By Linda M. Lowson, Esq.
In this age of transparency and accountability, negative issues can’t hide for long. And so it has been reported by all the major news media: We have a dark and gruesome cloud hanging over the traditional celebratory atmosphere of the Sochi Olympic Games—the brutal mass extermination of stray dogs in Sochi.
Thousands of dogs have been killed. Despite promising there wouldn’t be a street cull in preparation for the Olympic Games, the Sochi local government hired a private exterminating company to kill “as many as possible” for the Olympic Games, referring to the dogs as “biological trash.” The International Olympic Committee has done nothing to stop it.
These innocent animals are shot with poisoned darts that cause them to suffocate, and then thrown into waiting trucks to be disposed of as garbage, at a cost of $25 to $35 per dog. Many of the strays were pets, or the offspring of pets, abandoned by families whose homes with yards were demolished over the past few years to make way for the Olympic venues. The stray population also increased due to being fed by construction workers in the Olympics construction projects.
Despite the global outrage and negative media publicity, the killing goes on. A few dogs have been spared, in a rescue effort on behalf of a charity called Volnoe Delo (“Good Will”), who was told, “Either you take all the dogs from the Olympic Village, or we will shoot them.” The charity is being funded by Oleg V. Deripaska, one of Russia’s billionaire oligarchs, and one of the major investors in the Sochi Games, who paid for several huge projects. His modest $15,000 contribution has been used to construct a shantytown of doghouses on the outskirts of Sochi that now houses about 200 dogs. He also pledged $50,000 per year for operations.
The Sochi Olympics are costing Russia an estimated $51 billion, four times higher than the $12 billion cost Russia originally projected in 2007, and more than all the previous Olympic Games combined. Sochi’s government budgeted a paltry $54,000 “to catch and dispose of” the strays, according to the official Russian website for open tenders. This amount could have funded the cost of several modest dog shelters for hundreds of dogs. Is it comprehensible that the Russian government cannot spend $200,000–0.004 percent of the total cost of the Olympics—for proper dog shelters and a sterilization/vaccination program, not only to save the stray dogs and effectively address the problem, but also to save the image and reputation of Russia that Putin has strived to cultivate, that of a civilized and welcoming country?
This mass animal killing is not a new issue, but this time it is receiving significantly more media attention and global outrage. Some may remember that both the Athens and Beijing Olympics caught bad press for their handling of the local stray animal populations. In 2004, the Greek authorities ordered the poisoning of 15,000 stray dogs ahead of the Olympic Games in Athens, desperate to show the world that their country is “modern and civilized.” Of course it showed just the opposite. On a more egregious and insidious scale, in 2008, for the Beijing Olympics, China’s leaders convinced Beijing inhabitants that cats were a serious urban health risk, and ordered a cull of an estimated 500,000 cats, an extreme measure by communist leaders to ensure that the capital city appeared clean, green and welcoming during the Olympics. This time, the animals were thrown into overcrowded shelters with no food or water, and left to suffer a slow, agonizing death.
The real paradox and senselessness of this unspeakable brutality is that this kind of “extermination” does not solve the problem, even in the short-term, and does nothing to address the long-term problem. Humane Society International (HSI) and other well-known and well-funded animal welfare organizations have worked with thousands of organizations and governmental agencies worldwide to address this issue in a scientific, humane and cost-effective way–using mass dog sterilization and vaccination programs that very successfully control the stray population and eliminate rabies risk, over both the short term and long term.
The Russian government knew this expert assistance was easily available and could have collaborated with HSI or other organizations, with the cost potentially funded in whole or in part by private donations. Why do the Russian and Sochi governments refuse to take a moderate, proactive approach?
Worse, will we see a repeat in Rio de Janeiro in 2016?
The time to act is now. What is at stake are the integrity and respect of the Olympic Games, the lives of thousands of innocent dogs and cats, and the dignity of the human spirit, very large stakes indeed. The International Olympic Committee and Rio de Janeiro’s governmental officials need to hear from all concerned citizens.
Linda M. Lowson, Esq., is CEO and Chief Counsel for the Global ESG Regulatory Academy.