A charity is flying stray Golden Retrievers from Turkey to North America and pairing them with new homes to help alleviate the epidemic of homeless dogs in one of Turkey's largest cities.
Members of Ontario-based charity Golden Rescue decided to create the operation, called "Rescue Mission of Love," after a shelter in Istanbul contacted them to see if they'd be interested helping find homes for homeless Golden Retrievers.
When board member Viive Tamm and a friend traveled to Istanbul last year to do their "due diligence," Turkish animal rescuers implored them to "not go home empty-handed." They returned to Canada days later with four Goldens, the maximum number allowed to accompany two passengers on an Air Canada flight, Tamm told ABC News today.
They contacted donors, key supporters and potential adopters to see if there was interest. "We had to make sure there were people to adopt them," Tamm said. But they didn't have a problem.
Since December, Golden Rescue has relocated about 30 stray dogs from Turkey to North America, Tamm said. The latest eight Golden Retrievers arrived to Toronto Pearson International Airport on Saturday.
A volunteer in Istanbul recorded video of the eight excited pups before they left for new homes in North America.
Ten more pups are expected to arrive in the next week or two, Tamm said. Golden Rescue's goal is to relocate at least 16 dogs per month. So far, all the dogs that have come to the U.S. have already been adopted.
"Our motto is, 'one dog at a time,'" Tamm said.
It costs about $2,000 to fly each dog from Turkey to North America, Tamm said. The funds are derived from adoption fees, typically $500 per dog, and donations made to the charity. Each dog is fully vaccinated and spayed or neutered before it travels overseas.
Tens of thousands of stray dogs roam the streets of Istanbul, Tamm said, adding that dogs are not euthanized in Turkey.
CBC News in Toronto reported that a trend may be for families to give puppies homes only to release them once they become adults.
Tamm believes the problem is most likely the result of an economic crisis.
"There’s a lot of people who don’t think a pet is forever," she said.
When the dogs arrive at the airport to meet their new owners, "There's not a dry eye in the room," Tamm said. Families are encouraged to foster them before officially declaring them a new member of the family, but Tamm said the first step is often not necessary.
“This Golden isn’t going anywhere," Tamm said she is often told.
Golden Rescues has received criticism for only helping one breed, but Tamm said the charity only has a license to help Golden Retrievers. The organization has rescued more than 2,300 goldens over 25 years, she said.