Three daring sportsmen share a love for their pets
by KAI OLIVER-KURTIN | San Diego Pets
12:38 AM, Saturday, June 04
When it comes to pet ownership, parents constantly remind their children about the dedication and responsibility involved, and they ultimately gauge how passionate their child is about the prospect. Similarly, the criteria for three Southern California pro athletes in becoming leaders in their sport involved a pledge of dedication, responsibility and passion. Here's a look at the trio, whose intense love for x-treme sports is exceeded only by their devotion to their animals.

'In this for the long haul'

Olympic snowboarder and back-to-back U.S. Open of Snowboarding champion Kazuhiro (Kazu) Kokubo surrounds himself with more than just snow. He is the proud owner of two corgis, Ookii and Curry, and Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix Chi-chan, which live at his home in San Clemente, Calif.; he also keeps two basset hounds, Paco and Gomoa, at his other residence on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

While defending his title at the U.S. Open earlier this year, Kokubo was struck with news of the March 7 earthquake and tsunami that decimated a significant portion of his home country. On a day he should have been celebrating, Kokubo sat and cried for the people of Japan. After his win, Kokubo took one final run, saying a prayer for Japan and sending a message of support to spectators.

As he searched for ways to help with the reconstruction effort, Kokubo came across an organization called Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS), whose mission is to provide relief to animals in crisis following the disasters. Impressed by the group's mission and its lack of political focus and bureaucracy, Kokubo and his wife Tomoe pledged their support to JEARS.

“JEARS is in this for the long haul,” Kokubo said. “The organization and the volunteers understand that rescuing, caring for and reuniting displaced pets with their rightful owners could take months, even years. The people of Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami need normalcy back in their day-to-day lives that are currently filled with unknowns and often chaos—their pets are a part of that normalcy.”

While working in the field with JEARS, Kokubo saw firsthand the destruction left behind by the earthquake and tsunami and the desertion of whole towns amid radiation fears. His team loaded a van with food and kennels, delivering rations to the JEARS shelters housing displaced pets and driving through communities to rescue animals.

“We even rescued a goat!” he said.

“While we were driving,” he continued, “the JEARS volunteers shared countless rescue stories and experiences with me. While the days are long, spending time with volunteers on the ground is an experience I will never forget.”

Kokubo, 22, has been snowboarding since age 4 and entered his first professional contest in Japan at age 13. Snowboarding is now his full-time job, and he travels about 200,000 miles annually to maintain it.

“It is always snowing somewhere!” he said.

When in San Clemente, Kokubo enjoys running along trails with Chi-chan. He and Tomoe often take their dogs to the beach to run, play and relax. Although snow is difficult to maneuver for basset hounds (his short-legged dogs have never been out snowboarding with him), they do like playing in light snow.

Oceansider cops an Oscar

Like Kokubo, Kristian Svitak, of Oceanside, knows how to juggle several commitments. A pro skateboarder, Svitak has traveled around the world competing since 1999. His involvement in the skateboarding world doesn’t stop there. Svitak is responsible for two businesses, 1031 Skateboards and Landshark Wheels—the former focusing on custom boards and the latter on providing the perfect wheels.

Svitak’s California-based sponsors led to his move from his native Cleveland to the Golden State 13 years ago. His love for animals prompted him to volunteer at the North County Humane Society, where he can be found playing with and walking dogs and cats. Svitak adopted his dog Oscar from an animal shelter in Orange County—and based on his observation of similar-looking dogs, he believes Oscar may be a Chihuahua-Italian greyhound mix.

Oscar often takes airplane rides when skateboarding takes Svitak to new cities, and they’ve even shared a few cross-country road trips together. Svitak tends to take Oscar to more of his mellow engagements, such as film and photo shoots, where there isn’t as much commotion. While at home, Svitak enjoys wandering the trails of Oceanside's Guajome Lake and Calavera Lake in Carlsbad, with Oscar by his side.

“Sometimes we go for walks and Oscar pulls me on the skateboard,” Svitak said. “Most dogs are frightened by the sound, but he’s used to being around me and my buddies while we’re skateboarding.”

The bulldog he left behind

Unlike big-city native Svitak, Saxon Boucher grew up by the beach, nurturing his love for the water. Boucher, a La Jolla native, was involved in team sports as a child and gradually found his niche in surfing, a sport in which he could take wholehearted blame or credit for his performance. He began surfing at age 11, entering amateur contests during high school and turning pro at 17. After 18 years' professional surfing, Boucher continues to share his passion for the sport through his career in advertising sales at Surfer and Surfing magazines.

During his frequent travel to exotic destinations, including Fiji for an extended period, Boucher had a tough time leaving his beloved French bulldog Bruno in the hands of others. “Sometimes it felt more important to be around Bruno than to take those long trips,” said Boucher, who later benefited from having his family in La Jolla to act as Bruno’s caregivers.

Bruno recently took his first airplane ride to Georgia, but back home, the pair enjoys going to La Jolla Shores, Windansea Beach and other neighborhood meet-up spots. Bruno often chases waves but avoids submersion because of his density—which sends him straight to the bottom of threatening sinkholes.
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