Europe

Mystery dog deaths anger Russians

  • 24 November 2012
  • From the section Europe
Man walking his dog in a Moscow park
Russian dog owners are having to take care when taking their pets for a walk

A mysterious spate of dog killings has caused alarm among pet owners in Moscow and other cities across Russia, as well as a wave of speculation in the media.

Since the beginning of autumn, police have received dozens of complaints about pets being fatally poisoned by unknown attackers.

Dog owners blame the deaths on vigilante exterminators - a growing phenomenon that has become known in the Russian media by the English term "dog hunters" (Russianised as "dogkhanter").

The dog hunters themselves have made it their mission - or as some in the media allege, "hobby" - to kill the packs of often threatening feral dogs that roam the streets and back yards of many Russian cities.

They deny any involvement, however, in the deaths of pet dogs.

The owners feel frustration at the fact that the issue is pretty low down on the authorities' priority list. Some even suspect officials quietly support the dog hunters' efforts as a cheap way to deal with the problem of multiplying stray dogs.

The incidents have also brought the issue of animal rights and cruelty to animals - not traditionally top of the list of concerns voiced in the Russian media - to the fore.

Last month, hundreds of dog owners held a rally demanding a crackdown on the alleged killers. The organisers claim that this year alone, more than 1,000 dogs - both strays and pets - have been killed.

Mass poisonings

In one of the biggest incidents so far, more than 40 pet dogs were found dead in a park in the west of Moscow in September, according to the authorities.

Stray dogs are a common sight in Russian cities...

The most common method used is to leave chunks of meat laced with an anti-tuberculosis medication that is highly toxic to dogs, but other poisons are also used - as well as guns.

One owner explains how his family's one-year-old puppy, Tigrash, died after being taken through a park on his walk.

"The dog was sniffing at something in the grass, and a few steps on his legs gave way and he started getting convulsions," Mikhail Vinogradov tells the MR7 website. The family had antidotes at home but the injections did not help, according to Mikhail.

Irina Rokshina, whose labrador Chara was poisoned in a Moscow park a year ago, says officials simply do not seem to be interested in the problem.

"In other countries, dog-hunters are dealt with by the police: they find them on the internet, contact them and catch them. Here, people couldn't care less," she says.

Out of control

The dog hunters - who usually shun the media - insist they only go after strays, saying they are simply doing the work of under-funded local authorities and are cleansing the city of animals they say often pose a danger to humans, especially to children.

One of their main websites, named "No to Pests", sports a manifesto with the introduction: "Greetings human. Welcome to the community of those who battle against aggressive wild dogs, as well as animal rights extremists."

"I regard my mission as that of keeping the city safe from stray dogs who multiply uncontrollably. Pet dogs cannot die of the poison, as dog hunters feed it directly to the dogs. All other cases are the lies of animal protection activists," the MR7 website quotes one alleged dog hunter from St Petersburg, named only as Yulia, as saying.

The Bolshoi Gorod website says the phenomenon appears to date back to a 1999 decision to end the routine population control of stray animals in response to animal rights protests, which led to the proliferation of packs of feral dogs in cities.

After an official drive to sterilise strays in 2010 failed, people started taking matters into their own hands, according to the site.

...as increasingly are the pampered charges of Russia's newly affluent middle class

An alleged dog hunter who spoke to Bolshoi Gorod, "Dmitrii", 19, says he is a medical student at a paediatrics department.

"I work in hospitals and have seen the problem of stray dogs from the other side - badly mauled children are brought in to the department several times a week. Now I try to eliminate all the packs of strays I can find."

'Trash'

Their critics, however, say many of them are acting out of sadistic pleasure.

An alleged dog hunter from St Petersburg interviewed by MR7 admits she derives pleasure from "cleansing the area of trash" and admits that she has killed pets as well as strays. "I use various means - I just enjoy the process itself," "Svetlana" says.

Whatever the dog hunters' real motivation, Muscovites are seemingly taking their own precautions to protect their pets, with sales of muzzles - aimed at preventing the dogs from eating poison - reportedly up.

Some dog owners are going even further, taking pictures of poisoned bait, putting photos of suspected dog hunters on the internet, or trying to confront them in person.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

More on this story