At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, American freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy made headlines not for just winning a silver medal, but for pledging to adopt and care for a family of street dogs living near the Olympic village. Today, he celebrated the return of some of the dogs in an interview on The Today Show on NBC.
While forging a powerful bond with a mother and her pups, Gus came to understand that there was more at stake than the family of dogs he befriended. Sochi authorities were poisoning and rounding up dogs, and he knew there had to be a better way. During the Olympics, he and photographer, friend Robin Macdonald partnered with our affiliate, Humane Society International, making determined efforts over weeks to get the dogs out of Russia and to the U.S. to be placed in adoptive homes.
Gus’s empathetic handling of the street dog situation contrasted sharply with the misguided efforts of Sochi officials to cleanse their city of these animals at the start of the games. Perhaps to the surprise of some bureaucrats, dogs in the Olympic village did not create fear or revulsion; on the contrary, they inspired sympathy and compassionate efforts to help them. Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, worked with citizens to set up an emergency shelter, Povodog, to help the dogs.
For HSI, street dog management is hardly a new concern. We’ve done pioneering street dog work in Bhutan, India, the Philippines, and other nations in Asia. In the months before the Olympics, we offered to develop similar plans for Sochi, as an alternative to round-up and killing or direct poisoning or shooting of the dogs. And we have called upon the International Olympic Committee to consider humane values when it is selecting host cities and nations in the future.
For the past few weeks we have been working with Gus and Robin, to get some of the dogs back to the U.S. for adoption, and that reunion happened today.
As Gus and Robin, along with HSI vice president Kitty Block, told a national audience today, we’re committed to addressing the world’s stray and street dog problems with innovative methods, not the archaic and cruel practices that have characterized the approach of too many communities in too many nations.
Russia is just one of those nations in which the treatment of street animals is not yet a priority. Our view is a simple one. It can never be a 21st century power and a leader in the world if it does not commit to appropriately address animal protection issues. Russia will be hosting soccer’s 2018 World Cup in eight cities (including Sochi) and it would be fantastic if the governments of those eight cities would adopt and implement humane street dog management programs before that time. It would be a great start, and we can help.