Most cities which earn the right to host the Olympic Games make an effort to beautify and to "clean up" their environment since they know that the entire world will be looking at them. This is also the case with the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi which will be hosting the winter Olympic Games in 2014. This city seems to have run into a problem having to do with the dog and cat population, in part because they seem to have forgotten that, according to a 2011 poll, over 60% of Russians and have a deep emotional bond with their dogs and cats.
Part of the problem arises from lifestyle. Cats and dogs are overwhelmingly popular in Russia, but rarely neutered by their owners. Furthermore these pets are often allowed to run freely in the streets. Some of these animals ultimately become strays, and litters that are produced often grow up to be street animals. According to a municipal spokesman, it is not unusual to see packs of stray animals, and there are reports that these have occasionally attacked children. Furthermore the suggestion was that some of these animals are often sick and have the potential to spread disease to humans and to pets who are kept indoors most of the time. So the city decided to take action and ask for companies to bid for a contract to "dispose" of 2028 stray cats and dogs by the end of this year. The idea was to organize squads that would operate between 5 AM and 8 AM, and the opening bid was suggested to be 1.7 million rubles or around $57,000.
The idea of eliminating the problem of troublesome dogs by simply exterminating all of the visible members of the species in a region is not new. According to Islamic writings, the prophet Mohammed once issued a "Kill all dogs" decree in response to a request from the Governor of Medina. The Governer was concerned about the number of stray dogs overrunning his city, particularly because of the threat of rabies and perhaps other diseases that were spread by the pariah dogs foraging through the garbage. At first, Mohammed took the uncompromising position that all the dogs should be exterminated and thus issued his command. On reflection, however, he mitigated his decree, for two major reasons. The first was religious: canines constituted a race of Allah's creatures, and He who created the race should be the only one to dictate that it should be removed from the earth. The second, more pragmatic, was that some categories of dogs, particularly guard dogs, hunting dogs, and shepherd dogs, were useful to humans and had hence earned their right to exist. In addition some Islamic scholars maintain that prophet himself actually owned one or more salukis that he used for hunting and that he was fond of.
It was not however a religious prophet who stepped into the Sochi situation, but rather a number of activists who staged a protest calling for the animals to be sterilized or put into a shelter rather than being killed. Obviously some of the motivations for this action was the affection that the people protesting had for their own pets. Some spokesmen for the protest, however, pointed out to the press that the city authorities regularly use poison to control strays, and this often leads to an even greater public health hazard. They suggested putting poison in the streets not only kills the cats and dogs who wander there but also the birds and squirrels and other city wildlife and there is even the potential of the poison being tracked into homes and providing a hazard for young children playing on the floors. Afterwards, the poison runs off into the sea contaminating the shoreline. Finally, the bodies are put into landfills with the potential of poison leaking into the water supply.
In any event the choice seems to have been taken out of the hands of the city, since faced with the wave of public criticism no contractors made any bids and the municipal tender has now fallen through.
The city has now announced that it is planning to build an animal shelter, which will be the first ever in the city of Sochi, and a new tender will be offered focusing on sterilization rather than "disposing" of strays. However the same announcement also suggested that the shelter may not be ready in time for next year's Olympics. The fact that no shelter will be available before the games suggests, at least to someone who is as cynical about governmental promises as I am, that an awful lot of dogs and cats are still going to end up dead in order to make the city streets more presentable for the over 300,000 guests and athletes that Sochi expects to host for the Olympic event.
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark; Do Dogs Dream? The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome
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