The Dogs of Chernobyl Research Initiative

University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
DOI: 10.18258/11168
Raised of $12,500 Goal
Funded on 6/19/18
Successfully Funded
  • $12,500
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 6/19/18



We plan to capture about 500 feral dogs from around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the town of Chernobyl during June 2018 (more than 400 were captured in August 2017). The dogs will be humanely captured by professional dog catchers and given a sedative by veterinarians to reduce or eliminate any unnecessary stress to the animals.

Dogs will be examined to determine if they had been previously sterilized and vaccinated in 2017 in which case they will be given a follow-up exam and a new numbered tag and dosimeter. New dogs will be taken to our animal clinic and first decontaminated if neccessary. They will then be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and examined for any signs of disease. In addition, their eyes will be examined by a leading authority on radiation cataract in humans and animals from Columbia University to assess cataract development. We will collect and preserve samples of blood, saliva, feces and fur for later analysis of DNA damage, mutation rates, radioactivity, and gut microbiome, among other measurements.

Photos from The Dogs of Chernobyl activities in August, 2017

We will collaborate with a number of research groups in the USA, UK, and elsewhere in order to generate the most new knowledge possible from this effort. Our goal is to estimate rates of DNA damage using advanced cytogenetic methods (e.g. COMET, micronuclei, etc), and to assess any other obvious health issues related to radiation exposure. 

Of particular note is that we will assess radiation "dose" to individual dogs using three approaches:  First, dogs will be given a gamma radiation scan in the clinic using a gamma spectrometer. This will permit estimation of total body burden of radioactive metals (mostly cesium) in the dogs' bodies which can then be used to infer internal dose. In addition, last summer, most dogs were outfitted with a TLD dosimeter that we will retrieve this June. We will bring these TLD dosimeters to the lab and, using a special machine, we will be able to estimate the total external dose to the dog over the intervening 10 months. We will also place TLD dosimeters on all dogs captured this June. These dogs will be recaptured later during the fall of 2018 for a follow up exam and to retrieve the dosimeters.  In addition, we will estimate doses using the location of capture and new databases that are available that map contamination levels for the entire Chernobyl exclusion zone. By using these three approaches, and cross-validating among different techniques, it will be possible to estimate a "dose" to every dog used in this study.

Most past studies of the possible health effects of ionizing radiation have not been able to precisely measure dose to individual animals. This has been a major limitation of most previous studies. The proposed study on Chernobyl dogs will represent a major step forward as the doses will be directly measured for individual animals providing a near-unprecendented level of rigor for this sort of scientific study. 

Once all data have been collected and follow-up laboratory studies conducted, data will be analyzed  and scientific papers will be written and submitted to peer reviewed journals. In addition, this work will form the basis for or a component of several graduate and undergraduate theses. 


There will be many challenges to this project. The first concerns operations in Ukraine. Although Mousseau's research at Chernobyl has been ongoing for almost 20 years, there are always obstacles that come up that have to be addressed. However, given the universal local support for this project, we are optimistic that we will will be able to address any issues and conduct the project as described.

Other challenges may include dealing with equipment failures, transportation problems, and the weather! However, last year's clinic at Chernobyl was very successful and this bodes well fo similar success in the coming years.

The main challenge for the generation of successful scientific products relates to funding - many of the assays and measurements we hope to conduct require significant financial resources for both the materials and the personnel needed to bring this project to completion. We have already obtained sufficient funding to get this project started and have commitments from the University of South Carolina to match any contributions to this project made via In addition, we will be submitting grant proposals to several funding agencies in the coming months to sustain this effort for the coming years.

Pre Analysis Plan

Based on previous analyses of radiation effects we will address the following hypotheses:

1) Dogs exposed to greater radiation doses will show increased levels of genetic damage, and higher frequencies and greater development of cataract in their eyes.

2) Dogs exposed to higher doses will have increased parasite loads in their feces and changes in their microbiome consistent with previous findings for mammals living in contaminated areas.

3) Dog survival (i.e. longevity) is higher in "cleaner" areas than in highly contaminated areas. 

4) Dog health and survival is enhanced by this animal welfare program. 


This project has not yet shared any protocols.