Pet Tales: Skier brings home silver medal and street puppies from Russia




As the world got ready to watch the 2014 Winter Olympic games, animal lovers were horrified and heartbroken to learn that the streets of Sochi were filled with stray dogs.

As Gus Kenworthy was completing his last training runs in slopestyle skiing, he stumbled upon four furry puppies and their mother and decided he had to do a whole lot more than throw them scraps of food. Although he came to Russia to win a medal, he vowed he would not go home without the dogs.  

It was the trip of a lifetime for Mr. Kenworthy, 22, who raced down the mountain doing tricks and jumping over obstacles to win the silver medal. It was a historic win -- 2014 marked the first time that slopestyle skiing was an Olympic event -- and the U.S. team also captured gold and bronze medals.

Somewhere along the way, Mr. Kenworthy scooped up the four puppies, cradled them in his arms and asked his friend, freelance photographer Robin Macdonald, to take a picture for his Facebook page. The picture went viral, and Mr. Kenworthy was catapulted to an even higher level of fame, and dare I say, adoration. The response surprised him, but it didn’t help him save the puppies.

The ski team was headed back to New York for media interviews and television appearances, and Russian officials wouldn’t allow the dogs to fly with him. Mr. Kenworthy briefly considered staying behind to fight for the dogs, but he didn’t want to let the team down. That’s when Mr. Macdonald volunteered to stay in Russia with the puppies that Mr. Kenworthy had already named Rosa, Sochi, Jake and Mishka, and their mother, Mama.

Russian officials seized the dogs and put them in a holding facility. For 30 days, Mr. Macdonald fought for their release with the help of Humane Society International and a number of individuals.

“It wasn’t for quarantine, and they didn’t vaccinate them,” Mr. Kenworthy said in a phone interview.

Officials were apparently upset about the negative press Russia had received on the stray dog issue.

“The puppies were in there with dogs that were sick, and Sochi died. That’s when the Russians finally let the others leave,” Mr. Kenworthy said.

When they arrived in New York, Rosa started having severe convulsions. She was rushed to a veterinarian, who said she had neurological problems that were not responding to treatment. Rosa was humanely euthanized. Mr. Kenworthy said the puppy deaths were “tragic” and preventable, if only they had gotten out of Russia sooner. 

The pups and their mom were initially shy and fearful in Russia but warmed up quickly. Jake, who is black, white and brown, and Mishka, who is black, are now about 8 months old and living large in Denver with Mr. Kenworthy. Their black-and-brown mother is living with Mr. Kenworthy’s mother, Pit,  in Telluride, Colo.  All are happy, healthy, active and loving, Mr. Kenworthy said.

Feeding them was a challenge in Russia because the Americans couldn’t find dog food in the grocery stores. Mr. Macdonald eventually cooked huge batches of rice and chicken to feed them. But once they arrived in the U.S., Freshpet, a company based in Bethlehem, Pa., offered to supply food and treats for all of the dogs.

I don’t usually write about dog food and treats, but I’ll make an exception here. Freshpet foods must be refrigerated because the ingredients are “fresh and natural,” according to the company. It’s certainly an improvement over the food poor Mama was scavenging from gutters and garbage cans in Russia. All three dogs are thriving on Freshpet, Mr. Kenworthy said.  

“My mom sends me  pictures of Mama all the time,” Mr. Kenworthy said.“She won’t leave Mama alone. She takes her everywhere, including to work, to the consignment store she owns.”

Caring for Jake and Mishka is a logistical challenge for a professional athlete who travels extensively to train and compete. Relatives and friends, including Mr. Macdonald, step up as pet sitters, including for a July 30 trip to California where Mr. Kenworthy threw out the first pitch at a San Diego Padres game. At his side was a shelter dog named Tucker. It was a Petco promotion to raise awareness for adoptions from pet shelters and rescues.

As for the skiing, for the fourth year in a row Mr. Kenworthy was the overall world champion in his event, and he is aiming to compete in the next Winter Olympics.

You can keep up with him, the pups and Mama on Twitter and Facebook and at www.freshpet.com, where he blogs about the dogs. 

Bark-B-Q and beer

A Summer Bark-B-Q and Beer Tasting will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. next Saturday at All Saints Brewing Co., U.S. Route 119, Hempfield (15601). Sample craft beers and pulled pork, smoked macaroni and cheese, and coleslaw.

This event benefits The Proper Pit Bull, an all-volunteer organization that rescues pit bulls and educates the public about the oft-misunderstood breed. Advance tickets are $25 at www.theproperpitbull.org or $30 at the door. Although it is a benefit for dogs, the organizers ask that you leave your dogs at home. 

Rabbit party

The Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club invites you and your rabbit to a free party from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. next Saturday at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, 1101 Western Ave., North Side (15233). 

Experts will be there to answer questions and provide information about proper diet, nail cutting, housing, toys and games that rabbits can play. Best of all, you can show off your pet and give him or her a chance to play. All bunnies should arrive with a folding pen or play yard.

To reserve a spot, go to www.pittsburghhouserabbit.org. In the past nine years, the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club has held more than 100 free classes.  

Fur donations

The people at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would like you to know that they, too, collect fur coats and other fur items and donate them to orphaned and injured wildlife.

“Since 1998, PETA has repurposed more than 1,200 fur coats from donations and giveaway events” in the United States, Canada, South Africa and Nigeria, Amanda Schinke, senior media writer for the organization, said in an email. She noted that the total included local donations in Greensburg in December 2003 and in Pittsburgh in January 1998.

PETA was responding to a July 26 Pet Tales column that featured Born Free USA, which collected donated furs and gave them to four wildlife rehab centers, including one in Verona run by the Animal Rescue League. I said I thought that was a better and more tasteful use of fur than PETA’s practice of giving ”repurposed“ fur to homeless people.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Contact Linda Wilson Fuoco on her Facebook page, lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.

 

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