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Ahead of the Games

With one eye still on Sochi, HSI continues work to protect street dogs

All Animals magazine, July/August 2014

by Ruthanne Johnson

  • Olympian Gus Kenworthy spends time with Mama, rescued from the streets of Sochi, Russia. Christopher Lane/AP Images for HSI

It was Gun Kenworthy's Big Day in Telluride, Colorado. The Winter Olympian had just come off a whirlwind media tour, and his hometown was honoring him with a parade for winning a silver medal in slopestyle skiing. Posters of him covered the town. He was even having a street named after him: Gus' Way.

Yet there he was at his mom’s house before the parade, rolling up the carpets and putting out pee pads for the mother dog and two puppies he’d befriended in Sochi—survivors of a pre-Olympic street dog cull. His mom was adopting the mother dog. The puppies, Jake and Mishka, were headed to Denver to live with him.

During the parade, he carried the pups in his forearms, tucked against his chest. Carrying Mama was his friend Robin Macdonald, a Canadian sports photographer who had stayed behind in Sochi for a month after the Olympics working to get the dogs released. Remembers Kenworthy: “People were, as usual, very excited to meet the dogs and to get to see them.”

Rescued with the help of Humane Society International, the dogs have shined a light on the plight of street dogs across the globe, particularly in the host cities of worldwide sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup. As HSI’s Kelly O’Meara notes, “Unfortunately, it’s common for governments to take drastic and often cruel actions when attempting to address the street dog issue quickly. Greece leading up to the 2004 Athens Olympics implemented a very visible and cruel dog cull.” Beijing was suspected of doing the same in 2008.

In an effort to curb this kind of cull mentality, HSI is asking sports committees such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, the governing body for the World Cup, to consider humane street dog management practices such as mass sterilization among the criteria for selecting host countries. HSI also intends to collaborate with governments to implement spay/neuter programs in the host countries of upcoming events, such as Russia for the 2018 World Cup.

One success story comes from Bhutan. In 2008, the country implemented a mass roundup of street dogs in the weeks leading up to the coronation of its king. But after seeing the suffering of these dogs in pounds, government officials began working with HSI to implement a mass sterilization and vaccination program that remains ongoing today.

  • The Charles family adopted Bosh from the Washington Animal Rescue League. Meredith Lee/The HSUS

HSI has continued the efforts in Sochi, bringing 10 more dogs to the U.S. in late March. Staff and volunteers at the Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington, D.C., have given the dogs the royal treatment: Kong toys stuffed with peanut butter, bones to chew on, daily walks and reading time. By the end of April, eight had found homes, and there are plans to bring more over.

Meanwhile, life in America has been one big cushy adventure for Mama, Jake and Mishka. “They definitely love sleeping on a bed, on a couch, on you,” says Macdonald.

The two pups went swimming for the first time near their home. “Jake loves the water,” says Kenworthy. “Mishka, not so much. But he’s getting a little bit more daring each time.” Though the two sometimes play rough, they fall asleep on each other afterwards like the best of friends.

In Telluride, Mama (now known as Mamushka) is pretty famous. During the town’s busy ski season, people would often come into Pip Kenworthy’s vintage consignment store just to have their picture taken with her. Companies have donated toys and other supplies to the dogs, and Gus bought Mama a dog bone tag that features the Olympic rings on one side and her name on the other.

At the local park, she’s as fast as a gazelle when playing with her dog friends and chasing the ball. At home, she goes from one soft chair to another as she shadows her new owner. Says Pip Kenworthy: “She couldn’t be more perfect.”

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