Andrew Ciccolini is a Medical Director at the National Mill Dog Rescue, a large non-profit located in Peyton Colorado, and the Director of Non-Profit Initiatives at Galaxy Vets. His background includes serving in the U.S. Army, where he worked his way up from Associate Veterinarian to VP of Operations. In addition to his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, he has a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.
Why have you decided to launch the Galaxy Vets Foundation?
Galaxy Vets is a newer veterinary healthcare system within North America, and they kind of always had the intention to start a nonprofit as part of a strategic, corporate social responsibility. And so that was planned kind of down the line. But then with the, the war in Ukraine, it really just kind of brought that to the forefront and we felt compelled to act and make an impact.
We have a very personal reason for that. Our founder and CEO at Galaxy Vets is native Ukrainian. He immigrated to North America around 20 years ago, and we have over 20 employees that still live and work within Ukraine. So we felt just intimately connected to the tragedy that’s occurring there, and we thought, you know, what can we do to help? How can we have an impact? And since we’re a veterinary healthcare system, we felt like providing, uh, telehealth services to pet owners within Ukraine that may not have access to veterinary care was the best way that we could help. And so we’ve been doing that since April.
So at this point, we’ve responded to over 10,000 requests for assistance, and those can vary from being, you know, just very minor requests. Like, Hey, I’m struggling to find food or, uh, different resources or medicines for my pets, and we can connect them to different organizations already operating within Ukraine.
To really traumatic, medical cases with pets that are involved in bombings or suffering, psychological effects from, from the bombings. And we just do our, the best we can to help them through a telemedicine platform.
How could people help?
There’s a number of different ways. Of course, if there’s a veterinary professional that’s listening, we are running this predominantly through volunteers, so veterinarians and veterinarian technicians, if they want to help, they can go to our website and sign up to be a volunteer and volunteer for shifts providing telehealth services.
And of course with, with any nonprofit, we certainly need, uh, financial contributions. Uh, so we are also trying our best to help with different shelters, military working dogs, police dogs within Ukraine. We’ve been able to provide some financial support there. And again, those needs, uh, exceed our capacity at this point. Uh, we’re operating on a pretty shoestring budget as best we can. Uh, but we could certainly use more, more donations as. So if you’re tuning in, please help donate.
What are you seeing right now as the biggest pet needs within Ukraine
I think you see pretty much everything. So there, there’s a lot of people that refuse to evacuate and so they stayed with their pets and certainly they need help. There’s a lot of people that have stayed in kind of taken on the responsibility of the people that fled and couldn’t take their pets.
And so they’ve kind of started makeshift shelters almost. Um, There’s volunteers, you know, just trying to help provide food and water to strays and healthcare where possible. And it certainly varies from region to region within Ukraine, depending on the intensity of the conflict. Uh, but it’s, it’s, it’s all over the map, but there’s tons of amazing people doing incredible work and we’re just trying to do our part to.
What does being a Pet Influencer mean to you?
Being a pet influencer is really just about spreading the message that, that you want to get out in the world. So I kind of started as a Pet influencer before this Ukraine project started, and I’ve just kind of leveraged that platform to further spread the message of what we’re doing. and it can be a challenge cuz I think a big component of PET influencing is people tend to respond more to like positivity and happiness.
And it is hard to be like, you know, here’s the devastation that’s going on in Ukraine. And so you have to be a little bit cautious about how, how negative you, you get, uh, but you wanna be truthful about what’s really going on. Uh, so we have a amazing marketing team that helps develop some of our posts to share that news.
And um, a lot of what I do is. Share, Share their stuff from our Galaxy Vets Foundation page and spread that to my audience as well.
And what is your handle?
My handle on Instagram is okay_Vet, I am on Facebook as well, but my main efforts are on Instagram.
Are companies coming to you independently or individuals to help with the cause? Do you see like a lot of traction from your personal account for this?
We’ve had a couple of organizations pair up with us. Um, but I think, you know, there’s so many organizations out there that a lot of companies are. Already contributing in other ways, um, or working with different organizations than us. Mm-hmm. . So we haven’t necessarily had a lot reach out to us, but we’ve had a few.
For example, Pet Hub. They make some tags for pets that help help you find your pet if they’re lost. They have like a little QR code on them and they donated a thousand tags to us to kinda sell as a fundraiser, and that’s been hugely beneficial. We’ve had, we have a company called Vet ct, which is based outta the UK that provides vet to vet tele consulting.
So they have specialists that help for more complicated cases and they’ve donated their time to us. So if our volunteers have a complicated case, they can get additional help from them. Um, so we’ve had a few, few companies like that that have really helped us out.
What are some of the things that you’re seeing that are helping the needle here beyond just your personal account?
I think you know what social media does is it, it’s keeping the narrative in everyone’s mind because I think the, the big news media has kind of moved on and we don’t hear as much and it’s kind of fallen from people’s, people’s view.
And social media kind of gives you the ground level. True story of what’s going on and keeps people informed and like, Hey, this isn’t over. Like there’s, there’s still tragedy going on. Um, and that, I think that’s just the biggest impact from social media is just we’re still getting that message out.
Is there any story about a pet that was rescued or something that you wanna share that really just shows how social media or that your efforts are help in like a specific call out?
I think one of the, truthfully is one of the hardest cases I had is we had a, had an owner just asking for advice about their German Shepherd and it was an older German Shepherd and they said, Hey, it’s having a harder time getting around.
Uh, it’s. You know, is there anything else that can be done? Um, there can be some challenges with translation, but it sounded like it was suffering from degenerative myelopathy, which is a progressive disorder in German Shepherds. Uh, it’s pretty common and it’s just a slow progression where they lose neurologic function to their back legs.
