Top Dog Interview – Malchik, A Sochi Dog Rescue Story

Malchik in grassMalchik is one of the dogs saved from the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia. He’s approximately 3.5 years old, according to his DNA test he is a Whippet-Beagle-Dalmation-German Shepherd-Mixed Breed mix and lives in North Carolina with another shelter rescue dog named Finn. It took a day for him to travel from Sochi to Moscow and then he flew from Moscow to Dulles, Virginia. He’s been traveling ever since! He gets to go to work some days, he’s been to 9 states plus the District of Columbia in just over a year, and wants to have his story help other dogs in need. He’s a little 30 pound dynamo with lots to do! (Though he might get distracted by a squeaky toy from time to time.)

We talked with Gwynne, Malchik’s owner, to better understand his experience as one of the Sochi dog rescue success stories!

1. How did you First Learn About the Dog Euthanasia Plans in Sochi, Russia, in Preparation for the 2014 Olympics?

I’m a sports and news junkie, and I’m particularly obsessed with the Olympic Games, I have no shame admitting that. When Sochi was announced as the host city, my family even mentioned going, but I thought if I was going to make it to Russia, I would like to see more sights and was concerned about safety at the time. (My great grandparents were from Russia and through the years I have learned the language, so going to Russia is something I’ve always wanted to do.)

I had heard about the issues in preparing for the Sochi Olympic Games with infrastructure, costs, stockpiling snow, and knew about issues of displaced people and animals maybe 18 months before the Games. The actual rounding up of the dogs and extermination and culling stories became big news once athletes and reporters started arriving and saying how all these friendly dogs were around, and then disappearing, some seen dying in the streets – this was late January and early February of 2014. I posted a tweet from February 5, 2014, that said if I was there, I’d probably come home with a dog… little did I know how things would turn out!

2. Tell us a Little Bit About Why you Decided to Adopt Malchik?

Through social media I saw that 10 Sochi Dogs had been brought to America as part of first shelter-to-shelter program to find homes for the Sochi stray dogs. PovoDOG, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States and the Washington Animal Rescue League (and flown for free on Aeroflot) all made the arrangements and adoption of these dogs possible.

I remember thinking that was a great way to publicize the situation and bring attention to shelter dogs as a whole, and started to seek out anything I could find on them – when, where, that sort of thing – mainly out of curiosity, not with the intent of adopting. I learned they were going to be arriving to a shelter in the DC area, the Washington Animal Rescue League, and my sister lives in that area. I called her and mentioned if she and her family were really thinking of adding a dog, they could go see Russian dogs, sort of as a joke.

When the dogs arrived from Russia, there was a lot of media attention – TIME, CNN, Today Show, Animal Planet – all had mentions or stories of these 10 dogs, so it was fun and easy to watch them. Once they started getting posted on the shelter site for adoption, you could get an idea of their sizes, ages, see more photos of them – and I kept getting drawn to this one little black dog. There was another dog that looked like my NC shelter dog but a shaggy version, so I would look at his page as well, but I kept refreshing the little black dog’s page.

Then I figured it wouldn’t hurt to call the shelter to ask about him, thinking I was close to Charlotte, he’s in DC, he could be snatched up, they might not allow it, it could be too hard to coordinate having my dog meet and greet up in DC, so that if I started thinking seriously about it, things could be put to a stop easily for many reasons.

They were very easy to work with and mentioned that “Jimmy” had a medical hold and I would have to speak to one of their vets before he could be adopted, but wouldn’t release any details. My first thoughts were that he’d need some sort of surgery, I wasn’t too put off by that and still wanted to have him held until I could speak to a vet. They ran my application and I spoke to the vet and learned of the dog’s situation, and decided we’d go up to DC to see if my dog and “Jimmy” would get along. I still felt if the dogs didn’t get along, then it wasn’t meant to be, and then if we’d add a second dog by visiting with other dogs at that shelter or another. I didn’t set out to adopt a Sochi dog, but there was something about this silly little black dog that really grabbed me, and then learning about his medical condition really got me.

