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Tag: stray dogs

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)

Struggling to survive in Sochi

sochitrash

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.

sochipuddle

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.

sochiribs

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 )

The cull is on in Sochi: Stray dogs are being exterminated by city hosting the Olympics

sochistrays

It’s hardly the first time a city trying to put its best face forward has shown instead how ugly it can be.

Even as the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is choreographed — with its heartwarming message of peace, love and brotherhood — the city is trying to purge its streets of stray dogs, poisoning, capturing and killing them so it can project a clean, safe and pleasant image.

Despite publicly backing off from plans to do so last year, the city of Sochi has hired a private company to kill as many of its stray dogs as possible before the games, according to an ABC News report, based on an interview with the owner of the company hired to kill the dogs

Alexei Sorokin, while declining to comment on how many strays have been exterminated so far, was more than willing to talk about the dangers they pose:

“Imagine, if during an Olympic games, a ski jumper landed at 130 kilometres an hour and a dog runs into him when he lands. It would be deadly for both a jumper and for the stray dog,” he said.

Yes, the odds for that happening — landing upon a dog upon completion of a ski jump — have got to be pretty high.

It’s not the first time a city has tried to purge its streets of all things unsightly and embarassing before international attention comes its way.

Stray dogs have been rounded up at previous Olympics, and soccer championships. In America, cities hosting political conventions have corraled their homeless to keep them out of the sight of visitors. And before yesterday’s hardly-worth-the-wait Super Bowl, officials in New York and New Jersey sought to crack down on packs of prostitutes they said were streaming into the area for the big event.

All those things cost money, often taxpayer money, so residents end up footing the bill for a city’s superficial makeover — all so a city can deceive the rest of the world for  a week or two.

That’s what it really is, deception — covering up its real face, putting on enough make-up so we can’t see its pimples, disguising, erasing, incarcerating or restricting the movements of those who might embarass it. Instead of addressing real problems, the city spends money on temporarily covering them up.

Then, to justify it all, they have to spin some more, often turning to fear tactics to do so.

The strays in Sochi might bite people, or might have rabies, or might bump into ski jumpers falling from the sky, officials say. So they’re being “culled,” which means killed, but sounds better. The dogs have broken no laws – other than being unwanted and unloved –  but they’re getting the death penalty anyway.

“I am for the right of people to walk the streets without fear of being attacked by packs of dogs … Dogs must be taken off the streets even if that means putting them to sleep,” said Sorokin, who says he is performing a needed public service. He described his company, which generally uses poisons and traps to rid the streets of dogs, as  the largest of its kind in Russia.

What’s really behind such purgings – whether it’s killing stray dogs, rounding up hookers, or cordoning off the homeless – isn’t civic pride. If it were civic pride, we’d be working on fixing the problem. When we’re working only on the appearance, it’s civic vanity.

Just as stray dogs haven’t suddenly become a bigger problem in Sochi, there’s no proof — despite the pronouncements of city and state officials — that prostitution surges to dangerous proportions during Super Bowls.  There might be more arrests during Super Bowls, but there generally are when law enforcement cracks down.

Even an advocate for victims of trafficking noted last week that New York and New Jersey, by cracking down on prostitution during the Super Bowl, weren’t solving any problems — and maybe were even doing a disservice.

“The annual oversimplification of the issue, in which we conflate all prostitution with trafficking, and then imply that arrest equals solution, does a disservice to year-round efforts to genuinely assist survivors of trafficking — with emergency housing, medical care and other crucial services,” Kate Mogulescu, founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society, wrote in last week’s New York Times.

“When the discussion is dominated by fear-mongering, we fail to meaningfully address the actual causes of human trafficking. Remove the guise of ‘preventing’ human trafficking, and we are left with a cautionary tale of how efforts to clean up the town for a media event rely on criminalizing people, with long-lasting implications for those who are then trapped in the criminal justice system.”

