CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — Through pictures and videos sent from the Romania-Ukraine border, there's a glimpse of the emotional process that refugees experience getting their pets to safety.
Now, a coffee shop in Castle Rock wants to help fund the efforts of a team that's making sure pets can enter the European Union (EU).
Michelle Burleson has lived all over the world, and went to high school with Heather Casey, who co-owns COFF33 in Castle Rock with her partner, Nate Ormond. Burleson has been at the Romania-Ukraine border for a little less than a month.
“I've always done Animal Rescue, but not in a war," Burleson said over a Zoom call on Monday. “It's so crazy how many people you meet in a day, and how many different stories you hear in a day, that you feel like one day is 10 years.”
Casey saw Burleson's social media posts from the border, and wanted to help her former classmate.
“We pay our baristas really well, almost double the average here in the Castle Rock area, and therefore we don't do tips," Casey said. “We decided to put out a tip jar that actually goes to a charity of the month.”
For the month of April, the tips collected will go to a GoFundMe organized by Burleson, which says the money will be used for medicine, surgical supplies, beds, blankets, toys, and cleaning supplies. The team at the border also provides temporary or permanent shelter, free veterinary care, transport, as well as food and water, according to the fundraiser.
The coffee shop will match the amount of donations they receive at the end of the month.
“Every single cent counts. Every social media share counts. It keeps families together, and keeps little girls with their kittens when they are scared out of their brains," Burleson said. “As ugly as everything is that Putin is doing, I kind of have a restored faith in humanity and the goodness of people and the generosity of people.”
When Burleson spoke with Denver7, she had not slept in three days. She spends her days ready to respond to people crossing the border at any time.
“People fled so quickly, that they were carrying their dogs and their cats and their guinea pigs in their arms or in plastic bags, or they had large dogs in crates, and it's still very cold here. Dogs are getting hypothermia. Cats are getting hypothermia. Some people just left animals," Burleson explained. “The look on people's faces when they finally cross the border is relief and terror at the same time.”
Burleson said the team runs on adrenaline mostly, and is worried about when the emotions finally catch up to her.
“One girl told me, who came over with her dog and her mother, that she just saw so many dead animals in their crates. Just people couldn't carry them any further," Burleson recalled. "There's a lot of wounded animals coming in. We do amputations, sewing up wounds, you know… doing the merciful thing, having to put some down.”
When crossing the border into Romania and simultaneously into the EU, there are a variety of requirements needed for pets. Burleson said those include an EU pet passport, certain vaccinations, and records. Plus, they can provide pet owners with things like crates and food for their animals, in addition to a place to stay. Those services are free for the refugees.
“What's the one thing in the world you're going grab when you think you're going to die?” asked Burleson. “In that moment of terror, the one thing that person grabbed was their dog or their cat. I think that speaks volumes.”
Recently, Burleson said they went through almost 1,000 pounds of dog and cat food in one day. EU pet passports cost around $50 euros each.
“They just ran out of a house, they don't have any of that stuff. So, we had a huge problem of pets being abandoned at the airport or the train station. So, we're taking care of them," said Burleson.
Burleson and the team are trying to rehome any pets that have been abandoned.
Right now, the GoFundMe has reached $18,000 of the $21,000 goal. COFF33 has donated just under $1,000 dollars to previous charities, and is hoping to raise even more in the month of April.
Click here if you'd like to help their mission to help pets of Ukrainian refugees in Romania.