Rescuers mobilize as Sochi tries to kill off stray dogs
SOCHI, Russia — At the bottom of a steep muddy path to a fetid swamp, a rudimentary plywood-and-posterboard kennel looked like the last place anyone who cares about dogs would want to keep one.
But for the 14 formerly stray dogs bouncing and barking in the kennel Tuesday, these makeshift quarters represent salvation. The city of Sochi has hired a pest-control company to kill homeless animals by the hundreds, all in an effort to clean up the streets in advance of the Winter Games.
So Vlada Provotorova, a local dentist and a diehard dog person, recruited some friends and went on the ultimate rescue mission. “I felt like I had to do something,’’ said Provotorova as she fended off a playful leap from Katya, a German shepherd mix she picked up a few weeks ago.
She and her friends have been collecting all the strays they can and placing them in any shelter they can find, like the one in the swamp, in a space lent to them by a dog-friendly couple who breed mosquito fish in marshy pools.
It’s a losing battle, and Provotorova and her friends know it.
She estimates that between 5,000 and 7,000 dogs have been killed in the current cull, a figure no one in City Hall was available to confirm or deny. She and her friends have rescued “no more than 100.”
“It makes me sad,” she said.
Mass killings of strays may seem inhumane for Americans, who live in a world where a celebrity like NFL quarterback Michael Vick served prison time for his involvement in the killing of dogs. But the practice is not uncommon in Russia, despite pleas by activists that authorities find more humane ways of handling strays. Sochi city officials had planned to kill 2,000 dogs last summer, but an international outcry caused the city to drop the plan.
But with the Olympics coming up fast, the city hired Basya Service to engage in the “catching and disposal” of city dogs, according to a copy of the contract acquired by the Globe.
Alexei Sorokin, the director of the company, told the Associated Press that thousands of strays roam the streets of Sochi, “biting children,” and that one stray walked in on a rehearsal of Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony.
“God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony,” Sorokin told the agency. “This will be a disgrace for the whole country.”
Translation: It would be a disgrace for President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his prestige on these Games improving Russia’s image as a modern economic power. So Sorokin got the go-ahead to act.
But one international animal protection group said the killing of dogs would backfire.
“Killing street dogs, whether through poisoning, shooting or other means, is not only inhumane, but ineffective,” said Andrew Rowan, chief executive officer of Humane Society International, which advocates mass sterilization, vaccination, and community education to solve the problem of strays. “While Russia has the world’s attention with the Olympics around the corner, the current dog-killing program will only rouse an international outcry and taint the image of the country.”
Sorokin did not tell the Associated Press how the dogs are killed.
But Provotorova said she received pictures of dogs that had been shot with poisoned darts and taken away in trucks. One of the macabre images depicted a yellow, green, and magenta dart that she said had been used. It was impossible to confirm the authenticity of the photos, which she said had come from a Sochi resident who had witnessed the killings.
The 14 dogs she showed on Tuesday were all rescued from the train station in Sochi.
“We carry the ones we can — some of them are so big they won’t budge,’’ said Provotorova, who has received help from about 30 volunteers. “We sterilize them, we vaccinate them, we rid them of fleas, and we try to find a place to put them.”
Provotorova has adopted a labrador mix, Charlie, to join her two German spitzes.
Eventually she wants to take the other dogs north to Moscow, where she has yet to find permanent shelter. So she waits, with the animals she has saved. Provotorova said she and a few friends plan to go out in the coming days to try to collect more strays.
Authorities last summer pledged to give up the practice of killing dogs and build animal shelters for strays instead. But Provotorova said there was no evidence that any shelters were built. She is wary of any promises Sochi’s leaders might make now.
“After the Olympics,” she said, “They won’t do anything about it.”