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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Dogged Determination
Cultural Figures and Ordinary Citizens Alike are Resisting Attempts to Cull the Capital's Stray Dogs

Dog at Russian Animal Shelter With Beseeching Look on His Face Jumping Up on Person in Parka and Heavy Gloves, As Other Dog Looks On Wistfully From Inside Cage in BackgroundHigh profile members of Russia's artistic community joined animal rights activists at the end of last month to protest against the Moscow city government's plans to round up stray dogs and deport them beyond the capital's boundaries. But while local authorities have to do something to reduce the number of strays roaming the streets, would this draconian scheme even work?

When Moscow city authorities announced plans to deport the city's stray dogs last month, the locals were immediately up in arms. "The method they have chosen is cruel and ignorant," said Artyem Zverev, a veterinarian who works at the BIM animal welfare fund, shortly after the local authorities announced their plans to deport the dogs.

Accurate estimates of Moscow's stray dog population are hard to come by, but most put the figure at tens of thousands, with the population increasing by a few thousand each year. "They have decided to build a large hangar in the Yaroslavl Region for 30,000 to 60,000 dogs. I understand that some of those dogs will just come back here. There will be no control over them," said actor Evgeny Mironov. The actor is a member of the civil council set up by Moscow authorities at the beginning of this year to deal with regulating the number of stray dogs in Moscow. But Mironov, along with his fellow actors Leonid Yarmolnik, Konstantin Khabensky and animal welfare experts, is concerned about the city government's plans, not least because the scheme is no guarantee that there will be less strays on the streets of Moscow in the long term.

Zverev estimates the number of strays in Moscow as 26,000, which raises a serious issue about quarantining. "To be sent to another region the dogs will have to be quarantined and they just don't have the resources to quarantine all those dogs," he said. The veterinarian also raised concerns about conditions in such an enormous animal shelter. "Even if we did succeed in putting all the strays in one enormous shelter, it would turn into an incubator for new, mutated viruses," he said. Zverev added that during the course of inspections he took part in of the city's existing animal shelters he found very few old or sick dogs, which raises questions about the killing of dogs that could live longer.

Zverev was also skeptical about the success of the scheme in terms of reducing the number of dogs on Moscow's streets in the long term. "If they were sent away, within three years we would have as many in Moscow again. People throw pets out all the time; it's just not possible to solve the problem in this way."

Selling strategies to reduce the stray dog population to many Muscovites is also hard, despite the health implications of allowing them to continue to roam the streets. In 2008, 24,754 people sought medical help in Moscow after being bitten by stray dogs, Moscow City Government statistics show.

When "Malchik," a popular stray that lived at the Mendeleyevskaya metro station, was murdered in 2002, passengers and metro staff were shocked. Five years later, the city's artistic community succeeded in erecting a monument to the dog in the metro station.

The city's stray dog population also keep members of the public entertained during the day, riding public transport with ease and responding with affection to those in their neighborhood who give them food and water. Ivan, who preferred not to give his surname, works at a car wash in the south of the city. He told Russia Profile that members of staff take turns to look after about ten stray dogs that live in the area. "I don't think the strays should be deported," he said. "They don't interfere with anyone and they help us to relax during a shift."

The nearest metro station is about 300 meters on from where Ivan was handing out dubious looking chunks of meat to the dogs. Two more strays were sleeping there, and at least two kiosk owners had placed bowls of water outside their shops for them to drink from.

The fate of stray dogs is an issue in other parts of Russia as well, such as Astrakhan, where plans were announced to cull the local strays last month. The local press extensively covered the announcement online of a government tender worth approximately 5,500 million rubles ($183,000) to destroy 16,500 animals by the end of the year. The plans spurred outrage among the locals before getting nationwide coverage, inspiring numerous blogs and causing the authorities to cancel the tender, at least for now.

The State Duma is also set to look into the best ways to deal with stray dogs, when it reads a draft bill later this month on "the responsible treatment of animals," Kommersant reported. As well as outlining guidelines on how to deal with dangerous breeds, the bill proposes sterilizing strays to control the population, rather than deporting or killing them.


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