Best Friends Blog

Disgust at Sochi’s treatment of animals a case of pots and kettles?

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, 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.

Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Dr. Cartel

    Dear Fracis Battista,
    This is one of your better blogs. Spot on by commenting on our own killing. Seems as though our problem is a global one. Thanks Best Friends for working on it locally. At 9000 a day, we need it.
    Best Wishes, Dr. Cartel

  • Gay Marglin

    Did you see this comment? Someone posted it on the Fox News web site and I was wondering if anyone from Best Friends knows about it- it sounds like it is very close to Best Friends home
    “Tragic as the stray dog situation is in Sochi (and elsewhere in the world) I’ve actually witnessed the same in at least one popular American community. I stayed for a few days during the summer in Kellogg, Idaho (home of Sun Valley). There were homeless dogs running everywhere—-several being hit by cars on the highway in front of the motel in which I was staying. It was actually gruesome. When I asked town authorities why they were letting this situation get so out of hand they simply told me that tourists “dumped” their unwanted dogs on the way through thinking someone else would take care of them and that the problem was beyond the towns’ control.”

  • Lisa Smith-Elyea

    Francis Battista – could you please give me more details regarding your “9,000 shelter pets killed daily”. That’s over 3,000,000 per year. Where did you get these numbers from? Before I donate or start freaking-out, I just want to check these numbers/facts. Do these numbers include pets that are euthanized because of extreme old age/illness? Do these numbers include rodent-type animals? Snakes? Any references you can give would be very helpful and most appreciated. If you yourself don’t have the references, can you at least provide a link or two where I can do some fact-checking?

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Lisa,

      We’re sorry that this number caught you by surprise, but we can assure you that it is accurate.

      It is estimated that approximately 3.7 million animals were euthanized in the nation’s shelters in 2008. This number represents a generally accepted statistic that is widely used by many animal welfare organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). (You can read more here:

      While this number does include animals that we consider to fall under the category of true euthanasia (suffering due to age/illness or determined to be too aggressive to be safely rehomed), it also includes millions of healthy and treatable dogs and cats. Rodents and snakes are not included in this number.

      Best Friends believes that we can end the killing of healthy and treatable dogs and cats in America’s shelters, which is why we are working so hard to Save Them All. You can learn more about our work and see how you can get involved here:

      Thank you for all that you do for homeless pets.

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator

      • Lisa Smith-Elyea

        Thanks Melissa. I do all that I can with what funds I have, but I never realized the numbers of animals killed in the U.S. was so high. I no longer doubt your numbers, and actually believe they are higher than the 2008 figures.

  • Joyce Madsen

    Shelters give the dogs a chance. — dog bounty hunters don’t. Such a spurious argument only serves to negate your entire point. Friends who have come from Russia tell me they have no animal shelters there — they don’t understand the concept.

  • Joanne Cacioppo Zullo

    Sorry, but this is most certainly not the pot calling the kettle black. While our system is not perfect we don’t only get rid of our stray dogs only when the media attention is on. We certainly don’t poison or shoot them in streets. We are trying to make our situation better without all the media glare unlike all the countries named in the article who didn’t care prior to being named as a host country.

    • Denise

      I had to read the second sentence of your post several times. Surely you’re not saying we are better because we kill them all the time rather than just on special occasions? We kill them better, with regularity, and no media attention therefor we are different/better? As Francis points out brutality is brutality and I will add dead is dead. Saving them all begins with believing you can.

    • michellenevada

      Sorry, but I live in a rural community in the US and it’s very common for people here to shoot their pets when they no longer want to take care of them. And of all those twittering away about the Sochi dogs — how many do anything about the treatment of dogs, cats, horses, or other animals in the US? Most are probably sitting around feeling self-righteous while biting into a cheeseburger made out of some poor cow who died for their mindless gratification. Dogs are good, cows don’t matter? Spare me the outrage over the Sochi dogs..

  • Robin Fravel

    TNR is not a quick answer but it is certainly one of the most effective solutions. That said, I again have to say, what’s happening in Russia is beyond despicable.

