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Tag: Sochi

Strays swept up before World Cup in Russia

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Animal rights activists fear history will will repeat itself in Russia as cities hosting the World Cup attempt to purge their streets of stray dogs — just as Sochi did prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Earlier this year, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, met with animal rights activist to discuss their fears that stray dogs would be exterminated ahead of the event. He pledged to stop all cruelty, and said new shelters for strays would be built.

But activists say the effort by cities to put their best face forward during the event is continuing to result in culls in which the lives of strays are ended via methods less than humane.

“If you put it in plain Russian, they said ‘sod off, we’re going to carry on killing’,” Yekaterina Dmitriyeva, the head of the Foundation for the Protection of Urban Animals, told The Guardian.

The Guardian reported that there are about two million strays in Russia’s 11 World Cup host cities and it has been estimated that local authorities will spend up to £119 million on catching, caging, sterilizing and euthanizing animals this year.

Activists say they fear the private companies the government contracts with to carry out the sweeps will resort to shooting and poisoning strays — both of which were reported in the weeks leading up to the Olympics.

In protest, some Olympic athletes adopted Sochi dogs and took them back to their respective countries.

In addition, local animal lovers opened makeshift shelters to try and house all the collected strays and help them avoid being euthanized.

In many Russian cities, large numbers of strays peacefully co-exist with human populations, living off their handouts and even riding the subways.

“Russia’s street dogs are perhaps more lovable than most. They have drawn admiration for their intelligence and resilience,” Chas Newkey-Burden, UK author and journalist, wrote in a commentary piece in this week’s Guardian.

“Many of them commute into the cities each morning on the trains. They know to get on the train’s front or back carriage for the least crowded journey, and they know where to get off for the best food. When they beg for food as a pack, they move their youngest and cutest member to the front, knowing this will melt the hearts of passers-by. On busy streets, they’ve even learned to obey traffic lights and cross when it’s safe, trotting alongside pedestrians.

“These are the sweet, abandoned creatures who are being exterminated in the name of the beautiful game … Lives silently snuffed out because they don’t fit the image the authorities want to present.”

Officials say their focus is to move dogs into shelters. But those are so crowed that euthanasia becomes the easiest option.

Russian parliament member Vladimir Burmatov recently visited a shelter in Yekaterinburg and discovered a “very painful” scene, with “malnourished dogs and conditions that you couldn’t even call satisfactory.”

The shelter is run by a rubbish collection and disposal firm.

Newkey-Burden urged soccer stars to follow the example of Olympic athletes who went home with dogs from Sochi.

“In this money-spinning game, the influence of these superstars is immense. Here’s their chance to show they really love dogs.”

(Photo: From The Telegraph)

From Sochi to DC: More strays arrive


Ten more Sochi strays — saved from the streets by rescue groups in Russia — arrived in the U.S. last week.

The dogs were among those rounded up by rescue organizations before and during the Winter Olympics in an effort to save them from being poisoned and killed by authorities who considered them a menace, or at least an embarassment.

“These 10 are representative of some of the dogs that have been removed from the streets and are now up for adoption in Sochi,” said Kelly O’Meara, director of companion animals and engagement for Humane Society International. “They’re the sweetest, most interactive, very friendly dogs, very adoptable, that just happen to be unfortunate enough to be living on the street.”

The dogs landed at Dulles Airport Thursday. They were taken to the Washington Animal Rescue League, which will be responsible for finding them new homes.

More are expected to be arriving in coming days.

HSI worked with PovoDog Animal Shelter in Sochi and two other organizations to arrange vaccination, documentation and travel for the dogs, who spent two days in transit.

“We are excited to make the connection for homeless Sochi dogs with loving homes in the United States, with our focus on helping street dogs in Russia and around the world,” O’Meara said. “Our goal is to protect street dogs from cruel and unnecessary killing programs — like the one employed by Sochi officials to ‘clean up’ in advance of the Olympics — by working with governments to create humane and effective dog population management programs.”

HSI had urged the International Olympic Committee and Sochi authorities last year not to conduct a pre-Olympic “cull” of street dogs, and got some assurances that would be the case.

When it was exposed before the Olympics started that the program was underway, HSI petitioned President Vladimir Putin to put an end to it. The organization has offered its assistance in creating a humane program to control the population of street dogs.

HSI assisted American skier Gus Kenworthy, an Olympic silver medalist, in bringing home four strays.

It is also pushing the International Olympic Committee to mandate humane animal control standards when identifying a host country for future Olympics.

Each of the arriving dogs will get a medical evaluation, and they could be available for adoption within weeks, said Bob Ramin, CEO of the Washington Animal Rescue League.

“These animals are seeing a lot of new things and experiencing a lot of new things, so they’re kind of stressed out,”  Ramin said. “We want to make sure they know they’re in a safe place so we’ve got our staff working with them one on one.”

