Right now, roughly 40,000 spectators are gathered in a stadium built along the Black Sea for the opening ceremony of one of the world’s favorite bi-annual events, the Olympics. Billions of people around the world will watch on television as the world celebrates one of the greatest examples of the triumph of the human spirit. It’s an amazing moment of togetherness for the entire world, but the ceremony, and the games, are already tarnished by the mountain of problems that plague the city of Sochi and host country Russia.
Twitter’s been on fire with reports from sports journalists showing bizarrely ridiculous conditions in the hotels (with brown water coming out of faucets), streets still unfinished, and open manholes, not to mention the larger concerns about possible terrorist activity. To some, it’s purely obvious that Sochi should never have been an Olympic site to begin with.
One of the more disturbing facts that recently came to light is the roundup and disposal of the street dogs who call Sochi home.
The local Sochi government reportedly hired a pest control company to “catch and dispose of” an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 stray dogs. Sochi officials are playing coy about what disposal means, possibly suggesting the dogs would be fine (there was some promise of a municipal shelter), but it’s hard to imagine that’s true when the man in charge of the disposal effort referred to the dogs as “biological trash.” Rescuers on the ground are trying their best to rescue as many as possible, but time ran out for many.
The official actions and language related to the strays, many of whom are pets abandoned by families that were relocated to make way for Olympics venue construction, is crude, bordering on the barbaric and deserves international condemnation.
Unfortunately, this kind of treatment of animals ahead of world events is terribly common. Prior to the summer games in Beijing, 200,000 feral cats were targeted and many were rounded up into what local activists there called death camps. Before the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, local officials there poisoned 15,000 stray dogs.
However, before we get too carried away in our disapproval, what’s happening in Sochi is kind of what’s happening in the U.S., only with the wraps off.
In the U.S., 9,000 shelter pets are killed every day. Of course we’re better organized, systematic and discreet. Our shelters are cleaner and the scrutiny of animal advocates has elevated the standards of shelter care, but our poisons are as deadly as theirs and a shelter killing here is as unjust and final as that of any Sochi dog. We’ve just done a better job of sweeping it under the rug and keeping it out of the public eye.
There, as here, it is left to animal lovers to come up with solutions while most government agencies tolerate and prescribe lethal methods of pet population control while being blind or insensitive — or both — to the destructive effect that killing our animal companions has on the wider social fabric.
If anyone asks you why you support the no-kill movement, this is why. Brutality is brutality, however much it is dressed up. We need to celebrate and support shelter directors who are making a stand for life and we must recommit every day to ending the killing, for the animals’ sake and for our own.
The bright spot out of Sochi are the heroic activists who have taken it upon themselves to save as many lives as they can, and they have garnered some notable support.
A Russian billionaire has stepped up in the last couple of days offering some hope, according to the New York Times. The unnamed hero is funding the rescue of as many dogs as possible, as well as a shelter to house them. For those of you looking to have your voices heard, petitions have been launched with the hope that someone in Russia will listen. Check out and sign this one from Care2 that has achieved almost 150,000 signatures. There’s also an email address for a Sochi city official, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please write and politely let them know that extermination shouldn’t be the solution.
Hopefully, the rawness and crudity of what is happening in Sochi will awaken more people to the urgency of what our movement is working to achieve. Together, we must Save Them All.
Best Friends Animal Society