A dog named Hercules would always wait for visitors who parked their cars at a garbage dump in Corum, Turkey. He would greet them and give them faces in hopes of being adopted and have the chance to live a better life.
“He was very good about recognizing the cars of the people who would come to feed,” Amanda Cunefare, a volunteer for Rescuers Without Borders (RWB), an organization that rescues dogs in Turkey, said during an interview with The Dodo. “He’d jump up on the windows of the car, and he clung to every person. He was a people dog.”
But there are many dogs at the landfill. More than 800 other homeless pups live there too — and life for all of them was incredibly hard.
“It is cold, there is no clean water and food is scarce,” Cunefare said. “You have to fight with 800 dogs for resources, and bury yourself in piles of garbage to stay warm. It’s a horrible, horrible place to have to survive for years.”
In 2014, Gocke Erdogan, who was 23 then, started feeding the landfill dogs, getting them vet care and rehoming as many as she could. In 2017, volunteers from RWB, which is based in the U.S., joined forces with the Turkish woman. So far, the team has managed to pull 47 of the dogs from the dump and rehome most of them in the United States. They also help Erdogan continue to feed and give vet care to the dogs at this landfill, as well as dogs living in remote villages across Turkey.
As much as they want to, the U.S. organization can’t rescue and rehome every single dog at the landfill— they just don’t have the resources. So RWB prioritized helping puppies and older dogs that have a particularly hard time surviving at the landfill, especially when the winter cold arrives.
Since Hercules was neither a puppy nor a senior, and seemed pretty healthy, he wasn’t immediately selected by RWB. But people who go to the landfill still made sure he got food, water, and vet care until they could rescue and rehome him.
But the charismatic dog was so determined to get out. Every time rescuers stopped by, he would run to their cars, look inside and eagerly accompany them on their rounds.
“This dog wanted out so badly,” Cunefare said. “You could see it in his eyes.”
Even though Cunefare herself had never been to the Turkish dump, rescuers knew she’d be the perfect person to take Hercules. She volunteers with RWB from her home in Troy Grove, Illinois, and had already adopted Dudas, a 10-year-old female who’d been living at the dump for at least five years.
“She’s an old lady,” Cunefare said. “She’s 143 pounds, and she’s a big old mama. I wanted to adopt an older one because I’d felt like she’d fought so hard to survive.”
Shortly after adopting Dudas, Cunefare also took in King Arthur, a disabled dog who had been having a difficult time competing with the others at the landfill. Then Cunefare got a phone call about Hercules.
“Gocke had contacted my friend,” Cunefare said. “She’d said that she was afraid to ask me, but she wanted to know if she could send me Hercules, because since Dudas had left, he was not doing very well.”
As it turned out, Hercules and Dudas had been best friends at the landfill. They’d spent all of their time together, and Dudas had looked after Hercules in a motherly way.
“My heart broke,” Cunefare said. “I said, ‘That’s horrible. If I’d have known that, they both could have come.’ I can only imagine how awful it was [for him] to watch her leave. So I said, ‘Absolutely send him over.’”
In May 2017, Hercules was transported to the U.S., and came to live with Cunefare on her 2-acre property. The reunion between Hercules and Dudas was heartwarming for everyone. “They immediately recognized each other,” Cunefare said. “They ran around and they played.”
The two have been inseparable ever since their stay at the landfill.
Since Hercules’ arrival, Cunefare’s family has grown, and she now has six dogs from the Turkish landfill — Sky, Millie, Aussie Canga, King Artur and, of course, Hercules and Dudas.
“I’ve been doing this [rescuing dogs] for 13 years, and the Turkey dogs are resilient,” Cunefare said. “They’re housebroken, and they’re more well-behaved than my three dogs from the States.”
“They’re just so grateful,” Cunefare said “They’re like, ‘Oh my God. There’s a bed and a blanket. I don’t have to sleep outside. Holy crap, you’re feeding me breakfast everyday. This is amazing.’ I have yet to meet one that isn’t grateful for everything that I’ve given them.”
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H/T: The Dodo