Tweeting wolf: Olympian’s video of “wolf” in the hallway was Jimmy Kimmel hoax

With help from an Olympic luger, Twitter and a dog who is at least part wolf, Jimmy Kimmel has once again put one over on the news media.

Then again, fooling the news media has a very low degree of difficulty these days.

Kimmel conspired with 21-year-old luger Kate Hansen, under whose name the video was posted on Twitter and elsewhere.

“I’m pretty sure this is a wolf wandering my hall in Sochi,” she said in a comment accompanying the video on YouTube.

Pretty much every major news outlet quickly picked up the story Thursday, echoing the Olympian’s cry of wolf, and apparently forgetting the entire moral of that fable.

USA Today was among those setting the record straight today — generally in a humorous vein that didn’t focus on how any laziness on the media’s part might have contributed to being duped.

Hansen, who finished competing Feb. 11 and is staying at the Olympic village, tweeted the video with the hashtag #sochiproblems and #sochifail. The hashtag was commonly used by visitors to Sochi for complaints surrounding the Games, including some about stray dogs.

Kimmel came clean last night, revealing the set created in the studio to resemble the dormitory corridor, and the wolf-dog, named Rugby.

Hansen appeared, via Skype, on the show as well, and said she has experienced some repercussions for the role she played.

Sochi’s strays: Heck with the gold; here’s to bringing home some dogs

jacobellisAt least two Olympic athletes from the U.S. are reportedly planning to bring home stray dogs from the streets of Sochi — and that has prompted another chorus of grumbling from the “they-care-more-about-dogs-than-people” crowd.

You know the type — they assume that if you show compassion for dogs, you must have none for people, and they think that is some kind of disorder, and that they must inform the world about it

The truth is, people with compassion for dogs usually have more empathy for people too, and often dogs are the ones that taught them that.

Yet, to read recent pieces like this one in The Guardian, and this one in Slate — or at least their headlines —  the writers make is sound like it’s an either/or proposition: One who rescues dogs must not give a whit about humans.

You might look at Gus Kenworthy, the skier who’s bringing home four stray pups and their mother from Sochi, or Lindsey Jacobellis, the snowboarder who’s bringing a street mutt back to the U.S., and see people doing something heroic, good and noble.

But some people — and they’re not all journalists, more often they are nameless Internet commenters — have an innate need to find, or manufacture, a downside, and broadcast it, portraying an act of kindness toward a dog as proof that the world’s priorities have gone topsy-turvy.

kenworthySo Kenworthy is bringing home five dogs, they’d say, what’s he doing about human rights issues in Russia?

It’s true that there are plenty of those in need of attention. It’s true there are people who find dogs easier to love, and easier to help, than humans. It’s true, too, there are millions of homeless dogs right here in America.

But where does one person get the right to question and critique another person’s charitable acts — to whom they should give, exactly what they should save or rescue, and where they should do it?

I may lack the appropriate Olympic fervor, but I am far more impressed by an athlete bringing home a stray dog than I am by how fast he or she can slide down a snowy hill; and I think the dogs will bring them, in the long run, far more joy (though fewer commercial endorsements)  than a medal.

The athletes aren’t there to rescue dogs, and they aren’t there to solve human rights problems. Any action they might take regarding one or the other is bonus to be appreciated, as opposed to grounds for criticism.

Yet, a headline in Slate asks the question,  “Why are Olympians putting puppies before people in Sochi?

(Maybe because the athletes aren’t finding people starving and sleeping in alleys, and couldn’t bring them home even if they wanted. Maybe because it’s easier to toss a dog a sandwich than it is to end government oppression. Maybe it’s because they know the city of Sochi has a contract out on strays, and a company is exterminating them.)

Josh Levin, Slate’s executive editor, wrote that, while he finds puppy-saving commendable, there are far bigger issues in Russia in need of addressing, such as:

“…the country’s 2013 passage of anti-gay propaganda laws, as well as a number of other disturbing transgressions: the fact that more than 50 journalists have been murdered in Russia in the last 22 years; that Sochi’s venues were built by more than 70,000 migrant laborers who toiled ceaselessly in violation of Russian law …”

I’m not sure your average bobsledder is equipped to single-handedly rectify issues like that — at least not during the couple of weeks he’s visiting.

A stray, hungry dog, on the other hand, is something a single person can do something about — whether it’s tossing him something to eat, or slaloming through enough red tape to bring him back to their home country.

So we say “Go Team!”  

And good luck with those athletic events as well.

(Photo’s: Jacobellis with the dog she befriended in Sochi; Kenworthy with the four pups he plans to bring home /Twitter)

Olbermann on the strays of Sochi

Here, better than any ski jumper, snowboarder, or twizzling ice skater, Keith Olbermann nails it.

