Gus Kenworthy, the silver medalist in the 1-2-3 U.S. sweep of the men’s ski slopestyle competition Thursday, spent the past two days buying kennels and leashes for a brood—four young pooches and their mother—he plans to bring home. The dogs had made their home under a security tent near a media center in the mountains.
Mr. Kenworthy said he visited them daily because he wasn’t allowed to bring them into the athletes’ village.
"When I was trying to get ready for the contest, it was kind of like a nice distraction, just something keeping my mind off it," said Mr. Kenworthy, who lives in Denver. He says he started the adoption process more than a week ago.
"They’re so cute," he said of the floppy-eared black-and-brown mutts. "They’re my faves."
A few days ago, Mr. Kenworthy’s tweet of a photo of the four puppies snuggling in his lap became an international sensation, even inspiring a tweet from pop star Miley Cyrus: “4 reasons to follow @guskenworthy.”
Mr. Kenworthy replied to Ms. Cyrus with a reference to one of her hit songs: “Well this just hit me like a wrecking ball…”
American Lindsey Jacobellis had a sour competition experience at the Games, tumbling in the snowboard cross competition in which she was a medal favorite.
But she was all smiles on a Twitter photo, scratching the chin of a black-and-tan mutt with the caption “me and my pup.” Ms. Jacobellis has completed her adoption of the dog, including a visit to a Russian veterinarian and the purchase of a pet passport, according to her agent Josh Schwartz. She is set to head home with the pooch, which she named Sochi, on Thursday.
The population of pups here boomed because of the flood of construction workers in the area to build Olympic venues, who were feeding them. There are an estimated 2,000 strays in the Sochi area, said a spokeswoman for a recently expanded Sochi pet shelter, PovoDog.
The shelter is funded by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire and aluminum magnate. Americans make up 90% of those contacting the shelter wanting to adopt, the spokeswoman said.
A U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman said he didn’t have a tally of the athletes who are trying to adopt Sochi’s strays. But based on Olympic athletes’ Twitter accounts, many are eager to scoop them up.
The U.S. men’s hockey team is full of bruisers who make millions in the National Hockey League, but they are softies when it comes to Sochi’s strays. A few hours before the team practiced Tuesday, goalie Ryan Miller tweeted a photo of a white dog with brown ears and black spots lying outside the NHL Players Association house.
"Family hotel mascot!" Mr. Miller wrote. "Couple stray dogs have been cleaned up and adopted by players."
David Backes, a forward on the U.S. team, said players from the U.S., Canada and Slovenia have been looking into the feasibility of bringing dogs home from Russia with them. Though it is problematic for players to collaborate with opponents during the Games, some of their wives are banding together to figure out the logistics.
"The wives are kind of creating their own alliance," said Mr. Backes.
Some have already found shelters in the U.S. willing to take the dogs. But it is unclear whether players will be able to bring them on their charter flights home.
"It’s not a short flight," Mr. Backes said. "To have them under the belly of the plane for a long time, we want to make sure that all makes sense, too, and that we’re not putting them in any harm. There are things we need to check off that list before we go ahead with it."
Word spread around town this week that Aeroflot had offered to fly Sochi strays to the U.S. for free, but a spokesman said the Russian airline was still working out logistical challenges. A decision would be made Wednesday on whether the airline could accommodate the dogs—so far 10 and counting—that people have inquired about flying to the U.S., the spokesman said.
Sochi’s strays have become one of the surprise hits of these Olympics, especially with the lack of a breakout individual performance by a two-legged creature on snow or ice. The dogs also have turned a spotlight on the issue of stray animals and adoptions.
On Tuesday, the home page of the Humane Society International featured the headline “Sochi Travesty” and posted information on how to help street dogs there and elsewhere.
"We have not seen this level of media attention devoted to the street dog issue that I can recall," Humane Society CEO Andrew Rowan said.
Mr. Backes and his wife, Kelly, founded Athletes for Animals, a charity that promotes pet adoption. Mr. Backes, who plays for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, said he was troubled by news reports of stray dogs in Sochi before he even arrived.
"They kind of were portrayed a little bit as rabid animals that were dangerous," he said. "I think you’ve seen a lot of friendly, smart street dogs that have perhaps had a tough life and have had to find ways to get food and shelter and water."
He wants to give them a lucky break and see them “live in that lap of luxury that a lot of dogs in North America have.”
Mr. Kenworthy’s furry bounty came along amid his search for one new puppy. About a year ago the shelter mutt he had owned for nearly half his life—”my best friend,” he said—died. Mr. Kenworthy is 22 years old.
The Sochi pups seem perfectly suited to the silver medalist. In addition to being lively, each sports a burst of silver across the chest. ♥