Like many Americans over the past few weeks, I found myself cheering on and pulling for Team USA athletes as they participated in the Winter Games and the Paralymic Games in Sochi, Russia.

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For me, there’s a bigger picture to the Olympics than just sports and friendly competition among some of the world’s best athletes though. To me, the Olympics are about bringing the world together, too.

United as one people. Sure, pulling for your countrymen and women, of course. But also finding yourself caring about all the athletes, watching as their Olympic dream comes true.

A global community.

With all eyes on Sochi as the athletes converged, though, a global problem was brought to light. And while there are many issues going on in that part of the world right now – and I pray for the best outcome possible for everybody – this issue is one that, I think, can be solved through some simple education.

Did anyone else see those adorable photos of freestyle skier and silver medalist Gus Kenworthy and the family of stray pups he rescued from the Olympic Village?

While the photos were all cute, cuddly and made everyone back home say, “Awwwwww!” the problem it brought to light is not adorable at all.

Being the animal lover that I am, the story of the Sochi Strays caught my attention, and I found myself Googling for more information on this topic.

I found countless articles, as well as adorable photos like the ones Gus Kenworthy tweeted, and an entire video segment of Team USA hockey players David Backes and TJ Oshie holding two pups they were bringing back to St. Louis to try and find them good homes.

Admittedly, the video made me swoon. Two cute hockey players, who I followed for the better part of two weeks and cheered my heart out for while they played against a lot of the guys for whom I usually cheer, rescuing adorable puppies. I’m a young woman, I’m not ashamed to admit crushes!

But I digress.

I’m glad it caught my attention though because growing stray animal populations is a much bigger problem than just in Sochi. Did you know, we have the same problem right here in Allegheny County?

And that information comes right from the animal experts at Animal Friends. When I started reading more and more about the Sochi Strays, I decided to go to them for some answers.

“There is a pet over-population problem in Allegheny County and nationally. I think we caught a glimpse of the global problem through the Olympics, too,” says Christina Bostardi, the director of communications at Animal Friends.

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Bostardi says stray animal overpopulation management “starts at the root of the problem: spaying and neutering.”

While Bostardi says athletes like Gus Kenworthy who adopted Sochi Strays “helped to shine a light on a global problem,” she also says “adoption and rescue only goes so far.”

“Research shows that a single spay surgery can save 55 unwanted animals from being born,” Bostardi adds. “Those are 55 animals who won’t wait in shelters… or worse. The only proactive way to reduce and eliminate pet overpopulation is through spay and neuter.”

And in such a fast-moving society that focuses for such a short time on one issue and then moves onto the next, Bostardi says animal experts like her and the ones she works with will continue to get out their message.

“The Sochi Strays are just one example of a much larger issue,” she said. “If we do not proactively work to prevent the births of unwanted animals, there will continue to be an abundance of stray pets without homes. There is a solution – we just need to continue to work at getting the word out, both here in Allegheny County and throughout the United States and the world. “

So, while it’s difficult to reach out and help all those strays without loving homes around the world in Sochi, we can start right here in Pittsburgh.

By remembering the importance of spaying and neutering if you’re already a pet owner, and thinking about all those sweet animals in need of a second chance at local shelters if you’re thinking about becoming one.

All change for the better begins with a small step. And maybe those sweet images of athletes and animals out of Sochi will spark the beginning of a bigger solution to a global problem.

Here are some of the articles I found about the Sochi Strays:
The New York Times: Racing to Save the Stray Dogs of Sochi
USA Today: Group adds new shelter, hopes to place Sochi stray dogs
NPR: Sochi’s Stray Dogs Melt Hearts, And Put Officials On Defensive

Also, click the following link to visit David Backes’ foundation: Athletes for Animals!

Animals Friends
Animal Rescue League
Western Pennsylvania Humane Society


Send us photos of your Pittsburgh Pet here:

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Stay tuned animal lovers for more Furry Tails! You can follow me on Twitter at @HeatherLang24