Sochi, Russia is not only the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is also the city where hundreds of stray dogs face extermination if they are not rescued off the streets before Friday’s opening ceremony. Animal rights volunteers are frantically trying to rescue as many dogs as possible, and deliver them to a makeshift dog shelter on the outskirts of Sochi.
Organizers of the rescue team were told “Either you take all the dogs from the Olympic Village or we will shoot them,” said Olga Melnikova, who is coordinating the rescue effort on behalf of a charity called “Volnoe Delo.” Roughly translated it means “Good Will.” The organization is financed by animal lover and Russian billionaire, Oleg V. Deripaska. “On Monday we were told we have until Thursday,” Melnikova said.
Animal Rights advocate, Tatyana Leshchenko, says that an effort to remove the dogs began in October. “[A]bout 300 dogs a month were being killed in Sochi, at a cost of $25 to $35 each,” she said. A “dog rescue” golf cart is still searching the area picking up the dogs and delivering them to the PovoDog - “a play on the Russian word povodok,” which means “leash” – shelter.
Deripaska provided “$15,000 to get the shelter started on land donated by the local government.” Also, he pledged about “$50,000 a year for operations.” Ironically, he is one of the “major investors in the Sochi Games and paid for several huge projects, including an overhaul of the airport, a new seaport and the Olympic Village along the coast.”
Without electricity or running water, the shelter is already housing about 80 animals, including about a dozen puppies. Unfortuanately, with the Olympics fast approaching there was no time to build an indoor shelter. “In Sochi, you just can’t find a construction guy because they are in such a rush to finish all the objects,” Ms. Melnikova said.
In recent months, residents of Sochi have reported seeing dogs shot with poisoned darts, and tossed into nearby trucks. Aleksei Sorokin, the director general of a pest control business, Basya Services, has confirmed that “his company has been hired to catch and kill strays.”
Mark Adams, a spokesman, for The International Olympic Committee, responded to the accusation by telling reporters at a briefing Wednesday, that “[i]t would be absolutely wrong to say that any healthy dog will be destroyed,” Adams said.
The Washington-based animal advocacy organization, Humane Society International (HSI), wrote to Russian President Vladimer Putin, and urged him to put a halt to the killing of the dogs. In an interview with Kommersant FM radio, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, tried to explain the problem by admitting “that there are stray dogs in Sochi, more stray dogs than in other cities.” He said that the “explanation is quite simple. When a big construction project is underway, dogs and puppies always appear whom the builders feed. Now the builders have left, but unfortunately, the dogs remain.”
Local animal rights workers say “many of the strays were pets, or the offspring of pets, abandoned by families whose homes with yards were demolished over the past few years to make way for the Olympic venues, and who were compensated with new apartments in taller buildings, where keeping a pet is often viewed as undesirable.”
A big part of the reason that there are so many stray dogs, is because Russia has never encouraged people to spay and neuter their companion animals. “We need a program of sterilization for dogs,” said Nadezhda Mayboroda, a Sochi resident who is working at the shelter. “People are not really well educated that it is necessary to sterilize their dogs at home. Human beings are not responsible at all.”
Workers at the shelter are hoping that residents in the nearby cities, Olympic athletes, or tourists attending the event will find it in their hearts to adopt these sweet and abandoned creatures. So far, two puppies have been adopted, but rescue workers are afraid that it will be more difficult to find homes for the older dogs, especially if they are mutts. Through a new publicity and outreach effort, shelter workers hope to educate people about spaying and neutering their companion animals, and to understand the pitfalls of breeding specialty dogs.