Russia works on its stray-dog problem at Sochi Olympics

A dog basks in the sun as athletes take part in a Sochi Olympics cross-country training session at the Laura Cross Country Skiing and Biathlon Center in Rosa Khutor. Strays could be seen daily around Sochi and the Winter Games facilities.
(Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Getty Images)

BARANOVKA, Russia — Nestled into a hill overlooking the Black Sea, the PovoDog shelter provides sanctuary to more than 120 strays who were lucky enough to escape the life-threatening streets of Sochi.

Some have matted fur and bald patches. A few look emaciated.

And all face uncertain futures when the Olympic flame is extinguished Sunday.

“We have the world’s attention now,” said Nadezhda Mayboroda, a private tutor who set up this makeshift shelter a few weeks ago. “When the Games end, there will still be dogs in Sochi that need help.”

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi


Sochi’s abundant stray population made international headlines during these Games, as authorities began rounding up dogs by the dozens. The animals — many of which had served as guard dogs at construction sites or as companions for workers before being abandoned after the building ended — were taken to undisclosed locations and often put down.

Olympic organizers repeatedly have said that only diseased dogs have been killed. They insist the healthy ones have been “relocated” to better places, even as local veterinarians reported seeing poisoned bait around the city. Animal rights advocates estimate that 300 dogs have been killed each month since eradication efforts began in October.

The dogs’ plight quickly caught the attention of western media and athletes, several of whom have vowed to adopt these dogs. Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis adopted a dog after missing out on a medal here, while Gus Kenworthy rescued a mother dog and four puppies after spotting them outside the media center in Krasnaya Polyana. The silver medalist delayed his flight home to get the paperwork done to transport the dogs to the United States, where he said he planned to keep one puppy and had found homes for the others.

And U.S. hockey player David Backes, a forward with the St. Louis Blues, has started an organization with his wife, Kelly, to help find shelters for the animals in the United States and other countries.

The couple, who grew fond of the local strays while walking on the boardwalks along Sochi’s coast, has started a group called Athletes for Animals. Working with players from the American, Canadian and Slovenia teams, among others, the organization is trying to arrange for several dogs to be transported from Russia.

“I want for us to be able to give them a chance for a forever home and kind of live in that lap of luxury that a lot of dogs in North America have,” he said. “If we can do that for a few of them, and give them that little reprieve, it’s a great opportunity for those dogs and to maybe show people how we treat our animals, and maybe that could be contagious as well.”


But transporting a dog to another country can be a difficult endeavor, especially in Russia where language barriers and bureaucratic rules complicate even the most routine shipments.

Pet transport from Russia costs between $150 and $2,000 based on the airline, according to the Humane Society International. The dogs also need international health certificates from a local veterinarian before they can travel. Those cost about $15 here.

Dogs must have paperwork showing they have been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry into the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unvaccinated dogs are required to receive rabies shots within 10 days of arrival in the United States and are kept in confinement for at least 30 days.

Mayboroda has arranged for roughly a dozen adoptions since the Games began, with most of the dogs slated to live in the United States. She still has dozens more in need of homes.

When the Sochi strays controversy reached its zenith at the start of the Games, Mayboroda and others were given three days to round up as many dogs as possible from the Olympic Park area and take them to her improvised shelter in this little hillside village outside Sochi.

Her efforts won support from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire businessman who helped fund these Games. Deripaska, a dog lover who grew up in the area, gave Mayboroda’s group $15,000 to build a new shelter that can house up to 250 dogs.


Construction is currently underway at her compound, where five security guards protected the front gates last week. Mayboroda says she plans to care for as many dogs as she can, for as long as she can.

“This is not an Olympic problem,” she said. “It existed before the Olympics and it will exist after the Olympics. I will keep helping these dogs after everyone forgets.”

Twitter: @stacystclair