If you’re hoping to add a four-legged friend to your family, look no further—than Turkey, that is. Golden Retriever Rescue of the Rockies (GRRR) has undertaken a significant mission: rescuing and rehoming stray Golden Retrievers from distant Istanbul.
Turkey may seem arbitrary, but Kevin Shipley, executive director of GRRR, says having a Golden Retriever as a pet was long considered a sign of affluence in the country. “Everyone wanted these beautiful Goldens, which were initially very rare and expensive,” Shipley says. “Puppy mills started all over the place for Golden Retrievers, and as soon as the prices dropped, they dropped as status symbols. They would release the dogs that wouldn’t sell into the streets and the forest.”
GRRR has rescued and rehomed more than 4,000 Goldens and Golden mixes in Colorado, and, like many other Golden Retriever rescues, has a waiting list for adoption. But in Turkey, the shelters are overflowing. The largest has 4,000 dogs, and keeps them 20 to a pen. “The stray dog population is 50,000, and we estimate that 2,000 of those are Golden Retrievers,” Shipley says.
Instead of being deterred by the numbers, Shipley focused on how his organization could make an impact. “One has to concentrate and celebrate where they can make a difference, and not wallow in the sadness of what they can’t do,” he says.
Shipley brought the idea of rescuing Turkish dogs to GRRR in 2015 after watching a rescue in Atlanta go through the process. The response was immediate; the board of directors approved the operation the next day, beginning a journey that culminated in the arrival of the first group of 10 dogs in Los Angeles in February. A second group of 18 dogs arrived Monday, June 6, at Denver International Airport. Shipley estimates that a third group of 18 will arrive next February.
One remarkable aspect of this GRRR mission is that it’s funded separately from the rescue itself, meaning no money is taken away from local efforts to bring these pups to Colorado. “I made a commitment that we would never take any money from our operation,” Shipley says. Considering that it costs roughly $2,300 to rescue a Turkish dog, this is no small feat. The rescue offers supporters the opportunity to sponsor a dog for $1,000. Perks include choosing their name, and, for the latest group, being present when the dogs deplaned at DIA. “There were tears of excitement,” Shipley says.
Of course, funding is not the sole issue GRRR faced in getting the dogs to Denver. Recently, Turkey has been rattled by terrorist attacks. Fortunately, both rescue missions have gone smoothly. Shipley credits their partners at an Istanbul rescue for working with the local municipality and ensuring the dogs are taken care of.
Here in Colorado, the dogs are thriving in their new homes, despite the harsh nature of their former living conditions. One dog, named Brush (pictured above right), passed therapy dog training at the University of Denver. Another, named Estes, is getting a lot of press—her new owner is Bill Pinkham, former Mayor of Estes Park. Every dog from the most recent group is already spoken for (sorry, would-be adopters). In fact, GRRR received 10 applications per hour in the first two days following their arrival.
But you can still get involved. Shipley encourages anyone interested in learning more to visit their website, where you can sign up to be a GRRR member, sponsor, or volunteer. As he puts it, “Every time you come out, you’ll get some puppy love.”