There are better ways to fight crime, conquer homelessness and combat stray dog problems — none of which are quick fixes, none of which are simply cosmetic, all of which involve, as a first step, getting past the mindset expressed by Sorokin in Soshi.

“Let’s call things by their real name,” he said. “These dogs are biological trash.”

(Photo: A stray dog and its puppy outside Sochi; by Alexander Zemlianichenko / Associated Press)

Can you spot Dalmatian Man?

dalmatians

He doesn’t have 101 – not yet – but Nelson Vergara, a.k.a. “The Dalmatian Man,” has 42 of them as of the latest count, all living in the back yard of his modest home in Santiago, Chile.

The unemployed 55-year-old man, who says he was inspired by the movie, has a soft spot for dogs, and Dalmatians in particular. So obsessed is he with the breed, he has painted black spots on his white van.

“It all started because of that film,” Vergara is quoted as saying in an Associated Press story that appeared on ElSalvador.com.

Vergara says he wants to raise awareness about the millions of stray dogs in Chile.

He feeds and cares for the Dalmatians and other breeds as well through donations.

“I wanted to help – not just the Dalmatians but all dogs, because in Chile we need a solution to the canine problem. Every day you see news of abandoned dogs roaming, but no one does anything about it. If we had a shelter, we wouldn’t have these kinds of problems,” he said.

As you might guess, his neighbors are none too thrilled with his altruism.

The article reports that neighbors constantly complain about the noise and smell coming from his home and he and his dogs risk being evicted.

(Photo: ElMercurio.com, via ElSalvador.com)

Bucharest voters to decide fate of stray dogs

bucharest

The tens of thousands of stray dogs that roam the streets of Bucharest would be captured and killed under a plan proposed by the city just days after the fatal mauling of a four-year-old boy.

But first they will give voters a say — a referendum is scheduled for Oct. 6.

After the fatal mauling of a boy playing with his brother in a park, Romanian President Traian Basescu called on the government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta to pass a law that would allow for stray dogs to be killed.

“Humans are above dogs,” Ponta said.

Mayor Sorin Oprescu, in announcing the referendum, said, “We will do what Bucharest’s people want, exactly what they want.”

The controversial plan has divided Bucharest, a city of 2 million people.

bucharest2An estimated 40,000 to 64,000 stray dogs roam its streets — some peacefully minding their own business, some begging, trespassing, rifling through garbage and, sometimes, attacking humans.

In recent years, a Bucharest woman was killed by a pack of strays, and a Japanese tourist died after a stray severed an artery in his leg.

But it was the killing of a boy earlier this month that has brought the debate over strays to a fever pitch. Hundreds have demonstrated both for and against the proposed measure and have vowed to continue rallying, according to the Associated Press.

Those who see the dogs as a threat and nuisance say — ironic as it sounds — that exterminating the strays will make for a more civilized society.

“We want a civilized capital, we don’t want a jungle,” said Adina Suiu, a 27-year-old hairdresser. “I will vote for them to be euthanized. I drive a car most of the time, but when I walk around my neighborhood, I am always looking over my shoulder. If we don’t stop them now, we will be taken over by dogs.”

Burgeoning stray dog populations are a problem in several countries in the former Eastern Bloc. In Ukraine, authorities in Kiev were accused of poisoning strays as they prepared to host the Euro 2012 soccer championships. In the Kosovar capital of Pristina, officials gunned down nearly 200 strays in a three week “culling” campaign.

Vier Pfoten, an animal welfare group, says the solution isn’t killing strays but sterilizing them. The group has sterilized 10,400 dogs in Bucharest since 2001, but says a far more massive effort is needed to control the canine population.

Bucharest’s stray dog problem became more acute in the communist era when former Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu razed large swaths of the city. Residents, forcibly moved into high-rise apartment buildings, had to abandon their dogs.

