Russian Activists Sound the Alarm Over Stray Dog Culls Ahead of FIFA

Is the bloody history of Sochi Winter Olympics repeating itself?

By Jennifer Grant
Stray dogs sleep outside of an office building in Image: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov

The start of the FIFA World Cup is just over a week away, on June 14th. Its host country, Russia, plays first against Saudi Arabia, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Preparations have been carefully made, hotels spruced up, restaurant menus rejigged, over 1.5 million tickets have been sold, and the excitement is palatable. There is just one blight on the shine of the most anticipated tournament in the world…this enormous, roaming, stray dog population.

It is estimated that Russia is currently home to over two million strays! The last calculated estimates from Moscow were reported by the Financial Times (in 2010) to be  84 dogs per square mile. That’s a lot of dogs!

Stray dogs in MoscowImage: @Sputnik/Mikhail Fomichev

Animals rights activists, like Ekaterina Dmitrieva, have been sounding the alarm that officials are culling the dogs. The Guardian reports that local authorities will spend up to £119 million on catching, caging, sterilising and euthanising animals this year regardless of world class sporting events. Dmitrieva claims that the government has been tendering contracts specifically for FIFA aesthetics, doling out millions of rubles to get the dogs off the streets by any means possible.

If it’s true, this is not a new strategy. There was a mass killing of stray dogs ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and activists are warning that it is all happening again. In protest of the horrific slaughter in 2014, many Olympians adopted a Sochi stray. There is even an Instagram account dedicated to them!

Image: EPA/Yuri Kochetkov

But, officials are denying it.

“We have received many appeals from animal rights activists, and just caring citizens, saying mass shooting and euthanasia of stray animals is taking place in a number of World Cup-host cities,” Vladimir Burmatov, head of the Russian lower house’s environmental protection committee, told newspaper Parlamentskaya Gazeta.

Burmatov added that if there are dogs being killed in these regions, then that would be at the order and responsibility of the local mayor, not a government policy. Officials claim that the dogs are being rounded up and housed for their own safety as millions of people descend on the city.

Image: Pyotr Kovalev/TASS

Interestingly, the state procurement site is showing that Basya Service has been granted four contracts to catch 3,501 strays. This is the same company that carried out the cull ahead of Sochi Olympics. Activist point to this as further proof of nefarious leanings.

  Image: @Sputnik/Alexey Kudenko

One could not know what is happening to the dogs that are disappearing from the streets of host cities, unless they were there themselves; it is impossible to know which side is telling the truth. What is clear, however, is that Russia has a big problem with stray dogs, and that alone deserves the spotlight. Do you think these dogs should be captured, sterilized, and released? Should they be euthanised? What is the answer to such a massive problem?