Belmont resident founds non-profit to help dogs in Armenia

Wicked Local, MA
Dec 1 2021
Eleanor Dash
Wicked Local


Belmont High School graduate Nairi Krafian has found a way to help poorly-treated stray dogs in Armenia. She founded a non-profit organization called Oknooshoon, a play on the Armenian word oknootyoon for assistance or help, and shoon, which means dog. Its mission is to train rescue dogs to become therapy dogs. This is the first program of its kind in Armenia.

In 2016 Krafian traveled to Armenia with her dance group and witnessed the how dogs are often shot and treated inhumanely, she said.

Drawing on her Armenian upbringing and memories her childhood dog, Krafian decided to explore ways to improve the relationship between dogs and the Armenian population by training strays to serve as therapy dogs.

More:Food sale fundraiser to benefit Humanitarian Assistance for Armenia

“I think therapy animals are really underutilized, and starting to work them into our healthcare system or more is going to have huge benefits,” said Krafian. “And I think it's really exciting if we can make Armenia be at the forefront of that because my homeland is so important to me.”

In 2017 Krafian came up with the idea of training shelter dogs to become therapy dogs and for the next couple of years, worked with various shelters in Armenia. However, much of the first couple of years was spent just taking care of the animals and making sure they were clean and up-to-date on vaccinations.

Eventually, Krafian decided to go all in and adopt shelter dogs to keep on a regular training schedule. When training dogs, her number one concern was always that both dog and person were benefitting from the therapy sessions, which she measured through hormone levels in the dogs and people. Krafian was forced to adopt out to families several of the dogs she had trained.

“Three out of the four dogs that failed, genuinely, just were not interested in doing that work. And I was not interested in forcing them to do that work,” said Krafian.

In 2019, Oknooshoon hired Hrach Asatryan, and helped him become Armenia’s first professional therapy dog handler certified by Pet Partners with adopted dog, Dobby. Oknooshoon board member Dr. Susan Higgins, an occupational therapist and therapy dog handler in the U.S. and director of clinical education at Quinnipiac University, oversaw Asatryan and Dobby’s Canine Assistance Intervention (CAI) team evaluation. 

According to Krafian, Asatryan and Dobby became Armenia’s first certified CAI team in 2019, and last year started their first sessions with the Friends of Warm Hearth group home for adults with disabilities.

“We only have Dobby as the one therapy dog right now. But I like to think of her as kind of an ambassador for rescue dogs in Armenia,” said Krafian.

Oknoshoon has expanded since its conception, building a small team in Armenia, as Krafian currently lives in the U.S.  Armenian native, Anna Dilanyan, is the executive director.

In addition to therapy sessions with Dobby, Oknooshoon also hosts presentations on service and therapy animals, acquainting Armenians with the concept. Krafian hopes to continue expanding Oknooshoon, increasing CAI teams and involving CAI in different types of therapy, and wishes to contribute more to the field through research.

“Overall, I want to make a big difference in the world, in how animals are used for the benefits that they can have in ways that we haven't yet seen or haven't been widespread enough,” said Krafian.

Krafian recently graduated Tufts University and plans to attend veterinary school.

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