His take on the stray dogs being captured and killed at the Olympics in Sochi —  at the same time that pampered pooches are on parade at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York —  provides some contrast, some context, and shows lots of conviction.

Who is really the biological trash, he asks — the dogs being exterminated, or the exterminators?

Struggling to survive in Sochi

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Surely by now you’ve heard about all the inconveniences visiting journalists from the west are facing in Sochi — a town that in its rush to get ready for the Olympics didn’t quite get ready for the Olympics.

As a member of that breed, or at least a former journalist, I can’t help but have empathy for their plight.

They have an important job to do, and how can we expect them to do it when they are facing obstacles like hotel rooms with no Internet,  fallen drapery rods, faulty doorknobs, or tap water so discolored one journalist reported she had to resort to washing her face with Evian?

Life can be so cruel sometimes.

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Sochi’s shortcomings are being blasted all over the Internet — by journalists, by Tweeters, and by tweeting journalists.

Arriving early, and finding the amenities weren’t all they could be, journalists got the ball rolling, bellyaching about conditions and posting their complaints and photos online. Olympics guests picked up the ball, voicing their discontent; and even a few athletes — though they’re less likely than journalists to whine, or so we’d hope — have broadcast the problems they’ve encountered, including one who was forced to punch his way out of the hotel room bathroom he was locked in.

Others arrived to find that their rooms, despite being reserved and paid for, weren’t ready, or weren’t even there, forcing them to wait, bunk with someone else, or seek shelter elsewhere.

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Fortunately, no journalists (to our knowledge) were forced to sleep in stairwells or alleyways.

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Others tweeting their discontent have complained of unappealing food, and menus whose Russian to English translations are sometimes laughably off the mark, which leads us to worry whether journalists are getting the all-important nourishment they need to do their jobs.

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I’m sure there will be much inspiration ahead in the 2014 Olympics, and perhaps even a few things to love about them. For the first few days though, it has been an embarrassment — for Sochi, for Russia, for Putin, and for all those journalists who came across as spoiled Westerners, partly because they are spoiled Westerners, partly because they have the modern-day need to self-broadcast every little bump in the road they encounter.

While most reporters are there to cover the sporting side of it all, and while many have been preoccupied by their lack of creature comforts, some have gotten around to writing about what we think is probably the most shameful Olympic-related story of all. In case you haven’t yet gotten our drift, it’s what the city is doing to stray dogs.

The city of Sochi has hired a pest control company to rid the streets of dogs, another piece in its failed plan to look good for the Olympics. Capturing and killing strays, as if that’s not bad enough, seems all the more cruel when you consider that many of the dogs are homeless because of all the new construction for the Olympics, some of which sent dog-owning families into apartments where dogs aren’t allowed.

Sochi promised it wouldn’t conduct the cull, then it did. The extermination was well underway by the time the media caught on, but eventually it was reported by, among others, the Boston Globe, Radio Free Europe, and, eventually, the New York Times. It took awhile, but the public outrage is, appropriately enough, snowballing now.

When that happens, the silly and tired old question always pops up, “Does the world care more about dogs than it does humans?” That was pretty much the headline on an op-ed piece in The Guardian about Sochi’s strays this week — silly because  it implies people can’t care, get outraged and fight for both species.

But, to answer it only for myself , yes, I sometimes care more about dogs than humans, depending on the circumstances, depending on the dogs, and the humans, and depending on the hardships at issue. Yes, I care more about a dog being exterminated for no good reason than I do about a TV reporter who has temporarily lost his or her access to hair conditioner.

The inconveniences reporters, guests and athletes might face in Sochi aren’t enough to cast a pall over the entire Olympics.

What’s happening to the dogs is.

(Photos: A dog checks out a trash can across from the Olympic stadium / Twitter; a dog drinks from an icy puddle outside of Sochi / Reuters; dogs and volunteers at a makeshift shelter / The New York Times; dogs napping on the street / Twitter; a starving street dog in Sochi / Getty Images/iStockphoto )

Animal activist detained in Moscow

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A Russian animal rights activist has been detained in central Moscow after he and two others protested the country’s policy of killing stray dogs in Sochi, according to an Associated Press report

Three activists unfurled a banner near Red Square on Saturday that read “Bloody Olympics.”

The banner depicted a puppy covered in blood.

According to the report, a policeman approached and pulled the banner out of the activists’ hands.

One man was detained while the other two fled.

A year before the Sochi Olympics, municipal authorities announced a contract to “catch and dispose” of strays.

Public pressure led authorities to announce they’d dropped the plan — but they didn’t. Companies have been hired to continue killing the dogs throughout the games, which started Friday and end Feb. 23.

(Photo: A stray dog walks past the Olympic rings during the official flag raising ceremony; by Nathan Denette, The Canadian Press / AP photo)