Rescue Effort for Sochi Canines

Volunteers mobilize for a last ditch effort to save strays
By JoAnna Lou, February 2014

While the Sochi government ruthlessly kills stray dogs in preparation for the Olympic Games, animal rescuers have mobilized to save as many pups as possible. On Monday the volunteers were told that they had until Thursday to remove dogs from the Olympic Village or the animals would be shot.

Russian billionaire and Sochi Games investor Oleg V. Deripaska has backed the rescue effort by funding PovoDog, a makeshift shelter on the outskirts of the city. The name is a play on the Russian word povodok, which means leash. Some have called the outdoor kennels a "doghouse shantytown," but there was no time to build an indoor structure.

All week volunteers have been rounding up dogs with a golf cart and bringing them to PovoDog. They've saved about 80 pups so far, but sometimes it feels like a losing battle. Animal rights advocate Tatyana Leshchenko estimates that over 1,000 dogs have been killed since October. Responding to public outcry, the International Olympic Committee told reporters that no healthy dogs were being killed, but that's hard to believe.

Some say that these strays were abandoned by families whose spacious homes were demolished to make way for the Olympic buildings. They were compensated with new apartments but not everyone brought their dogs along. Compounding the problem is the lack of neutering in Russian culture.

Rehoming these pups will be difficult. Shelter volunteer Nadezhda Mayboroda says that everyone in Russia wants a shepherd or pit bull, so the mixed breeds will be the hardest to place—a trend they hope to reverse with a new outreach campaign. In the meantime, volunteers are urging Olympic visitors to think about adopting one of the dogs in need. Check out their Facebook page to meet some of the available pups.

There have also been individual efforts to help out as well. Moscow resident Igor Airapetyan was so upset over the dog culling that he drove the 20 hours to Sochi to rescue as many dogs as he could fit in his car. Now he's back in Moscow trying to find homes for the 11 pups he rescued. Igor is disappointed in the Olympics, which he has always considered to be a symbol of peace. He's hoping that this canine crisis will unite animal protection groups in Russia so that conditions will improve, long after international news crews leave Sochi.

Check out a video of the lucky pups in Igor's car!

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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