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San Diego Humane Society returns from Poland after helping refugee pets

“The biggest challenge is getting the number of animals that are truly with people safely to the polish side of the border,” said Gary Weitzman.

SAN DIEGO — The head of the San Diego Humane Society just returned from the Ukrainian border. His goal was to keep refugees and their pets together but it’s a job that's getting harder.

Gary Weitzman returned from a 10-day trip to Poland where he saw it all first-hand. Ukrainians dedicated to their pets, in some cases they were forced to leave them behind and now the challenge is reuniting them with their owners.

“I'm still processing, and I think everyone is from what is happening,” said Weitzman.

As part of the Greater Good Charities, Weitzman, a veterinarian, teamed up with the International Fund for Animal Welfare where they built carriers, did inventory for drug supplies and provided physical exams on pets of Ukrainian refugees who were able to bring their pets across the border into Poland.

“I think it helps a lot that the third stop coming across the border is the veterinarian tent, to make sure their animals are ok,” said Weitzman, President and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society.

CBS 8 followed Weitzman's humanitarian effort when he left San Diego on March 27 and headed to Poland with antibiotics and supplies in hand.

A few days later we spoke to Weitzman when he was on the ground in a small Polish town that borders western Ukraine called Medyka where they set up a veterinary tent.

Weitzman says at first Ukrainians were able to bring as many pets over as they could. 

But now the Polish government is overwhelmed with animals and limiting two animals per person, restricting large dogs from crossing the border, leaving thousands abandoned and tied to fences.

“Family members are splitting up and bringing in at least two of their animals to get their pet across,” said Weitzman.

Their efforts are not lost. Weitzman treated and rescued hundreds of pets who are stressed and needing leashes and checkups, including a stray pup who was wandering in the rain and snow presumed to be from Ukraine, who they named Salva meaning “Glory” in Ukrainian.

“We tried for a long time to get that dog out of the rain and snow,” said Weitzman.

While life remains uncertain, Weitzman says adoptions are not an option right now, they just want to be able to help Ukrainians with their pets and reunite them if they were forced to leave them across the border.

“The biggest challenge is getting the number of animals that are truly with people safely to the Polish side of the border,” said Weitzman.

The San Diego Humane Society says the most reliable sources to help animals in Ukraine is donate Greater Good Charities and International Fund for Animal Welfare.

RELATED: "The hard part is seeing how completely stressed those animals are" | SDHS President helping Ukrainian refugees and their pets

WATCH RELATED: Ukraine families refusing to leave pets behind, San Diego Humane Society urging people to help (March 2022)

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