March 14, 2014 at 10:27 AM ET
It took nearly a month longer than he anticipated, but it was all worth it for Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy as he nuzzled his newly adopted puppies from Sochi on TODAY Friday.
Kenworthy, with the help of Humane Society International and good friend Robin Macdonald, who stayed behind in Russia for nearly a month after the Olympics, brought the dogs home. Kenworthy and Macdonald spoke with Matt Lauer and Tamron Hall while snuggling three of the pooches — Jake, Mama and Mischka.
"It's just incredible,'' Kenworthy said. "It feels so nice to have them home. These dogs have traveled thousands of miles, and it's been many, many weeks of this whole process kind of coming to an end."
Kenworthy, who won a silver medal in the inaugural Olympic slopestyle skiing event, was vocal on Twitter and Facebook about the plight of the hundreds of Sochi strays, raising awareness while working to adopt some.
"I think that's the best part for me,'' he said. "We've had people come up to the both of us, and tell us that they've either donated to the Humane Society, or they went and adopted a dog here or whatever, so that's awesome to see. I think that we're really just kind of hoping to bring awareness to the plight of the dogs in Russia and hopefully set up some shelters and stuff there so that in future World Cups and different events, there will be a better system in place so that this doesn't happen again, so that if someone does want to take a dog back, they can take a dog back and it's not going to be a horrible process."
Trying to get the dogs adopted and get them proper medical care before bringing them home turned out to be a difficult task: Two of the dogs Kenworthy and Macdonald intended to adopt died before they could be transported to New York from Moscow.
"We encountered some government roadblocks when we were there,'' Macdonald said. "A politician kind of claimed the dogs were theirs, and they didn't want to release them to us for whatever reason. They were kind of kept away for me for the duration that I was there. We were fighting (along) with Humane Society International to really get them proper treatment and get them to care. It took too long, and two of the dogs unfortunately did pass away."
"It was a lot more difficult than I think that we thought it was going to be,'' Kenworthy said. "Robin stayed behind, and I think that we had expected him to be there maybe two or three extra days, and he was there almost a month by himself to get them out. They just weren't really getting the treatment that they needed, and not all of them made it, but the ones that did are more than happy to be here."
Despite having lived as strays, the cuddly pups are comfortable around people.
"One of the stranger things about Sochi is that the dogs there are really friendly,'' Macdonald said. "People feed them, people actually do take care of them, they're just not bringing them into their home and treating them like a pet. Unlike many places that I've traveled to, it's a different situation over there, so I think there's more hope with the Humane Society International working with them."
"They're very sweet,'' Kenworthy said. "They're very comfortable around people. They're very docile. They're more than happy to be held and played with.''
There is one area that does need work.
"They're just not potty trained yet,'' Kenworthy said.
"They're not potty trained?" Hall asked nervously as she held Jake.
"But I think you're OK,'' Kenworthy said.