Stray animals to pay the price for Russia hosting FIFA world Cup

Millions of tourists will descend upon the 11 host cities in the country in a few days and this doesn't bode well for the canines

                            Stray animals to pay the price for Russia hosting FIFA world Cup
(Getty Images)

Russia is all set to host the FIFA World Cup 2018 beginning this week and everyone is expecting the eyes of the entire world to be focused on the country during the month-long tournament.

Millions of tourists will descend upon the 11 host cities and the situation is expected to be chaotic. The local governing bodies have been asked to make sure that the visiting tourists do not experience the seamy side of their cities, and they have started changing the appearance of their respective cities drastically.

Streets are being cleaned, old buildings and houses are being repainted, homeless people are being relocated, and last but not the least, all the stray animals are being culled.

Needless to say, that last bit has got the Russians themselves up in arms, with over 1.8 million people coming together to sign a petition to stop the killing of stray animals and protests are being held in few of the cities hosting the matches.

There has even been an outpouring of support from Russian actors who are behind the campaign to stop the culling. Unfortunately, the activists who are fighting to save the lives of these animals are all facing a long battle to stop the killings.

Culling stray animals in Russia is quite a lucrative business and many companies in the country are in competition with each other to get municipal contracts that will pay a certain amount for each animal that is killed. Reports have said that the city of Yekaterinburg paid one municipal waste management company more than $533,000 in December of last year to capture more than 4,500 dogs. The Moscow Times had reported that the dogs were only held in centers for about two weeks and then they were euthanized.

Vladimir Burmatov, the head of the State Duma's ecology and evnvironment protection committee, told The Moscow Times in an interview: "There is a lot of money in these contracts, which are often awarded to state-run companies. And because these matters are governed by individual municipalities, there is nothing a federal official can do."

Culling large numbers of stray animals before an international event isn't something new that happens in the country. When then 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, official culling companies used poisoned darts to kill animals on the spot. They were also very well paid for their "efforts" to rid the streets of strays. Of course, this caused quite a stir among the athletes and many tourists who were visiting the city and many pictures of this inhumane practice went viral online. The companies took all the negative publicity in their stride  and were hired again by the cities hosting the matches for the soccer world cup for their services.

One of the most notorious groups in the country responsible for culling strays over the past five years is Basya Service LLC. It has been the center of a few scandals over the years, all to do with the violation of animal welfare legislation. A lawsuit was filed in 2012 against the company and it alleged that they used inhumane methods to cull strays. This included injecting the animals with a drug that would cause asphyxiation and a very painful death. Another case was filed against the company in 2013 by Rostov activists but the court exonerated the company.

(Getty Images)

Basya Service LLC's most recent case happened in February 2018. An animal activist discovered the carcasses of 20 dogs in a ravine that is close to a small town in Krasnodar Krai. One employee from the company was arrested in connection with the crime. He confessed later that he had poisoned the canines and threw away the bodies so that costs can be reduced. He also said that his supervisor had asked him to do so.

In spite of the court filing and the contoversy that seems to follow the company everywhere, they still keep working with local municipal governments. The company successfully won a contract in early 2018 to catch stray animals in Sochi and as of April, they have already killed around 58 animals.

Alexei Sorokin, the owner of the company, told The Moscow Times in an interview: "We could sit here sniffling all day, but I am working within the framework of our constitution. Why are we worrying about dogs when we should be worried about people?"

When the 2014 Sochi culling took place before the Winter Olympics, volunteers in the city started evacuating as many animals as they possibly could. One resident of Moscow, Igor Airapetyan, was able to save 100 animals after he made a few trips between the capital and Sochi. Quite a few of the animals he evacuated were able to find homes. Even tourists and athletes adopted some animals and have started Instagram pages for them.

When the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee was questioned about the vicious campaign to rid the streets of strays, they claimed that they did nothing wrong. They said in a statement:

"All stray dogs that are found on the Olympic Park are collected by a professional veterinary contractor for the well-being of the people on the Park and the animals themselves. All healthy animals are released following their health check."

Russia seems to have turned a blind eye to it's own problem of the burgeoning number of stray animals and the lack of infrastructure to find all of them homes or put them in shelters. After the 2014 Winter Olympics debacle, one would have expected the government to at least implement some legislation to tackle the problem but looks like they aren't going to do anything about it. 

All the animal activists can do is fight the good fight and hope that the authorities get a grip on the situation and do something for the good of the animals for a change.