3. Did Malchik Suffer in Sochi? What Was the Biggest Lesson he Learned From his Difficult Past?

Malchik sochi rescue dog smilingI don’t know a lot about what his life was like in Sochi – if he was picked up off the street before the Olympics or if he was a dog in need of a home that ended up in the shelter. However, Malchik suffered some sort of traumatic injury to his left hind leg that shattered his thigh bone and it never healed, it’s still shattered and essentially not connected to his body and isn’t attached at the hip. He has some scars on his hind legs, but nothing that really indicates what could have happened.

When he came to the U.S., the vets at the DC shelter considered amputation but didn’t want him recuperating in a shelter after such a surgery, and he was not in any pain and it does appear to be an old injury. There are some limitations with the injury, he tends to automatically want to sit or lie down versus standing if we’re out or waiting somewhere. He also can’t jump up very well or walk too far. We’ve fixed that by giving him a boost into the car or a little step he can use to get up onto the bed and I’ve become “that person” with a dog stroller for long walks or at an event/conference. He was pretty hesitant of it the first time he was in it, but now he thinks it’s pretty great, and if we walk by it and don’t use it, he’ll run over to it as if to say, this is mine, I’m ready to go!

He is such a happy dog and so personable that I feel his story is one of resilience and inspiration. If this little guy can survive all the things he’s been through, being unwanted and hurt in another country, journey to America, and still love life and people every single day, that says something.

4. What Does the Name Malchik Mean and How did it Become your Dog’s Name?

Poor “Jimmy” didn’t have a name for about 2 weeks after his adoption. I really wanted to give him a Russian name, but every word I looked up had multiple syllables and wasn’t working. He was dubbed “Jimmy-not-Jimmy” during that waiting period! But he’ll always have a little bit of that Jimmy name with him.

I finally decided on Malchik, which means boy/youngster, because I felt he could have heard it before and it was easy to say – or so I thought! If I tell people to think “cruising the mall for chicks” they tend to get the pronunciation right!

I’ve since learned there was also a beloved black street dog with that name in Moscow that was ultimately stabbed by someone. There was such an outpouring after his death that there is now a Compassion statue in his honor. Maybe’s it a way to honor a little black street dog.

5. What was the Process Like to Adopt one of These High Profile Dogs?

Overall, adopting a dog that’s been involved in a story that’s been reported worldwide is a very interesting experience. Seeing your dog on Getty Images or Russian Facebook posts when he was in Sochi is a little surreal.

As far as the process, it was essentially the same as adopting any shelter dog, they held two dogs for me to meet and greet that day since I was bringing a dog – I always say that Finn’s the one who made the decision because if she wasn’t into this, we would not be a 2-dog family. The other dogs were adopted by people closer to or within the DC-area, we were the furthest away.

Once adopted though, because of the attention that “the Sochi Ten” had, the shelter acted as a buffer for any media requests and didn’t release our names or contact information to the media or reporters. But they would they contact us and ask if we would want to participate in whatever the request entailed. If people ask his name, I normally end up mentioning he’s from Sochi because his name is unusual.

He’s essentially obsessed with people and makes it obvious he wants them to say hello, and with his leg issue, he tends to get attention. So if people spend a few minutes talking, Sochi does come up. Most are pretty excited to learn he’s a Sochi dog and think it’s great that he’s in America and so happy. They know of Gus Kenworthy and his story of bringing over the puppies, and then normally take a picture of Malchik.

Only a couple of people have told me that the Sochi dogs should not be here and that there are too many dogs already needing homes. My answer to them is that because of the saved Sochi dogs, puppy mill dogs, hoarded dogs, and other stories that get attention, other dogs have been saved and people become educated about not only the problems that create these situations, but what shelters and sheltering can do to help animals.

