In one of the more ironic disasters of all time,  the unit 4 reactor of the Chernobyl power plant  in Ukraine failed during an emergency shutdown safety test  in 1986, belching nuclear waste and radioactive isotopes  all over the nearby city of Pripyat.  More than 30 years later, hundreds of stray dogs  live in and around the power plant,  along with the many wild animals that call Chernobyl home.   Today on Weird History, we're talking  about the dogs of Chernobyl.  But before we get started, make sure to subscribe to the Weird  History Channel and let us know what weird historical topic  you'd like to hear about.  So prep your tissues, animal lovers.  We're going to Ukraine.  In April, 1986, the Soviet Union evacuated the area surrounding  Chernobyl and its 120,000 citizens  and established the exclusion zone, a kind of no man's land  covering 1,000 square miles.  That's a massive area, roughly the size of Yosemite National  Park.  The fleeing civilians had to leave behind everything,  including their pets, who, like the heroic first responders  to the disaster, would suffer the catastrophic effects  of the spreading radiation.  Unlike a nuclear bomb, a reactor's radiation  just keeps on coming.  48 seconds of exposure to the area  was lethal to the first humans to reenter it, even  in lead-lined protective gear.  So the fact that they literally shoved those animals who  followed their fleeing owners of the bus and left them for dead  is only shocking if you don't consider  how much the risk of radiation contamination  rises with every warm body you stuff in a steel boxcar.  It gets worse, though.  Plenty of pet owners left notes on their doors pleading  with the government's contamination squads  to spare the animals inside.  You can probably guess how that went.  But life finds a way, life breaks free,  and life expands to new territories.  Painfully, perhaps even dangerously, some of those pets  managed to outlast radiation and the freezing weather.  Did we mention that Ukraine is cold?  Like ice in the toilet every morning cold.  The average winters in most of the country  stay well below freezing.  Even if you have a nice furry coat physically attached  to your skin, it's still a hard environment to survive in.  No person, or dog for that matter,  should want to live there.  About 3,500 generational cleanup workers  continue to make the exclusion zone inclusive.  SPCA International reports that about 1,000 dogs  are living in and around the disaster  site, many of them driven out of the woods by wolves.  Yes, wolves, yet another fun feature of living there.  Even now, the workers aren't allowed  to take the dogs home with them, but they do their best  to feed and care for them while they're there.  That's where animal organizations like Four Paws  and Clean Futures Fund come in.  They joined forces to help the dogs of Chernobyl.  Together, these philanthropists work  to spay, neuter, and vaccinate the dogs,  curbing the spread of disease.  You can actually open your home to these animals.  SPCA International and Clean Futures Fund  have been working together to make this happen.  In 2018, Ukrainian authorities and the CFF  cleared over 200 dogs for adoption  in both Ukraine and the United States.  Dogs under one-year-old are sent to nearby Sloviotec  for a 45 day quarantine, after which they can find forever  homes instead of starving and freezing  in a man-made hellscape.  If you're hoping for any radiated dog with superpowers,  you're going to be pretty disappointed.  USC's resident Chernobyl biologist Tim Musso  had this to say.  Most of them do not seem to be radioactive.  That was a bit of a surprise.  We saw absolutely no dogs with two heads  or any major genetic abnormalities.  More than 450 animals were tested for radiation exposure,  received medical care, vaccinations,  and were spayed or neutered.  In a surprising twist, the radiation testing  revealed that the dogs living in the zone  were not harmfully contaminated.  Even those unfortunate animals that  do have mutations, like those dog eating wolves  we talked about earlier, are unlikely to start  solving or committing crimes.  No tentacles, no acid breath, just albinism and cataracts.  One area where the dogs do seem adversely affected  are their lifespans.  Dogs from the area only live for about four years.  The disaster crews do what they can, but without a real home,  there is nothing to keep these dogs  from dying of malnutrition, predators, disease,  and the bitterly cold winters.  The underdogs of Chernobyl have survived removal attempts  by authorities for over 30 years.  As we mentioned before, the Soviets  immediately moved in to pull the dogs in 1986  when the disaster occurred.  But the exclusion zone is a massive area  and Ukraine is one of the poorest countries on earth.  And someone had to pay for soldiers and bullets.  Eventually, the Soviets pulled out  and the plan ran out of money.  So they tried to pay a worker to do some more  culling of the animals.  According to the CFF, the Clean Futures Fund,  that worker turned down the job.  Culling 1,000 dogs is an awful lot  to ask of anyone, whatever the price.  One of the best things the CFF have done,  besides giving dogs medical care and hopefully homes,  has been to place collars on certain dogs  to gauge the radiation levels wherever they may roam.  We've spent a lot of time talking up the dogs,  but you don't want to pet them unless they're in your house  or in a shelter.  If you're visiting Chernobyl--  yes, you can visit for whatever reason,  and yes, people do it-- you should never, ever  touch a dog that hasn't been decontaminated.  This should go without saying, but any good human being  knows how hard it is to resist petting a dog.  Since these dogs grew up in the exclusion zone,  they don't come without their quirks.  Here's what you need to know.  The dogs don't understand the concept of a toy.  The only things they enjoy playing with  are sticks and anything they can eat.  The CFF developed a training program for Chernobyl puppies  while they are in the adoption shelter,  but they will likely still need a little extra care  and attention to reach their full potential.  All these pups ask is a little of our patience, time,  and love, and they will give that love back in spades  because, well, they're dogs.  It's what they do.  Man's best friend has to be able to deal with man's worst  accidents, and the dogs of Chernobyl  have had to suffer it for generations.  It's not much to ask any of us to do our part  to make it suck just a little bit less  by giving what we can, when we can, how we can.  What do you think about the dogs of Chernobyl?  Would you ever adopt one?  Let us know in the comments.  And while you're at it, check out  some of these other videos of our Weird History.    

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