“When the great demolitions came, many houses were knocked down and owners moved to apartments and could not take dogs with them,” Livia Campoeru, a spokeswoman for Vier Pfoten said. “People are irresponsible, they abandon their dogs, and there is a natural multiplication.”

Among those speaking out against the mass extermination is Brigitte Bardot, the French actress and animal rights activist. “I am extremely shocked to find that revenge, which has no place here, will be taken on all the dogs in Romania, even the gentle ones,”  she wrote in an open letter to Basescu.

(Photo:  Top photo by Eugen Visan, Associated Press; bottom photo by Vadim Ghirda, Associated Press)

Animal relief effort coordinated for Haiti

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) have  agreed to head up a coalition of groups to address the needs of animals in Haiti following the earthquake that devastated the country.

In addition to the massive humanitarian crisis, there are an estimated 5 million head of livestock in the country (mostly goats), a large stray dog population, an untold number of companion animals, and native wildlife all adversely affected by the earthquake, according to an IFAW press release.

“This is a massive challenge and animal non-profits need to cooperate as much as possible,” said Ian Robinson, IFAW’s Emergency Relief Director. “We’re already concerned about a possible outbreak of rabies, leptospirosis, or another zoonotic disease. We need to set up vaccination and feeding programs as soon as possible. Finally, we need to get acute, critical care to the animals that need it most. There’s a lot to do. More than we can do alone.”

Currently, a team is staging in the Dominican Republic waiting to get into Haiti to begin work. IFAW and WSPA have also begun to stock a mobile clinic with vaccines, antibiotics, bandages, food, and other supplies in anticipation of bringing direct aid to animals.

“We’re not certain exactly what we’ll be doing, when we’ll start, or what challenges we’ll face,” said Robinson. “But we know a few things: we’re prepared, we’ve set up a system to work together with other groups, and, given the scale of this disaster, we know we’ll be there a long time.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) saves animals in crisis around the world. Headquartered in the United States, it has representation in 15 countries and 1.2 million supporters around the world.

Stray dogs star in Croatian play

Stray dogs are playing star roles in a groundbreaking Croatian show that has won rave reviews for raising awareness about abandoned canines and homeless people.

The play is based on Paul Auster’s 1999 novel “Timbuktu,” a dog-narrated tale of a hobo poet and his canine companion, Mr. Bones, whose wanderings come to an end in Baltimore. (Auster was profiled in Salon about seven years ago.)

The Croation production, directed by Borut Separovic, premiered in Zagreb earlier this month.

The director cast a dozen strays from a Zagreb animal shelter, with the main role of “Kosta” (Mr. Bones) played by Cap, an eight-year-old champion border collie.

The play consists mainly of a 45-minute monologue by Mr. Bones, with narration provided by an actor from his chair in the audience. Mr. Bones, according to an AFP article, receives quiet orders from instructor Alen Marekovic in the front row as he recounts the story of his life with his deceased master Willy.

“It’s a story that emphasises the incredible love between a dog and his master, a homeless person,” Separovic told AFP.

“Timbuktu offers a therapeutic insight into how not to interpret democracy solely through rights, but also through responsibly and solidarity towards others.”

At one point, the 12 stray dogs come on stage, a net falls between them and the audience and the play switches to the style of a documentary. The narrator tells the audience: “These dogs have a story which resembles that of Kosta’s. We call on you to provide them a home. You can contact me after the show.”

“For me it was extremely important that real, abandoned dogs appear in the play and be given a chance to be adopted,” said Separovic.

Separovic stressed the play also aimed at focussing attention on the fate of homeless people, 12 of whom play a role from the audience.

The team hopes that all the stray dogs involved will be adopted during the 11 performances in October.

Separovic said he set out to enlighten audiences through the project, which he says he created for his 10-year-old daughter Katarina and dedicated to his 13-year-old black labrador Max.

“I would like young people to understand that it’s important to take care of others, those who are in a worse situation then we are,” he said.

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