Moscow to pay its dogs more than its pensioners – with little effect .

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At the time of crisis the city government of Moscow has embarked on bold experimentations with the Keynesian economics. But this time around instead of money being put into bottles and buried at the bottom of pits to “be dig up on the well-tried principles of laissez-faire”, the city government has resolved on advancing from its budget nearly 3 bln. rubbles (about USD 90 mln.) to … stray animals.

The measure includes the construction of 15 municipal shelters for the ‘sterilization’, ‘electronic tagging and long-term upkeep’ of the city strays. As of writing, the project is well advanced and most of the shelters are already in operation with deplorably predictable consequences.
According to the estimates of environmental researchers, Moscow is home to about 30 thousand stray dogs implying the current city budget allocation of nearly 8000 rubbles per animal per month in 2009. As this allocation compares fairly with the average old age pension allowance in the capital of about 4000 rubbles in 2008 (equivalent to 130 USD), one would have expected strays to be kept in the lap of luxury. But the reality on the ground disconfirms this view as most of the shelters are empty and those that are functioning often lack heating, water supply and electric facilities. Most of the animals are finding themselves captured with the use of banned substances that can cause lethal consequences (di-ethilin), and most of the animals founding themselves in the shelters end up dying from malnutrition, dehydration and rampart infections. Potential new owners willing to take charge over the animals are turned away by the management of the shelters, and those outsiders who volunteer to help poor canines and bring them food to the shelters are usually not admitted inside. Nonetheless rare visitors have been able to secure admission and shot clips revealing the picture of appalling conditions in which the animals, by now much weakened with starvation and deceases, are kept – sometimes in the company of the occasional un-removed corpse in the cage seen now and then. Wholesale neglect of the usual vaccination is more rule than exception, to say nothing of electronic tagging (unneeded in the context and unseen elsewhere).
Despite the official rosy media facade, public relations of these so-called shelters have also ended in fiasco when one woman in her endeavors to reclaim a stray she fondly patronized suffered heart-attack faced with callous hostility of shelter administrators in the course of her ‘tour’ through nearby shelters, while another person was greatly humiliated and physically abused in a scuffle that ensued when shelter personnel attempted to bundle her off. This was also compounded by the recent discovery of a number of canine corpses in public areas carelessly disposed and lightly concealed, -- evidently by the catchers, -- to simplify the proceedings.

This escalating wave of cruelty to animals and prolonged segregation – by no means limited to the stray animals but also paralleled in the city’s efforts to get rid of tramps and other downfallen elements of humanity -- represents a brutal U-turn on the city’s former nonchalant but enlightened attitude in this respect (it formerly practiced a low-key version of dog sterilization on small budgets). It coincides with the Moscow’s bid to clean up its territory in preparation for its hosting of The Eurovision song contest in May 2009. Organized disappearances and slayings of even sterilized dogs are now a reality and in response to inquiries from concerned residents city officials openly admit that they do and will continue to ‘eliminate’ not only sterilized strays but also those domestic dogs which are found walking unattended and without the lead.

Biologists have long noted that mass purges of stray animals in the city are followed by the reinvigorated surge in their population numbers as all natural checks on the birth rates get suspended. After a time, the population restores itself to beyond its former size and the problem plays out again on the ever increasing scale. Only a sustained series of measures modelled on those successfully undertaken in more civilized quarters of the world and implemented by financially transparent and publicly accountable animal welfare bodies has a potential to resolve the problem of strays in the city. One should not be deluded that the 3 bln. rubble package will do the trick for Moscow. Evidence gathered by animal rights activists and the audit of prevailing maintenance conditions in the shelters suggest that these vast sums of money fail to reach their destination (perhaps due to excessive natural wastage following their initial allocation). But pointing a finger in the direction of the apparent drain is not the principal point. The point is to stop cruelty and suffering in its tracks by all means available. Ignorance and indifference in that will only serve to breed and perpetuate new cruelty.

Having regard to such evidence and being apprehensive about the continuation and further spread of these unsettling trends, animal welfare organizations and activists of the capital have formed a united front and openly voiced their concerns and demands during the officially sanctioned rally held on March 28, 2009 in the centre of Moscow at the foot of Griboedov Monument. Their demands included:

1) Introduction of strict state controls on the breeding and owner registration of dogs and other domestic animals.
2) Suspension of any shooting and torturing practices against the stray animals, with the infliction of maimings or other disabling bodily harm being also outlawed and discontinued.
3) Continuation of the former sterilization efforts
4) Replacing the current opaque system of mega-shelters for indefinite confinement and attrition of animals by a smaller network of accountable and well maintained post-sterilization stray care centers with the subsequent release of animals after recovery. Placing such system under the public supervision by providing free and unrestrained access to volunteers and animal welfare activists.
5) Stimulate the distribution of treated animals from shelters to their new owners and sterilization of domestically kept animals by means of socially funded public awareness campaigns and tax relief or exemptions.
6) Sterilized vaccinated strays should be returned to their original area subject to such demands being received from local residents. The returned animals should be registered and attached to their guardians in the case of willingness on the part of the latter.
7) Institute a central information exchange service to aid in search of lost animals, create an official school for training specialized animal catchers in a humane and responsible fashion as opposed to sanctioning unaccountable brigades from knacker’s–yards to do this.
8) Outlaw unlicensed (street) trading in domestic animals.
9) Develop the Federal and/or City Regulations on prevention of cruelty to domestic and stray animals to aid in the resolution of the above matters.
10) Undertake public (state) audits of the sources and uses of funding for any existing stray abatement programs under the government patronage.

The Rally was well attended and drew in excess of 200 attendees from Moscow along with delegates from other regional towns, several camera crews and newspaper journalists who were informed about the current wave of animal brutalities, its underlying economic and political causes, and the proposed remedial measures. They all agreed about the pressing need to do away with the unaccountable current management of the city’s animal shelters before those degenerate into unmitigated imitation of knacker’s-yards and severely compromise the very idea of shelters or other remedies. Similar events have been held simultaneously in 10 other cities across Russia on that day. It is to be hoped that events of such nature will help galvanize awareness about this seemingly endemic issue and by serving as a call to adopt well-considered homeless animal control programs after the Western pattern succeed in putting the problem behind in a matter of few years.

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