EDMONDS, Wash — Tana Axtelle has barely been back from Ukraine for 24 hours, and the faces of the animals she left behind still haunt her.
"It's hard," she said, wiping away tears. "They don't know, and they're looking at you like...help me."
Axtelle and fellow animal lover Dan Fine both traveled from Edmonds to Poland to help care for the massive influx of animals coming across the border with Ukrainian refugees.
Some estimates put the number of animals in need of shelter at 1 million. Their conditions are critical. Video taken in Ukrainian villages shows piles of dead animals.
For the survivors, the fear is evident on their trembling faces.
"There are a lot of leg wounds, shrapnel wounds," said Axtelle. "We had one that had multiple gunshot wounds, and it isn't just that. It's the emotional wounds these animals are suffering."
Shortly after the Edmonds duo arrived, the Polish government restricted which animals could cross the border because of concerns over disease.
Now, countless beloved pets are being abandoned as families flee for their lives.
According to Axtelle, the refugees are taking public transportation to escape and the authorities are saying there isn't enough room for all.
"It's your dog or another person," said Axtelle. "A lot of the pets are being abandoned at train stations and I just feel so sorry for those families having to make that choice."
The government move means a complete change of mission. Instead of treating animals brought to Poland, teams are now going into the war zone to bring supplies to zoos and veterinarians.
But the logistics are daunting.
"It changes daily, almost hourly," said Axtelle. "You think you've got things figured out and then – boom – the Russians have moved and are causing chaos in another area."
The original plan in Poland was to eventually reunite families with their pets. Now, though, the focus is on simply getting them adopted. Axtelle said that is already happening.
That knowledge helps Axtelle find hope in the human race despite the cruelty of war.
"I see the good in humanity," said Axtelle. "That's my takeaway."
How to help the animals of Ukraine
Fine and Axtelle set up a GoFundMe to support teams who are caring for animals on the ground in Eastern Europe