The Edge
6:29 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Sochi's Stray Dogs Melt Hearts, And Put Officials On Defensive

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 8:28 pm

It's after dark in Sochi, and a pack of stray dogs is hogging the sidewalk like they own the place. There are a dachshund mix, several random mutts and one dog that looks like it may be part chow. They're cute and look like pets; seemingly well-fed and with decent pedigrees.

That is, until a fight breaks out. It's loud but ultimately more dog park than street fight, and the dogs quickly get back to prancing around and eating abandoned leftovers.

Such is the life of a Sochi stray, dogs that have become cuddly symbols of an Olympics that is just a little rough around the edges.

But the fate of these dogs roaming around Olympic venues is raising the ire of animal rights groups and dog lovers worldwide. A local pest control company has a contract to scoop up and kill Sochi's strays. It's a long-standing contract, but the company's owner told The Associated Press that there was some urgency because it would be a national disgrace if one ran into the stadium during the opening ceremonies.

The International Olympic Committee is trying to paint a less gruesome image of the dogs' fate. Mark Adams, an IOC spokesman, says, "It would be absolutely wrong to say that any healthy dog will be destroyed."

This concern isn't new. Stray dogs were also an issue around the Athens and Beijing Olympics. Many people seem to consider the Sochi strays a positive force; members of the Canadian women's short track speedskating team spotted a yellow Labrador outside their practice facility and named it Honey.

Local animal rights activists say they've been trying for years to persuade officials here to launch a mass sterilization campaign — a more humane way to control population.

"It's really ridiculous to try to solve this problem only poisoning them," says Nadezhda Maiboroda of the group Goodwill Cause, which is operating a makeshift shelter on a muddy patch on the outskirts of Sochi. "Not making shelters, not [sterilizing them] ... it's just investing money in nothing."

She doesn't think the pest control company will succeed at ridding the Sochi Olympics of dogs, but she and other volunteers are taking in as many strays as they can.

Yekaterina Gontareva, a member of the Center to Protect Animals, is also housing rescued animals on the shelter property. She leads us up a small hill to a fenced-in area, filled with several doghouses and a speckled black-and-brown German shepherd mix named Simba.

"I love Simba and all of them like they are my children," Gontareva says. She points to a small red female dog with pointy ears that she says was almost killed by a dogcatcher.

"The poison did hit. But you see, a dogcatcher shoots from a pipe with a syringe. Apparently it came off but still she got some of it," she says. "He thought she was dead. He took her thinking she was dead and threw her into the car. And when he opened the door she jumped out."

Many others weren't so lucky. The 80 or so dogs at the shelter — some puppies, some purebreds and many mutts — are now up for adoption. Maiboroda and Gontareva say they hope some of the visitors here for the Olympics will consider taking one home.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Off the slopes, there's this brewing controversy: What to do about stray dogs. They've been roaming around Olympic venues and they're being rounded up, both by a pest control company that may euthanize them and by animal lovers trying to rescue them.

NPR's Tamara Keith has been tracking the hounds in Sochi.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's after dark in Sochi and a pack of stray dogs is hogging the sidewalk like they own the place.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARKING DOGS)

KEITH: There's a dachshund mix, several random mutts, and one that looks like it may be part chow. They're cute and look like pets, seemingly well-fed with decent pedigree. That is until a fight breaks out.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROWLING DOGS)

KEITH: It's loud but more dog park than street fight. And they quickly get back to prancing around and eating abandoned leftovers. Such is the life of a Sochi stray, dogs who have become cuddly symbols of an Olympics that is just a little bit rough around the edges. But the fate of these dogs is raising the ire of animal rights groups and dog lovers worldwide.

A local pest control company has a contract to scoop up and kill Sochi's strays, in part to avoid any embarrassing appearances by dogs during competition. The International Olympic Committee is trying to paint a less gruesome image of the dogs' fate. Mark Adams is a spokesman.

MARK ADAMS: It is absolutely wrong to say that any healthy dog will be destroyed.

KEITH: Stray dogs were also an issue around the Athens and Beijing Olympics. Many seem to consider the Sochi strays a positive force. Members of the Canadian women's short track speed skating team spotted a yellow Labrador outside their practice facility and named it Honey. Local animal rights activists say they've been trying for years to convince officials to launch a mass sterilization campaign, a more humane way to control population.

Nadezhda Maiboroda is with a group called Goodwill Cause, operating a makeshift shelter on a muddy patch on the outskirts of Sochi.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARKING DOGS)

NADEZHDA MAIBORODA: It's really ridiculous to try and solve this problem only poisoning them, and not making shelters, not making this program. So it's just investing money in nothing.

KEITH: She doesn't think the pest control company will succeed at ridding the Sochi Olympics of dogs, but she and other volunteers are taking in as many strays as they can. Yekaterina Gontareva is a member of the Center to Protect Animals and is also housing rescued animals at the shelter.

YEKATERINA GONTAREVA: (Foreign language spoken)

KEITH: She leads us up a small hill to a fenced in area with several dog houses, and a speckled black and brown German shepherd mix named Simba.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARKING DOGS)

GONTAREVA: (Through translator) I love Simba and all of them. They are my children.

KEITH: She points to another one, a small red female dog with pointy ears who she says was almost killed by a dog catcher.

GONTAREVA: (Through translator) The poison did hit. But you see a dog catcher shoots from a pipe with a syringe. Apparently it came off but still she got some of it. He thought she was dead. He took her thinking she was dead and threw her into the car. And when he opened the door she jumped out.

KEITH: Many others weren't so lucky. The 80 or so dogs - some puppies, some pure breeds, many mutts at the shelter - are now up for adoption. The volunteers say they hope some of the visitors here for the Olympics will consider taking one home.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Sochi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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