At the 2014 Winter Olympics, the main focus for most of the American athletes was bringing home a coveted gold medal, but for freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, a medal was not nearly as important as the cute companions he decided to bring back to the states. After learning that Sochi officials had ordered the catching and killing of stray dogs, Kenworthy saw this Russian tragedy as an opportunity to give homeless puppies a second chance at life.
The 22-year-old skier came across a mother stray and her gathering of puppies that had managed to escape being exterminated as a result of the Russian effort to reduce the stray population from becoming a disturbance at the winter games. From first glance at the pups, Kenworthy, who had recently won a silver medal for his stellar achievements in the slopestyle ski event, pledged to dedicate the rest of his stay in Sochi to working toward the dogs’ adoption process. The procedure to retrieve the proper paperwork that would allow him the right to transport the dogs to the U.S. took much longer than the skier had planned, yet he refused to return home without ensuring a safe future for the canine family.
The Telluride, CO native took to social media sites to raise awareness about the need to rescue the stray dogs from Sochi while waiting for the adoption process to be completed. His plight on Twitter even gained the attention of Humane Society International, who helped Kenworthy continue the adoption procedures and prepare medical evaluations for the dogs upon their American arrival. Friend and photographer Robin Macdonald, who had planned to be in Sochi for only a few days, remained with Kenworthy for the month-long process, providing a helping hand to care for the dogs’ health.
Sadly, two of the Russian puppies were too weak from malnourishment to live to see the long-awaited adoption. Because government officials would not permit Kenworthy to remain with the dogs the entire time during his stay, the skier was not able to personally ensure the dogs’ care. However, this loss has only encouraged Kenworthy to continue working for the safety of foreign strays. Now back home in the United States, Kenworthy has already helped change the American perspective of foreign dog adoption, and he states that the most inspiring aspect of his story is the amazing response from the American public. People from around the nation have donated to Humane Society International and have chosen to adopt homeless dogs rather than purchase from breeders.
The young athlete is currently promoting the founding of shelters throughout Sochi in hopes to remove the city’s extermination policy. He is also supporting a movement to alter the procedures for international adoption, so other kindhearted athletes will not face difficulty when returning home with innocent strays.
The three dogs Kenworthy was able to deliver from Sochi, named Mama, Jake, and Mishka, are happy and healthy in their new nation and continue to serve as inspiration for Americans to open their hearts to stray dogs in need. If one Olympian can put down his silver medal to pick up a lovable puppy, surely we can find room in our lives to provide homes to strays, whether they are in our backyard or somewhere across the Atlantic.