When the explosion at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant hit in 1986, many residents were forced to leave their pets as they fled the disaster.
Today the ancestors of those pets continue to roam. But while petting a cute puppy can be tempting, there’s an alarming reason you’ll want to hold off.
Due to the radioactivity in the area, puppies in the region could be harboring radioactive particles on their fur, according to a new documentary titled Puppies of Chernobyl.
In the documentary, filmmaker Drew Scanlon says officials did not allow him to pet the animals because of the potential danger. The dogs are believed to be the descendants of those that remained in Chernobyl years ago.
“We could find areas in their bones where radioisotopes had accumulated,” Lucas Hixson, co-founder of nonprofit Clean Futures Fund, who has been visiting the area for the last five years, told Newsweek.
Hixson said he first visited Chernobyl as a radiation specialist, and was surprised to be greeted by the dogs.
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“We could survey the bones and we could see the radioactivity in them,” he added. Part of the risk is due to the fact that while there are strict regulations on where people can and cannot go in the zone, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to control where the animals roam.
Agencies like the Clean Futures Fund are working to address the issue by creating a spay and neuter clinic for the animals, partnering with the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Management Agency in Ukraine.
While the puppies can harbor dangerous radioactive particles, Hixson doesn’t believe they’re an immediate threat to one’s health.
“They’re not hazardous to your immediate health and well-being … but anytime you go pet the dogs, go wash your hands afterwards before you eat,” he told Newsweek.