Retriever rescue welcomes dogs from Istanbul

Photo// Tessa Blair

Photo // Tessa Blair


Istanbul, Turkey has an overwhelming stray dog population, many of which are golden retrievers. A local rescue, Golden Retriever Rescue of the Rockies (GRRR), is one of a handful of golden retriever rescues in the US involved with rescuing these golden retrievers out of Istanbul.

GRRR, founded in 1996, is a non-profit organization devoted to finding loving forever homes for golden retrievers in need. GRRR re-homes about 300 goldens every year and works with countless volunteers and donors to make that happen.

Operation Turkey Dogs, the program that works to re-home abandoned golden retrievers from Istanbul to the US, is a recent addition to GRRR’s golden-saving endeavors. Kevin Shipley, Executive Director of GRRR, explained why there are so many homeless dogs in Turkey.

“Istanbul has roughly a 50,000 stray dog population problem,” Shipley said. “Golden retrievers were once a status symbol; there weren’t many around and they were very expensive. As soon as the demand was heavy, people started finding a way to fill up the supply. So, puppy mills started up and people started importing the white goldens from Europe. Pretty soon, there was enough of them that it wasn’t a status symbol anymore. That, and a combination of when they grew up and got bigger, more rambunctious, and/or had medical bills, people would release them.”

Dogs in Turkey aren’t seen the same as they are in the US. “In Turkey, they kind of treat dogs like rodents,” Shipley said. “It’s no big deal for them to just take a dog out and let it go into the street or somewhere in the forest. The problem is golden retrievers, due to their temperament, don’t do well with the feral dog packs.”

GRRR and other organizations involved with Operation Turkey Dogs communicate with a group in Istanbul that works with the shelters and animal control to round up golden retrievers when one of the groups in the US is ready to fly dogs in. GRRR flies in groups of 18 goldens in a climate-controlled cargo aircraft. They are expecting their next group to fly in around June 1.

However, flying these dogs in comes with a high price tag, which is why people can sponsor a pup on their journey over. “Someone will sponsor a dog for $1,000,” Shipley said. “They’ll get to name the dog, and I’ll invite them out to the airport to be there when the dog arrives so they’re the first ones to meet the dog that they sponsored.”

While these sponsorships are very important to the process, they don’t cover all the costs. “It costs about $2,150 to bring a dog over, but the rest of it we make up for with adoption fees and general operational Turkey Dog donations,” Shipley said. “It doesn’t take any money away from the rest of our operations. It is funded completely separately.”

So far, over 850 goldens have been brought from Istanbul to the US through Operation Turkey Dogs, and 64 of them have gone to GRRR.

To continue finding loving homes for these goldens in Colorado, GRRR accepts contributions of any size. “Being so expensive, the best way to continue to bring these pooches over is through donations of any size to Operation Turkey Dogs on our website,” Shipley said.

To learn more about GRRR, donate, or sponsor a Turkey Dog, visit their website at

Tessa Blair
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