They arrive 18 to a pallet, plastic crates strapped securely together for transport. Each crate holds a single golden retriever. It's like ordering in bulk.
Since May, volunteers have been rescuing golden retrievers from the streets of Istanbul and shipping them to the U.S. The effort was spearheaded by Golden Rescue Atlanta in Georgia when an American living in Turkey contacted the nonprofit about the growing number of homeless goldens.
Golden retrievers were prized as status symbols in Turkey. The fad began about 10 years ago. People would buy the puppies for themselves and give them as birthday and wedding presents. But as their numbers crept up, their appeal waned. Everybody had goldens, so nobody wanted goldens. Many are abandoned to the streets of Istanbul or driven to the forest outside the city limits where they are left to scavenge for food and fend off attacks by wild animals. The lucky ones end up in animal shelters.
I learned about the Turkish goldens recently from Brian Kling, board president of Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue in Hudson, Mass. The nonprofit has taken in eight of the animals so far. On Tuesday, I met Mariah, a petite blonde with long eyelashes and a deep scar across her back. Allyson MacKenna, executive director of YGRR and Mariah’s new mom, protected the wound with a festive green and red Christmas sweater. No one but Mariah knows how she was injured, but the wound became infected and nearly prevented her from traveling last month with the rescue airlift. If left behind in Turkey, Mariah, would be dead now, Allyson said.
The thing about goldens is they are remarkably resilient and forgiving. After being abandoned by their humans, surviving months or years as a stray, being packaged up like an Amazon delivery and enduring a 12-hour flight, the dogs welcomed their rescuers with wagging tails and open-mouthed puppy smiles. Most of them even managed to keep their crates dry for the trip.
Then again, their last contact with humans before leaving Turkish ground was, I imagine, filled with sweet farewells. To ensure the goldens’ safe passage to America, someone cared enough to hand-bead good luck nazar talismans and slip them around the dogs' necks. And guess what? It worked.