6. How did you Become Interested in Rescuing Dogs?

Adopting shelter dogs was just what we’ve always done since I was a child. Our first family dog was adopted from the town shelter when I was in first grade. I got to pick her out and I remember so many things from that experience – the run she was in, how wiggly she was when we got to meet her, and how soft she was. She was a Border Collie mix named Frisbee, (remember, I was in first grade), and I had her through high school.

Malchik dog sitting in grassWe got another dog from a shelter after her – a flat-coated retriever mix named Charlie. Years later I got another dog at the same shelter where Frisbee came from (run by the police department). She was out of time even though she was the only dog there and had been there a few months. I had been stopping by “to just say hi” for a number of weeks and fell for her, even though I had two dogs already – Charlie and a black lab I had adopted while in college, her name was Scout. That would mean three female dogs. But sure enough, Lily joined us and they got along very well.

Lily was a pit bull and the first dog I had that showed me what being a breed ambassador was all about. We did lots of training and classes. She was a Canine Good Citizen and on her way to becoming a therapy dog. I learned so much from her and also from how people reacted to her.

After Charlie and Scout passed away, Lily and I moved to North Carolina and she lived with me here until she passed away. I waited a year or so and then adopted Finn from a crowded shelter. She was turned in with a couple of other dogs as a 5-month old puppy and was there a couple of weeks without anyone looking at her. She’s a little paranoid of things. I call her chicken little. So there’s a lot of training and patience with her, but I seem to gravitate to dogs that might need a little extra help.

7. What are Some Ways that People can Help in the Fight Against Inhumane Euthanasia?

There are so many ways to help animals in need. What happened in Sochi was terrible and with the attention it received, there is hope that future sporting events will have better systems in place. I hope that means that groups that bid on big events think about everything that is affected – jobs, homes, people, animals, environment, etc.

As far as local, people don’t have to run out and adopt an animal but education and awareness are so important. Know what your local laws are. Are there ways to improve what’s happening in your area? Do shelters in your area use a gas chamber or injection? People can volunteer to help spread the word about helping place adoptable animals or fostering. One voice or action can make a difference in a cause or saving an animal’s life. Social media is a strong way to share stories (Sochi and Yulin are prime international examples) and people can help share information about area meetings or even what cats or dogs are in need of fosters or homes.

8. What Characteristics did you Find Most Endearing About Malchik?

Upon first seeing Malchik at the shelter, all he did was wag his tail. Any time you made eye contact with him, even for a second, he’d start wagging away. That made me laugh and really stuck with me. He still does that. If he’s even in your peripheral vision, he gets that tail going because there’s a chance you’re about to look at him. He’s extremely loving, and despite his size and injury, he can be very adventurous and daring. I joke he’s a perfect Gilligan/Little Buddy.

9. What is his Favorite Activity?

He really loves lots of things. He goes crazy over some vegetable squeaky toys, loves when he gets to go to work with me, being able to sleep on the couch when we visit my family in Connecticut (bonus if there’s snow), and ice cream treats. But the toys would probably be tops. He plays for hours with his toys. He’s pretty intense about the toys.

10. Anything Else you’d like to Add?

Having him in my life has really inspired me to share his story and get involved in helping other shelter dogs and disabled dogs. He’s been in both an Animal Planet and National Geographic video, Seth Casteel of Underwater Dogs and Underwater Puppies fame took his picture while he was at the WARL shelter to promote adoption, the story of them coming to America was in a lot of media outlets, and he’s even been to Capitol Hill to meet members of Congress.

For a little dog from Russia, he’s already had some crazy experiences. If we can help bring attention in any way to other shelter dogs, black dogs, disabled dogs – that would be a wonderful way to use his past for something good. We’re working on manners with other dogs with the goal of being a therapy dog, he’s so great with kids and I think visiting schools or nursing homes and hospitals would be right up his alley.

Malchik is active on Instagram (@thesochistray) and it’s been really fun to see some people in Russia connect with him and be very excited to see a Sochi dog in America doing so well.

Unfamiliar with the Sochi Dogs?

Watch this video, including statements from officials, regarding the killing of stray dogs in Sochi.

What inspires you most about Malchik’s story?


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