Tuesday, July 14, 2009


by Barbara Berkowitz  

This is Lucky's tale... but it's more than the story of a homeless dog from a little village near Desnogorsk, Russia who found his way to America. It's also the story of the people on opposite sides of the world - in Russia and the U.S.A. - who came to care about him and each other. How easily we humans find comfort and friendship in one another, even when our governments cannot.
Meet Lucky's heroes...

Ben Herman was the smartest four year old I ever babysat, though his two brothers were no slouches either. At his fifth birthday party in his family's backyard in Los Angeles, California, he was busy trying to share his new found passion for mathematical fractions with his little guests, while they were consumed with his play gym. All these years later, I find two things rival his extraordinary intelligence - his humor and his humanity. 
While other people saw rescuing Lucky as a pipe dream, he saw it as a possibility. So, Ben sent a message about Lucky and Wolf to the entire Russian Service of Radio Free Europe and one journalist, Vladimir Abarbanell, answered...
I've never had the pleasure of meeting Vladimir but hopefully, one day, Nikki and I will host him and his wife when they visit America. I know he dreams of showing her this country.  
Vladimir and I communicated over eight months by E-mail, thanks to his capacity for the English language. I, on the other hand, know less than a dozen Russian words which got me into hot water last summer when I meant to say "thank you" (spaciba) to somebody and inadvertently called her a "dog" (sibaka.) You can imagine how easy it would be to make a mistake like that, right? Really, because this woman was hopping mad and she was a big woman! 
Nikki and I came to trust Vladimir. When he wrote something, we could rely on it. His word was gold. And for those of you who believe the eyes are the windows of the soul, look at his photo and I think you'll agree this is one deeply kind man. When I think of the effort that went into coordinating Lucky's rescue it is dizzying. Vladimir never burdened us with its challenges.
As luck would have it, he knew a woman in Desnogorsk who was willing to help and her name was Eugenia...

Eugenia Prishletsova is the press officer for Desnogorsk's main claim to fame - The Smolensk Nuclear Plant. I believe she is a smart, self-confident, successful woman. I also believe she is a busy woman, so, her willingness to be the hands-on-rescuer of both Lucky and Wolf leads me to conclude that Eugenia is uniquely generous of heart. It was she who visited Katerina and Natasha (their names are the only two I've changed to honor their privacy) to ask them to identify Lucky and Wolf, after which she retrieved both dogs and delivered them into safe keeping. I know her efforts included veterinary care and I also know she never asked me for a dime. Eugenia gave an on-air interview to Radio Free Europe explaining the details of the actual rescue which I will post on this blog as soon as it is translated into English.  
As luck would have it, a colleague of hers, Nina, in the PR department, had a husband who was willing to keep both dogs until they were ready to come to America. His name was Sergey...

Sergey Kosenkov hosted both Lucky and Wolf until Wolf's determination to return to his pack was too great to ignore. I imagine Lucky must have missed his old friend when they sent him back.  
We think of Wolf from time to time and hope he is managing to be well. 
If one picture is worth a thousand words, this would be it. The affection between Sergey and Lucky so moved Nikki and me, we immediately wrote Vladimir and told him we didn't think it would be right to separate the two. We thought Lucky, having finally found a caring friend, would be traumatized to leave him and Sergey might not fare so well either. Vladimir reassured us that Sergey was holding Lucky as a gift to my daughter and had a big dog of his own, (who, like Wolf, had taken Lucky under his wing.) He also spoke with an animal expert from a Russian Dog Association who told him if Sergey had been Lucky's first owner it would be traumatic to separate them, but chances were he would remember Nikki's smell and be at home with us. Wouldn't you know it... he was right.


Illia Tochkin is technical director for Radio Free Europe in Moscow. It was Illia who facilitated the last piece of the Russian rescue puzzle. Illia's jeep (and heart) was big enough to transport not only Vladimir and himself to Sergey's home in Desnogorsk, but able to accommodate Lucky on board for the long ride back to Moscow.
(It bares mentioning when I offered to send Illia money for his gas and expenses, he graciously refused.) Once back in Moscow, Illia would host Lucky for a night or two before he and Vladimir could show him to Delta Cargo, Russian Customs and the vet at Moscow's airport. If all went as planned, Lucky would be on his way to us the next day.
Because Vladimir and Illia's work schedules were full they planned Lucky's departure from Desnogorsk on a holiday, May 11, the last day of the big Russian festival that celebrates the end of WWII. They call this day "Victory Day," and for different and obvious reasons, now we do, too. 

Vladimir wrote, they shot photos and video from the time they arrived in Lucky's village to the moment they put him on the plane... looking forward to receiving and posting them. 

Delta team members represented their airline with decency and downright warm heartedness. They treated Lucky like a king. Not only did they call us the moment he touched down in Atlanta, Georgia after the first 11 hours of his journey, they also video taped his welcoming committee and made sure he would be well cared for by putting him in the hands of Dandie Kennel for walking, feeding and a night of R&R.  
When Lucky arrived in L.A. the next day, May 15, 2009, two Delta Cargo members approached Nikki and me - "We know Lucky's famous," one said, "can you tell us what he's famous for?" I couldn't tell them it was because he had a big, funny, happy personality because we didn't know that yet. I could have told them it was for inspiring a miracle of a rescue, but I didn't . Instead, I told them his story from beginning to end. They listened, nodding and smiling and when I finished one of them said, "Y' know, Delta's got a name for this operation, we call it From Russia With Love." That's when I realized what Lucky was famous for.. touching the hearts of strangers never destined to meet, and turning them into one big family. Lucky's family.

(If you're unfamiliar with how we found Lucky scroll down a page to "Lucky's Journey From Russia To Beverly Hills.")