Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2009
Meet Oscar. He’s seven years old. After being abandoned by his family, he was forced to live on the street. He doesn’t have any money to his name or even a passport, but he’s probably been to more countries than most of us ever will. Oh, and did I mention he’s a dog?
Of course, Oscar isn’t just any dog—he’s a mutt on a mission. It all started back in 2004 at a shelter in Cape Town. Despite his sweet personality and charm, Oscar was just a day away from being euthanized when Joanne Lefson came to the shelter. She recalls the moment she laid eyes on him. “My friend and I just burst out laughing… Nothing makes sense on his body! But that’s why he’s perfect.”
Just like that, Oscar found a new home. But he was troubled by the thought of all the dogs left behind at the shelter who hadn’t been so lucky. They weren’t the only ones, either—the World Society for the Protection of Animals says that of the estimated 500 million dogs in the world, only around 25 percent have a home. For the remaining 375 million, life is ruff… er, rough.
Lefson and her pooch decided they had to do something to help. “Oscar made a promise to all the dogs that he’d left behind that he would go everywhere he could go in the whole woofing world to tell everyone just how wonderful and great the dogs in shelters are,” she explains. And so the concept for the World Woof Tour was born.
In the beginning, the scope of the mission was small, with stops in just a few neighboring countries. But as the idea caught on and more and more people expressed interest in a visit, the itinerary grew. Eventually Lefson decided they might as well just make it a global tour. “[This] is something unique,” she says. “Because it’s a world tour, we can make more of a difference as there’s a higher platform of awareness… for organizations that are doing so much.”
The journey currently involves stops on five continents, including visits with more than 60 animal welfare organizations. At each destination, Lefson organizes events tailored to the local culture that highlight how lovable shelter dogs can be. In France, for example, she worked in cooperation with the Brigitte Bardot Foundation and filled an open-top bus with members and their four-legged friends. They drove the streets of Paris, sharing stories of their adoptions and waving to people they passed. In Romania, where stray dogs are a serious problem, they helped promote a four-day spay-a-thon.
Oscar and Lefson originally planned to make two stops in Japan, with Animal Refuge Kansai in Osaka, Tokyo ARK and the Kanagawa SPCA here in the capital. However, after long negotiations with the Japanese government, they were unable to get the 180-day quarantine period waived.
“Oscar and I were really disappointed,” says Lefson. “We’ve never been to Japan, and it was kind of a perfect hop to break up the trip over the Pacific.” The disappointment was compounded by the fact that Japan is exactly the kind of place the tour is targeted at, with a huge demand for designer dogs and not a lot of awareness about the possibility of adoption. Despite the no-show, ARK still went ahead with the planned barbecue party and adoption event, which were held in Oscar’s honor.
Even if they can’t make it to one of Oscar’s appearances, supporters can follow his adventures on the World Woof Tour website, where he keeps a blog about his experiences and posts photos and videos of all his adventures. The peripatetic pooch has got quite a collection of pictures of himself posing in front of world-famous landmarks, and his commentary on the local attractions is not your average travelogue fare. The high point of his visit to Namibia, for example, was “peeing on a tree that’s over 7,000 years old!”
Of course, it hasn’t all been fun in the sun. No long-term trek is without its share of hair-raising experiences. On just his third day out, Oscar decided to take a dip in the crocodile-infested Zambezi River, but was pulled to safety by Lefson and a security guard before he could come to any harm. In Croatia, Lefson and Oscar got separated in a crowded city square. After a few moments of panic, she found him with his nose to the ground, sniffing a mile a minute, following her trail.
Still, the experience so far has been amazing, Lefson says. “[The reception] has been much better than Oscar and I could have imagined… People just couldn’t believe that Oscar was from a shelter, because their perception was that you just don’t get nice dogs at shelters. [And] it’s all about changing those perceptions.”
For more information on the World Woof Tour, see www.worldwooftour.com.