Ask any basketball player what he might be doing if he were not a pro, and the answers will vary. Some believe that they would have chosen a different sport or worked in the industry somehow. Others might see themselves in "normal" everyday professions. But occasionally there are uncommon answers, and that is the case with CSKA Moscow guard Janis Strelnieks, who after he stops playing would like to become a dog breeder.
"I am a huge, huge dog person," Strelnieks, a six-year Turkish Airlines EuroLeague veteran, says. "With a basketball career, I don't have too much time, but I intend to go a little deeper and get into dog psychology, read books on it.
"Every time I see a dog on the street, I always smile."
"Anywhere I go, every time I see a dog on the street, I always smile, and my wife is the same."
Strelnieks says that he came about his canine vocation while growing up in Latvia with his parents, grandparents and dogs around. That love for dogs became part of his life and who he is. A life without a dog would be unimaginable for Strelnieks. That's why playing professionally away from home for the last eight years did not prevent him from having a dog – his beagle Zeus.
"I chose a beagle because it is a medium-sized dog and we live in an apartment," he explains. "I don't want to have a big dog living in an apartment. It is not good for them. Dogs need space. Zeus gets his long walks, so living in an apartment is not too bad for him.
"We send Zeus during the summer to my parents' house because there is a huge yard so he can run with other dogs. He is happy when he goes there, and he knows he will be coming home with us."
Strelnieks does not just like dogs, or consider them mere pets. He genuinely cares about dogs and thinks of their well-being.
"Any dog you give me, I would be very happy."
"There are no bad dogs, just bad ways that they are trained or treated," he says. "If you treat them every day with respect, and show them love and what you want them to do, they will always be happy because they will always love you. They complete a family."
That certainly is the case with the Strelnieks family. When he and his wife became parents of a daughter two years ago, they prepared Zeus for a newcomer to the family. The goal was to make sure that Zeus – similar to being an older sibling – would not feel jealous.
"We started to prepare him about two weeks before my wife gave birth, and when our daughter was born we took her blanket and brought it to the dog to smell it before she came home," he remembers. "In the beginning, he avoided our daughter. He was on the side, not really jealous, but did not want to do much. Now that she has grown a little, and he realizes that she can play with him, it is much different."
Preparing Zeus to welcome her has also meant that the Strelnieks' daughter has taken to the dog right away.
"Our daughter loves dogs, and that is so good for us. We would have a big problem if she disliked dogs," Strelnieks laughs. "It started as a good relationship between them. She is still too young, so she does not understand and sometimes tries to grab him; we just tell her no. But Zeus is so patient and sometimes he has this look on his face saying 'Please, take her away.'"
Indeed, that patient and positive reaction from Zeus is what makes Janis want to learn more about all dogs, what makes them tick and to behave one way or another:
"When I finish with basketball, I hope to get our own house and I will have five dogs, at least."
"Zeus is usually very calm, but sometimes even he gets a little bit aggressive for a few seconds, maybe because he does not like another dog. We don't know why, but that is exactly one of the reasons why I want to get into the psychology of dogs. Why is it that out of nowhere they can start acting differently?"
If he were not living in apartments, Strelnieks has a favorite dog breed he would choose.
"My favorite dogs are Dobermans because they are a special breed," he says. "They need special treatment and training. Big patience. But I really love that if you treat them right they will be really good family members. But any dog you give me, I would be very happy."
One of the things Janis and his family do, and what any person can do, is get in touch with dog shelters. Strelnieks and his family are not devoted to just their own dogs. In summer, they pay visits to dog shelters in Latvia to donate or bring things they don't need anymore, like toys or blankets.
"For me those are powerful visits, because the dogs' eyes say, 'Take me home with you.' When I finish with basketball, I hope to get our own house and I will have five dogs, at least."