As Dr. Cliff Redford prepares to take his veterinary skills into a war zone, the thing he’s most worried about is crying.
The owner of a veterinary clinic in Markham, Ont., and graduate of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) will volunteer in Poland in late March and early April at refugee shelters near the Ukrainian border.
He and his daughter, Emily, will work with the ADA Foundation – a charity shelter in Poland – and with DIOZ, both organizations tending pets of refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Redford – known as “Dr. Cliff” – said, “I know how quickly I cry when things become emotional. Anytime I talk about my daughter and my pride in her, or if I see a kid crying…. I’m sure I’ll be falling asleep crying a few times.”
He plans to spend two weeks in Poland, including potential forays into Ukraine as far as Lviv to retrieve injured and traumatized animals.
After he announced his plan in mid-March, donations of money and medical supplies began pouring into Wellington Veterinary Hospital, which he has owned since 2000. By St. Patrick’s Day, a GoFundMe campaign had raised $5,000 for travel costs and another $10,000 to buy an animal ambulance for DIOZ.
Redford expected to raise another $10,000 before leaving for Poland on March 21.
He said several local animal rescue groups have also volunteered to take in patients if Redford manages to arrange their transport by the time he returns to Canada. “If we arrive with 50 animals at Pearson Airport, there will be a slew of cars to drive them to rescues in the York area.”
As of March 21, more than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began in late February.
Redford said hearing about the plight of many refugees and their pets – and the challenges faced by veterinarians in Poland – stirred him to action.
“It was stressing me out, I was feeling anxious and upset and wished I could do more.”
He talked with colleagues who urged him to act on his feelings.
“Although I’m still feeling a lot of stress, it’s a different stress. I’m feeling so much better. It’s only going to be a bit of help in the grand scheme of things, but a little bit of help is a decent thing.”
Beginning with animal rescue groups in Jamaica in 2016, Redford has volunteered abroad in several countries, including Greece, Egypt and Panama. He volunteers weekly at a local wildlife refuge.
Emily, who is training to become a veterinary technician, has accompanied him on several assignments.
“She’s better at a lot of things than I am. We’ve never gone to a country neighbouring a country at war.”
From animals suffering from hunger and dehydration to pets with burns and broken bones, he said, “I expect there are going to be a lot of trauma cases.”
Redford completed his DVM in 1998.
He said attending veterinary school at U of G equipped him for tackling challenges of all kinds.
“Going to vet school and graduating with a DVM grants you a very specific set of skills that allow you to analyze problems and find solutions. It allows you to ‘MacGyver’ up solutions with limited materials, teaches you to keep calm when problems occur, and then it gives you a polite, loving push out the door into practice.
“It teaches you very quickly to sink or swim. If you can swim, what a great life this is.”
He credits biomedical sciences professor Dr. Peter Conlon, OVC associate dean of students, with providing open-door advice and encouragement during his studies.
“Those were the greatest times of my life,” said Redford. “I love the place.”