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Meet Kovači

A DU dog’s 5,000-mile journey

If you are taking classes in the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work, you might be joined by one of the most well-traveled dogs on campus: Kovači. Part German shepherd, Weimaraner and mutt, Kovači was born on a street of the same name in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But he did not stay a stray for long. 

The view from the terrace of Hotel Kovači, where Ann and Kovači first met.

When he was only three months old, Kovači was injured in a fight with another dog and hit by a car. The staff of the aptly named Hotel Kovači took the wounded pup in off the street, before an encounter that would set Kovači on a path untraveled by most Bosnian street dogs: A journey to the United States. 

In 2012, alumna and professor of the practice in GSSW, Ann Petrila, (BA ’79, MSW ’82, MPA ’82) was leading her annual study abroad course, “Bosnia in Transition: The Social Work Response,” in which students learn about the culture, history and legacy of genocide in Bosnia. While in Sarajevo during the summer quarter, Petrila happened to be meeting with a representative from the German embassy—on the terrace of Hotel Kovači. 

A young—then floppy-eared—Kovači made his way over and sat down at Petrila’s feet. It wasn’t long before she decided Kovači would be joining her at home in Colorado. But in his weakened state, he wasn’t fit for travel. With help from the German embassy coordinating veterinary care and finding a crate for Kovači—on the condition that he would return to the U.S. with Petrila—his journey was set in motion. 

As soon as the two met on the terrace, Petrila knew he’d be joining her in the U.S.

But the bustling streets of Sarajevo were not suitable for Kovači to heal from his injuries, so Petrila brought him to stay in the small mountain town of Srebrenica. The town, which was peaceful and quiet in 2012, Petrila says, was the site of the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre, when Bosnian Serb Army forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Returning to the U.S. for the start of fall quarter, Petrila left Kovači with her colleague, Hasan Hasanović, a genocide survivor and director of the oral history project at the Srebrenica Memorial Center, until Kovači’s paperwork and documentation could be arranged. 

A few months later, with a dog passport in hand, Petrila returned to Bosnia, collected Kovači and the pair departed for America. 

When he arrived in Denver, he was out of sorts. Being in a new land, surrounded by new people, sounds and, importantly, smells, Kovači was overwhelmed and nervous—so nervous that Petrila sang him to sleep at night. She later learned that playing the Muslim call to prayer, which is broadcast over loudspeakers five times a day back home in Sarajevo, is one of the quickest ways to calm him down. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city Sarajevo, pictured above, is home to thousands of stray dogs.

Now, more than a decade after the duo’s first encounter, Kovači has settled into life in Denver. He still understands Bosnian, though Petrila speaks to him in English. Frequently, Kovači can be spotted taking walks on DU sidewalks and in classrooms, accompanying Petrila as she teaches and, most recently, pursues her fourth degree, a doctorate from GSSW. While Petrila is away during her annual trip to Bosnia, the 11-year-old hound boards and trains in a women’s prison through the Colorado Correctional Industries Prison Trained K–9 Companion Program. 

And, Petrila says, Kovači’s gentle temperament and friendly demeanor allow him to serve as an informal ambassador of sorts. “Many people don’t even know where Bosnia is,” Petrila says, but Kovači makes for an easy introduction to learning about the country.  

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