And, uh, nothing particularly profound about that case other than, you know, we just provided some emotional support and, you know, here’s some minor things you can do to help slow the progression. Um, and. What became really impactful was, you know, after that discussion she was like, Thank you so much. This dog means the world to me.
Um, sorry, I’m getting emotional cause it’s, I’m gonna start to, cause I don’t know what you’re gonna say. Um, they said that, There was a bomb that their city was bombed and their daughter was killed, and they found their dog laying on top of their daughter in the rubble and the dog still survived. Um, and that’s just really stuck with me.
Um, and even though we couldn’t necessarily have a huge medical impact for that dog, we provided that emotional support for that person and just an opportunity to talk and, uh, have a connection with another person, uh, and help them through a difficult time. Uh, so that was really the most impactful case I, I’ve dealt with so far.
Thank you for sharing. I mean, it cannot. You know, people could talk and the animals can’t. So I sit here and I, you know, I look at my little dog and I, you know, it’s just, um, they become parts of our family. Yeah. And we, we certainly know how huge of a emotional wellness impact pets can have on us. And so that’s hugely important to people suffering through everything they’re going through in Ukraine.
They still have their pets with them, just provides such support for them. And so we wanna help support that human animal. Yeah. And then are there a lot of like missions to take a lot of pets out to other countries or for adoption or anything like that? Cause they’ve been abandoned? Um, I, I’m sure there certainly are.
We haven’t been involved too much and many of them, I think most people would prefer to, you know, stay with their pets and keep them, um, We’ve had a couple individual consultations with people just trying to get their leaving and they wanna take their pets with them and there can be different requirements based on the country they’re going to, that can create challenges.
Oh, right. So just trying to help them through that. Uh, but we haven’t been intimately involved with any large skill efforts to remove animals from.
What are the benefits that you see or are there any things that you think are kind of harmful on social media?
Um, from a medical perspective? I think, you know, we all know social media can be a bit of a double edged sword. Um, so there can certainly be negatives from a, from a veterinary standpoint, you have to be a little careful about providing medical advice, um, to a patient you haven’t necessarily seen in person.
Um, and if you put yourself out there, people are gonna reach out to you. Uh, and that’s partly just human nature and it’s also. The state of the industry these days, everybody’s struggling to be able to get a veterinary appointment because the industry is just, um, the demand exceeds the supply. And so people are just trying to find a place where they can get some advice.
But at least in the US there’s a lot of legal requirements around. Having, being able to see that pat in person before you can diagnose and give recommendations. Uh, so you have to be a little careful there. And just like any influencer in social media, if you’re putting yourself out there, you’re open yourself up to criticism.
And that’s a big reason why I don’t bother with Facebook much is because I feel like for whatever reason, Facebook just has more of the trolls and uh, people are much more critical. Whereas I find Instagram is a really supportive community. Uh, why there’s that difference when they’re owned by the same company.
I don’t really know, but that’s just been my experience.
That’s very interesting. We see that too with a lot of the influencers, cuz some of them are just Instagrammers or just tickers, but the legacy influencers who have blogs like, and started out really with Facebook and Photo, they’ll say the same thing.
Like, we get hate mail, we get trolls. And so it’s just interesting. It just could be the evolution. The newer audiences have been brought up on these mediums, so they’re more positive as opposed to like the legacy. Yeah, I think that’s a really good insight and I think there’s probably some truth to that for sure.
How can influencers help your mission?
They can reach out to me or they can reach out to Galaxy Vet’s Foundation account on Instagram or Facebook. Um, if they just want a simple way, they can leverage what Babble Box has already done for us. You know, you guys have created, uh, tons of content that can easily be shared that just helps spread the message and we’re hugely thankful for that.
I mean, that just truly incredible that you guys just donated that to us. Um, I mean, I think we saw the report the other day and it was like over 6 million impressions from the campaign you guys ran, and, and that’s just awesome. I mean, it’s so hard for a small organization like us to reach such a large audience, so thank you for that.
And other influencers can easily just tag onto that and share those and just spread it even further. Yeah, well, anything that we could do to further help, we’re always here. Cause, um, again, if we’re gonna be doing something, we, we need to be doing it in the right way. And so with all these influencers you.
times when people need help, they should be helping. So that’s our mission too.
Name an influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do.
So I don’t know that I can name one influencer that I, I follow. I think I would be embarrassed if people knew how many different, like Chihuahua accounts I followed and how much time I spent watching their videos and interacting with them. Uh, I don’t know what it is about the. The little spicy chihuahuas, but I just love them all.
Um, so if I come across an account that includes a Chihuahua, I’m gonna follow it. That’s amazing. So we have the same thing in our house with Pomeranians, even though we own a toy Schnauzer. My son, when he gets a haircut, looks like a Pomeranian like, and so every time we find a Pomeranian account, we’re like obsessed with the pran.
Yeah, you gotta have a picture of your son and a Pomeranian next to it. Yeah. You know, a lot of times people tend to look like they’re pets. Yeah, exactly. So it was lovely speaking with you. Always great. You know, working with you. And again, if there’s anything further that we could do to help you, we, we are here and our doors are open.
Yeah. Thank you so much. We can’t thank you enough again for the campaign you ran for us. Thank you.
Donate or volunteer at https://galaxyvets.foundation/
Help the Ukrainian Armed Forces: https://bank.gov.ua/en/news/all/natsionalniy-bank-vidkriv-spetsrahunok-dlya-zboru-koshtiv-na-potrebi-armiyi
Andrew’s social media:
The Foundation’s social media:
Here you can find some of our recent news: https://galaxyvets.foundation/news/. But we publish more on our social media: