01 Name: Colt
Breed: Labrador retriever
Owner: Artur Wilczynski, Canada’s ambassador to Norway
As diplomatic postings go, Norway couldn’t have been more perfect for ambassador Artur Wilczynski, his husband Randy Stocker and Colt, a seven-year-old labrador retriever. “Colt is a winter dog from snowy Ottawa,” says Wilczynski, by way of explanation when his chocolate-brown pet rolls around in the snow before eating it. “He would have found a more southern posting very hard.”
This is Colt’s first stay in a foreign country but his unreservedly friendly welcome (licking the photographer’s shoes clean is part of his repetoire) suggests that he is entirely at ease in his new surroundings at the white wood-panelled official residence near Oslo’s city centre. Luckily for him it is a quick tram ride to the many miles of cross-country ski pistes in the vast Oslo forest – although he’s not as integrated as his Norwegian canine colleagues. “Norwegian people have these very active retrievers or setters and they’re being pulled by them while skiing,” says Wilczynski. “Not Colt. He just wants to go over and say hi to everybody.”
Ever since he was a puppy, Colt has always had a pleasant, pacifying nature, says Wilczynski. “I think he defines diplomacy: he loves everyone and makes friends with everyone. If he sees another dog that’s aggressive he actually knows how to defuse a situation with his personality. Sometimes I wish I had his skills!”
Prir to arriving in Oslo in 2014, Wilczynski headed Canada’s international security and intelligence bureau at the Department of Foreign Affairs; the job included travel throughout the Middle East and Africa. Norway is a welcome change, not least because of its attitude to same-sex marriage. “The number of places around the world where you can actually operate as a married couple is still fairly limited.”
There are some 3,000 Canadians living in Norway; many of them work in the oil and gas industry, bringing with them experience from Canada’s energy sector. “Norway and Canada are similar in many ways,” says Wilczynski. “Right now climate change is key to [both of our countries’] agendas, as well as immigration and refugee issues.”
Watching Colt frolic in the snow it is clear that he couldn’t care less about any similarity in political agendas – just as long as he gets equal amounts of snow in both Canada and Norway.
Special diplomatic skill: Colt is friendly with everyone, humans and canines alike, and strives to calm any situation with a wag of the tail and, if necessary, a little lie-down.
02 Names: Loki and Koda
Breeds: Golden retriever and beagle
Owner: Julia Feeney, Australian ambassador to Serbia
Barbecue on the balcony, swimming pool below: at first it is tempting to see the Australian ambassador’s Belgrade residence as a little slice of Sydney. The ebullient canine welcome certainly embodies the city’s spirit but the golden retriever and beagle bounding up to greet visitors are, in fact, Serbian. Moreover they have the passports to prove it – a crucial element of Julia Feeney’s long-term plan. “Before, we inherited dogs. But these two, because of the age of our children, were bought with the intention of taking them back to Australia – hence the passports.”
Forward pet-planning has not always been a priority for a diplomat whose postings have ranged from east Africa to the Caribbean. The ambassador’s husband Tony chuckles as he recalls previous and more fleeting objects of the family’s animal affections. “We had a German shepherd in Kenya named Steed, after John Steed from [1960s TV series] The Avengers. He looked more like a lion than a dog. And we had two mutts in Trinidad – crossbreeds, very smart dogs.”
But golden retriever Loki and beagle Koda are very much part of the Feeney family. Son Brodie, 15, takes care of Loki, while his brother Cael, 10, is in charge of Koda. “Personality-wise the boys are linked to the dogs,” says Julia, a touch ruefully.
Koda, it transpires, is the cheeky one. “He’s a frequent visitor to the kitchen bin – and he’s stolen my driver’s breakfast on more than one occasion,” says Julia. “He’s constantly looking for the opportunity to run,” adds Tony. “And even though they’re both bilingual, they refuse to follow commands in two languages.”
Cheeky or not, the dogs have proven their worth as diplomatic lubricant. Belgrade’s Dedinje district is favoured by ambassadors and politicians alike, so Loki and Koda give the Feeneys the perfect pretext for an off-the-record natter in nearby Hajd Park. And there is much for them to talk about: ties between Australia and Serbia are strong. There is a considerable diaspora down under, going back to emigration in the wake of the First World War.
Julia says part of the pleasure of her job is meeting Serbians who have Australian family connections – and she thinks there is potential to use these links to a greater extent. “There is clearly much potential to explore and expand on the business and investment front,” she says. Koda’s contented sigh suggests he approves.
Special diplomatic skill: Loki may not be intellectual but he does have quite a party piece: tickling the ivories. “He’s a two-paw piano player,” says Julia. “But the piano teacher doesn’t approve.”
03 Name: Zoe
Breed: Cocker-poodle cross
Owner: Robert Sherman, US ambassador to Portugal
If you’re invited to visit Robert Sherman at his Lisbon residence you’ll be met at the door by a cocker-poodle cross who has taken to diplomatic duties with ease. “Zoe has learnt French from our butler, she eats lunch with the Portuguese security guys outside and is always at the door to meet any visitors,” says Sherman.
But Zoe’s key role is helping to break the ice. “A crucial aspect of being a diplomat is the ability to establish relationships, which is about finding common bonds; dogs are a great way of doing that,” says Sherman. “We did a big event with the Portuguese airline Tap, which is establishing new routes to the US. There were some contentious negotiations beforehand but when we did the announcement here with the two ministers, Zoe walked in chewing an airplane toy. Everybody laughed and relaxed.”
Zoe has a rags-to-riches story that would make a worthy Disney movie. In 2010 she was in a dog home in Boston facing euthanasia because of extensive health problems, when Sherman and his wife Kim Sawyer found her. “It was love at first sight,” says Sherman. Zoe got the medical treatment she needed and, when President Obama appointed Sherman as ambassador to Portugal, moved to Lisbon.
Because Sherman is a political appointment rather than a career diplomat, he has a measure of freedom in his diplomatic activities. His 2014 Christmas card was a portrait of him and Sawyer on a Harley-Davidson, with the aim of drawing attention to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in Portugal. “I asked what other ambassadors were doing to promote TTIP and the answer was ‘conferences’. I thought, ‘I’ll kill myself if I have to run a conference on trade.’”
Instead he learned to ride a Harley, joined forces with the local club and set off in a convoy of 300 to visit local businesses. “It was about getting people’s attention for a trade agreement by doing something everyone expects Americans to do: make a lot of noise.” Zoe? She’s more of a quiet American, happy to snooze by a visiting dignitary’s leg in the name of doggy diplomacy.
Special diplomatic skill: Meet and greet. Zoe welcomes every visitor at the door, charms them with a tail waggle ands leads them to the meeting room. She’s so good at it that most returning visitors come bearing a toy for her.