  • sarah

    9,000 animals are killed a day in the U.S? I am surprised its that many.
    Is this a recent number?

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Sarah,

      Yes, that number is absolutely current. You can read more and learn about our work to Save Them All here:

      Thanks for all that you to do help homeless pets.

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator

  • Gidget Church

    I guess I would love to hear a solution to a case where a shelter is full, and a hoarder is busted with usocialized and sick dogs…there are no fosters available. This is the situation in some counties. In some cases, I don’t even need to add the hoarder bust. It has come to my attention in the last year that a lot of fosters and rescues are full up with dogs who cannot live in peace with other animals…so they live in crates. Some wonderful organizations like BF can take a CERTAIN NUMBER of problematic dogs but there is a limit…such as when the OAS dogs needed placing and BF had to say they had a limit (thank God they did, proving to me they have integrity) …I absolutely do not have a solution..but in probably 98% of cases shelter workers and managers are heartsick at euthanasia. I hear the don’t buy puppies from puppy mills…wait until the raid and we have all those dogs that now need to be placed … Somewhere.

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Gidget,

      We’d invite you to look at the changes being made in L.A. in our recent blog post: Through aggressive adoption plans and spay/neuter, the shelter killing has been cut in half from just two years ago. While the programs implemented haven’t stopped all the killing overnight, huge strides have been made towards a sustainable system, and thousands of lives have been saved in the meantime.

      Thank you for all that you do to help homeless pets in your community.

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator

      • Gidget Church

        I am aware and a member of your Golden Circle, though not under this name. I know there are strides being made and many successes…however I have some disagreements with some placement plans for more problematic animals, leaving adoptiables with no room at the inn…these are general disagreements and not with you!

  • Marianne Erikson

    There is a big difference between euthanizing by injection and poisoning. Euthanizing is painless, poisoning is slow and agonizing.

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Marianne,

      Certainly, but the concept is the same. There are also many shelters throughout the U.S. who still kill via gas chamber. Our point is that we need to look at the bigger picture. What’s happening in Sochi is horrendous. What happens to 9,000 healthy and treatable dogs and cats in the U.S. every single day is also unacceptable. That’s why we’re working towards change with a goal to Save Them All.

      Thank you for all that you do to help homeless pets.

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator

      • Marianne Erikson

        Shelters are not to blame. They do what they can. I volunteer at DAS so I know. The ones who should be blamed are the breeders of this country and people who do not spay and neuter. They are to blame for all the euthanasia in the shelters.. No more breeding no more killing. It’s that simple. Breeding should be illegal and spaying and neutering mandatory. Open admission shelters never turn an animal away (unlike no kills) . Also keeping animals in cages forever is not a solution. You happen to have a beautiful facility but a lot of “no kills” are not and let animals sit in cages for years. Ever heard of the Olympic animal “sanctuary”? And I agree that what is happening in Sochi is horrendous. They are a backward society as far as animals welfare is concerned. I bet the word spayed/neuter is not even in the Russian dictionary!.

  • Mike

    This question is purely out of curiosity: you say that you support the ‘no-kill movement’; I am curious if you have an opinion on the human pro-life vs. pro-choice debate?

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Mike,

      We stick to weighing on animal welfare issues around here. Thanks for all that you do to help homeless pets!

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator

      • Robin Fravel


    • Robin Fravel

      My opinion is, first of all we should educate all religious leaders who still promote large families to the fact that we no longer live in the tribal societies of 2000 years ago. We have a human overpopulation issue. Birth control is a viable answer. Help save our planet, take the pill.

    • Karlene Rood

      If you want a forum for pro life with humans, go to that site. We are discussing animals and the horrific and careless ways they are treated.

  • Tina Clark

    So true. But killing apologists in this country are doing more than just “sweeping it under the rug and keeping it out of the public eye,” they are attempting to legitimize the killing, making people believe that it is “necessary” due to “pet overpopulation,” that killing them is the “kindest” thing, and that these animals are “better off dead.” More and more people are understanding the truth, but the killing establishment still has many people bamboozled.