SOCHI, RUSSIA - Several American Olympic athletes are falling...but in a good way! The same hearts of grit and determination that brought them to Olympic glory are proving to be made of mush when it comes to the many homeless stray dogs of Sochi. Several athletes are working hard to adopt some canines as their own and to help the others on the streets of the city. There are an estimated 2000 homeless dogs who were being rounded up and killed by Russian authorities ahead of the Opening Ceremonies despite promises to have built shelters to house the strays before the Olympic Games.
Gus Kenworthy, America's Silver Medalist in slopestyle skiing, kicked off the trend when he began tweeting photos of some of Sochi's homeless stray dogs when he arrived. He soon was head-over-heals for four black and brown mutt puppies found on the streets and kept in a security tent because they aren't allowed into the Athletes Village. Gus visits them daily, feeding and just chillin' with the dogs and says he found it calming for his Olympic nerves.
"When I was trying to get ready for the contest, it was kind of like a nice distraction, just something to keep my mind off it." he said.
Gus has postponed his return to the United States to get paperwork in order to adopt and transport the pups to his hometown of Denver. He's also joined efforts with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who has financially backed a Sochi shelter and is about to open another shelter there that will hold 250 dogs.
American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis has also adopted a dog in Sochi. She is currently working to have the dog she's named SOCHI vetted so she can obtain the proper pet passport to have the pooch accompany her home.
Several U.S. men's hockey players are also working to adopt. Tough guys on the ice, even they are not immune to the charms of the Sochi strays! Led by Olympian and St. Louis Blues captain David Backes and his wife, Kelly, team members are creating alliances with other athletes in other countries to find homes for some of the dogs. David and Kelly have worked in dog rescue for a decade and have a foundation, Athletes for Animals, that promotes pet adoption.
Speaking on the rumors circulating about the dogs before the Olympics began, David said, "They kind of were portrayed as rabid animals that were dangerous, and I don't think anyone has seen that out of those animals. We've seen a lot of friendly, smart street dogs that have perhaps had a tough life."
As the athlete-driven networking push to find homes or solutions for the remaining Sochi strays continues, plans are being made to move some to U.S. shelters and some to other countries. David Backes believes there's an even bigger picture at stake in that American Olympians can, "maybe show people how we treat our animals and maybe that could be contagious".
To help by adopting or donating, contact Athletes for Animals.
CLICK HERE to watch a video of the Backes' talking about their work to save animals through their foundation.
**Yes, there are millions of homeless animals right here in our country who need our help, too. But the spotlight shone on the Sochi strays and the story of these caring Olympians who are making a difference is a welcome chance to raise awareness of homeless animals and promote adoption everywhere.
ONE DOG AT A TIME. Adopt, spay, neuter, tag and microchip and love your pets for life!