'Gorgeous' Ukrainian Cat Left at Polish Border Finds Home with U.S. Veterinarian Volunteer
George the cat is starting the second chapter of his life in America.
The "gorgeous" cream flame point Norwegian Forest cat with stunning blue eyes may look regal and relaxed, but he has had an eventful month, including an international move and a new owner.
In early April, Dr.Julie Ryan Johnson, DVM, left her home in San Juan Capistrano, California, to travel to Poland to assist Ukrainian refugees and their pets coming into the country following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Greater Good Charities invited the veterinarian, a Greater Good Charities board member, to Poland to help with their volunteer efforts.
"Greater Good Charities has been on the ground for weeks with multiple organizations to help provide much-needed emergency relief and services for the people and pets impacted by the Ukraine crisis," Dr. Ryan Johnson told PEOPLE of the nonprofit.
"I was lucky enough to be asked, and having a shelter medicine background, I knew I could be of some help," she added.
After she arrived in Poland, Dr. Ryan Johnson went to the Ukraine border and worked with other volunteers from Greater Good Charities and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) "to help get the pets that had come through the border gate ready for the next leg of their journey."
Greater Good Charities While in Poland, Dr. Julie Ryan Johnson, veterinarian, and Greater Good Charities volunteer, comforts a stray dog from Ukraine with a severe skin condition that was going to receive veterinary care
"Some of the dogs and cats had not eaten or had been drinking enough water due to their travels, and many were just plain exhausted. We would get them to eat and rehydrate, bandage sore paws, etc. A lot of what we were doing was helping assure the owners that their pets would be okay," the veterinarian said of her work in Poland.
Volunteers also provided Ukrainian pet owners with pet supplies, medication, and other materials to make leaving home "less stressful."
"Polish veterinarians were able to assist pet owners that needed vaccines and/or passports for their pets. Many of the cats we saw had passports and were harness trained already," Dr. Ryan Johnson said.
Unfortunately, some Ukrainian refugees traveling with pets could not bring all their animals to their final destinations even with additional support.
"A Ukrainian woman lost her home due to Russian shelling, so she packed up her seven cats and her mother and drove to the Polish border," Dr. Ryan Johnson said of one Ukrainian pet parent who crossed into Poland. "Somehow, her car either ran out of gas or broke down, and they walked the rest of the way. She could only keep one cat at her destination, so she had to make the heartbreaking decision of deciding which cat to keep."
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The woman's heartbreaking choice was made a bit easier thanks to IFAW, who took over the care of the six felines — including George — the woman had to leave behind and found new homes for the pets.
One of the homes ended up being Dr. Ryan Johnson's. The veterinarian knew she had to give George his second chance when she first laid eyes on the feline.
"I heard about him from one of the IFAW volunteers who was keeping him in her hotel room until she found him a new home. She shared pictures and told me about his personality," Dr. Ryan Johnson sid.
"I immediately blurted out, 'I'll take him!'" she added.
After committing to adopting the cat, the veterinarian looked into what she needed to do to bring George home to California safely. Luckily, George already had a pet passport, which made setting up travel much easier, and soon the fluffy cat was on a plane ride to the U.S.
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"He was such a sport. He ate well before we left and then was quiet in the airport and under the seat on the plane. He is harness-trained, so I was able to get him out a few times before I boarded the 10-hour flight," Dr. Ryan Johnson said of her flight home with George.
"He was thin and had a poor appetite, but once he settled in at my house, he is trying to make up for all the missed meals," she added.
The veterinarian also said that the Norwegian forest cat is getting more "comfortable" in his new home and has revealed his favorite pastimes to be getting brushed, stretching out, and draping himself over inanimate objects.
Greater Good Charities
Dr. Ryan Johnson is grateful she was in the position to adopt George and hopes his story inspires others to help the pets and people affected by Russia's attacks on Ukraine.
"The best way you can help is to send money to the charities that are doing good work over there. What I love about Greater Good Charities is they have a physical presence helping on the ground, which allows them to research and vet organizations and provides direct emergency relief to people and their pets affected by the Ukraine crisis. I saw first-hand what a difference even small donations can make," Dr. Ryan Johnson said.
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To learn more about Greater Good Charities working in Ukraine and beyond — and how you can help — visit the nonprofit's website.
The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.