Sochi city hall orders killing of stray dogs

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SOCHI, Russia -- Thousands of stray dogs have been living amid the mud and rubble of Olympic construction sites, roaming the streets and snowy mountainsides, and begging for scraps of food.

But as the games draw near, authorities have turned to a company to catch and kill the animals, so they don't bother Sochi's new visitors -- or even wander into an Olympic event.

Alexei Sorokin, director-general of pest control firm Basya Services, said in an interview that his company has a contract to exterminate the animals throughout the Olympics, which open Friday. Mr. Sorokin described his company as being involved in the "catching and disposing" of dogs, although he refused to specify how the dogs would be killed or say where they would take the carcasses.

The dogs have been causing numerous problems, Mr. Sorokin said Monday, including "biting children."

He said he was stunned last week when he attended opening-ceremony rehearsal and saw a stray dog walking in on the performers. "A dog ran into the Fisht Stadium," he said. "We took it away. God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony. This will be a disgrace for the whole country."

The strays tend to gather near construction sites, where they have gotten food and shelter from workers. Dogs have even been able to get inside the Olympic Park and accredited hotel complexes and villages, in the coastal cluster of arenas and venues up in the mountains.

As construction work continued late Sunday, a pack of at least a half-dozen healthy-looking dogs roamed around a loading zone of a gondola, 1,200 feet above the Gorki Plaza in the mountain venues for the Olympics. Olympic volunteers patted and cooed over strays that trotted into the park Monday. Another dog dropped to the ground, sunbathing under the Olympic Rings near a public site where medals will be presented to athletes during the games.

Animal activist Dina Filippova is among opponents of the latest dog-culling plan, saying city authorities are using the Olympics as an excuse to cover an ongoing practice. "We should understand that it is done not only before the Olympics, but constantly," she said in an interview in downtown Sochi. "Two killers from that company work for the city to kill 300 dogs a month."

"It is not humane," she added. "There is a humane way of solving the problem of stray dogs, which is used in Europe and the United States and even in some countries of the former Soviet Union -- that is a mass sterilization which eventually leads to no stray dogs on the streets."

Mr. Sorokin's company operates in the Krasnodar region, which includes Sochi and the neighboring area. He refused to say how many dogs they kill a year, calling it a "commercial secret."

Krasnodar region lawmaker Sergei Krivonosov last year supported the dog culling. Taking the dogs off the street was Russia's "responsibility to the international community, and their elimination is the quickest way to solve this problem," he said. He conceded, however, that this is "not the most humane way" of dealing with the problem, and that authorities should encourage dog shelters.

Sochi city hall last year announced a contract "to catch and dispose" of strays in Sochi, a move that animal activists vehemently protested. Authorities pledged to give up the practice and build animal shelters for strays instead. Activists say there is no evidence that a shelter has been built. But city hall said in a statement on its website that it had opened a dog shelter Monday for 100 dogs.

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