Ukraine for months


Without a safe plan, 69-year-old Tom Gates left the States to rescue animals in Ukraine.

Gates has lived in Washington for 35 years. He lived in Lakebay for nine years and now lives in Tacoma.

More recently, he traveled back and forth from Ukraine to rescue animals abandoned or trapped by war.

At the beginning of the war, he felt he had to be in Ukraine to help with the animals they encountered.

“I couldn’t help myself, I ended up going and the rest is history,” Gates told Gateway.

Gates was update inhabitants of the peninsula in their trips through the village Key news of the peninsula. He called his updates “Letters from Ukraine”.

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K-9 Rescue International in Ukraine rescues abandoned animals in need of food and medical care. Tom Gates

“Humans and animals have a right to exist without the terror inflicted on them,” Gates said. “I don’t want to be killed or injured. But like the victims of this war. That’s why I’m committed to help.”

In Ukraine, he felt only welcome.

The military supports volunteer rescue efforts, and often they work hand in hand, he said.

“Almost every military checkpoint has sick or injured dogs,” Gates said. “The military will ask for our help in evacuating the animal for care.”

Rescue work

Gates’ first trip began in March in Poland, where he spent three weeks volunteering at animal shelters to walk dogs and clean up warehouses.

Many animals abandoned or injured in Ukraine are sent to Poland.

He also carried cargo to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, about 70 kilometers from the border with Poland.

Three weeks later he returned to Tacoma. But he could not shake the feeling that he had unfinished business in Ukraine.

“My family has given me their full support,” Gates said. “They all agree that this is what I should do.”

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K-9 Rescue International delivers supplies to help those living in need. Tom Gates

In April he flew back, this time almost five months away, and contacted him K-9 Rescue International, animal rescue organization in Ukraine. Those who want to support the K-9 Rescue crew can visit k9rescueinternational.org.

“Even though we’re called K-9 Rescue, we’re also humanitarian,” Gates said. “We take people out of conflict areas together with their animals. Anyone who has a request that we can handle, we’ll take care of it.”

He returned to Tacoma for three weeks in October and just flew back to spend the winter in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He will go to demilitarized villages rescuing animals. These villages are areas where fighting has recently ended.

Gates finances his trip by staying at various hotels.

As for the rescue group, they are constantly looking for funding.

Donations of money and materials are what keep the rescue going, he said.

They get a lot of donations from all over Europe with trucks full of food, he said.

“At the beginning of the war, people were really interested in helping, and now the volunteer season is over. People don’t want to be outside in bad weather or other conditions,” Gates said.

By purchasing materials, the rescue group is trying to make choices to support the Ukrainian economy.

“We will immediately buy pet food from a Ukrainian producer to give Ukrainians a profit,” Gates said.

He wants to remind everyone that the war doesn’t stop when the TV is turned off.

“Ukraine is engaged in war.” he said. “All their finances go to this in the first place. People don’t eat, animals don’t eat. People are freezing. The animals are freezing, so we have to help as much as we can.”

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Residents can contact the rescue group for help if they spot an animal in need. Tom Gates

What does a typical day look like for Gates?

“We have become a well-known organization. We get a lot of calls from all over the country to help transport animals or bring food,” he said.

Most often, they rescue pets that people left behind after fleeing. But every now and then they come across more exotic animals like a falcon or a camel.

Some days, Gates just drives around, collecting supplies in the west of the country and delivering them to the east. On other days, he goes out with a rescue team to demilitarized villages, he said.

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Tom Gates, a local resident of Pierce County, rescued abandoned animals in Ukraine. Tom Gates

“I see a lot of people who can’t or won’t leave,” Gates said. “But those who run away tend to leave all their animals behind, and the neighbors who stay behind take care of them.”

Many times neighbors don’t have any financial help or supplies and turn to K-9 Rescue to help.

“When we do one request, in most cases we find additional animals in the same location that are injured or need attention,” he said.

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K-9 Rescue International helps animals injured or abandoned during the war in Ukraine. Tom Gates

Animals are rescued only on request.

“We don’t go to villages and grab animals,” he said. “We need to know where they came from to help them or return them to their owners.”

Rescue requests are mostly word of mouth.

“It comes back to us in the end,” he said. “Quite often it’s casual conversations, but Facebook is also a big source.”

People asking for a rescue will message K-9 Rescue through Facebook or volunteers like Gates.

Gates estimates the group rescues an average of a dozen animals a day. Tom Gates

According to his estimates, the group rescues an average of a dozen animals a day.

If the animal is in good health, it will either be returned to its family or to a local foster home, he said.

“If he is injured, he will be taken to a local vet for treatment.” Gates said. “Sometimes we pay. Sometimes it’s free.”

Most of the animals eventually end up in an overcrowded shelter in hopes of being adopted, he said.

“Everyone is an obstacle,” Gates said. “We had to break into houses or barns to save the animals.”

He said Gates and other volunteers came under artillery fire several times.

“One time we had some artillery shells fly over our heads and explode on the other side of the house,” he said.

He also witnessed several missile strikes.

“I think it’s hard for people to imagine what it’s like here without being here,” Gates said. “The international community should take care of the humanitarian aid that Ukraine needs. Because there is no other way.”

During the rescue, volunteers wear a tactical vest and military helmet to try to stay safe. Tom Gates

During the rescue, he wears a tactical vest and military helmet to be safe.

He also keeps a close eye on what’s going on in each area, in case they get word from the military that it might be a dangerous area. As artillery shells flew overhead, the military had no idea it was coming and could not tell them, he said.

When asked if he was afraid, he said that he wasn’t necessarily, but sometimes he was.

“No one sleeps here,” Gates said. “The air raid sirens usually start around midnight. The bombs keep coming all night.”

He said that sometimes at night he would only hear a few explosions.

His love for animals

In his final years of retirement, Gates began working at the Washington State Fair Traveling farm. The outreach program visits local elementary schools to teach students about farming and healthy food choices, as well as allowing students to meet several animals.

Before Gates retired, he owned trucks that were leased to trucking companies.

While he was part of the Traveling Farm, he developed a passion for working with animals, Gates told Gateway. At his home in Tacoma, he and his wife have a dog and a cat.

“As my favorite bumper sticker says, the more people I meet, the more I like my dog,” Gates said.

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