We expect cities hosting the Olympic Games to take extreme measures to be presentable and safe for the world to descend on, but Sochi's mass killing of stray dogs is appalling.
Many European cities have a problem with roaming cats or dogs: a stray, unsterilized population of animals left to fend for themselves. And I understand officials of the Russian city that sits on the Black Sea, just south of the Caucasus Mountains, worrying about stray dogs wandering onto snowboarding courses. But if Russian officials thought a mass killing of dogs was the best alternative, then they really don't understand much about the legions of animal lovers and pet owners coming to Sochi or watching the Olympics on TV at home.
And it didn't have to be this way. It's pathetic that after all the time and money spent on preparations for the Olympics, officials of the city and the Games didn't come up with a more humane and effective solution. If they had started sooner, officials could have spayed and neutered the dogs, moved them to shelters and launched a massive Olympic-themed adoption program. Animal welfare groups around the world would have volunteered in the effort. The Humane Society International and other animal welfare advocates have said for months that they would help Sochi with its stray dog problem.
Sochi's plan to kill 2,000 dogs was announced last summer, prompting an international outcry. City officials backed off their plans but then hired a pest control company to kill the dogs starting last fall. Animal welfare advocates say hundreds have been killed.
Its treatment of these stray dogs as an afterthought — little more than vermin to be exterminated — is a window into Sochi's, if not Russia's, profound lack of compassion and humanity for companion animals.
Yes, some cultures don't keep dogs as pets and even eat them as food, but far more see them as pets and treat them humanely. The U.S. has a fairly evolved ethic when it comes to the treatment of stray or unwanted pets. Practically every city or county has a municipal shelter or a contract with one to take in stray animals. And, increasingly, the goal of those shelters is to keep them all alive. In most privately run shelters, it's the policy not to kill.
Sochi hasn't gotten there yet. But private rescuers, aided by funds from a Russian oligarch, are scrambling to round up strays, before more are killed, and take them to a makeshift shelter — what the New York Times describes as "an outdoor shantytown of doghouses" on the outskirts of the city. Sochi could redeem itself in the eyes of the world if it announced that all plans to cull the dogs were forever canceled and instead extended an invitation to welfare groups to work with it to develop a shelter system.
Then officials should take a rescued stray dog and parade it through the opening ceremonies on a leash. Instead of banishing dogs, it would show that Sochi welcomes the world as well as its canines.