Dogs World Magazine: Fight for justice for Russian street dogs

10 Jul, 2014

July 10, 2014, Dog World Magazine

Dog World Magazine – Big Hearts Foundation’s fight for justice for Russian street dogs.

NOWADAYS most of Russia faces the problem of stray animals and abuse. The lack of legal framework and an animal welfare system is the reason why millions of them are suffering every single day.

Cruelty towards animals is widespread in Russia. After the communist regime the country didn’t have an efficient system to control the stray population. The strays started to form large groups to survive, attacking people, especially children and the elderly. This tragic state of events created a group of vigilantes, called ‘doghunters’, who shoot or poison dogs with an anti-tuberculouse drug, which causes a painful and slow death.

Today more and more people have started to understand the importance of giving back to the community and want to improve this situation in their cities. However, in many cases they simply don’t know what they need to do and how they can start. Big Hearts Foundation is not only providing financial support and educational programmes, but is also trying to build the connection between shelters, individuals and local authorities.

The charity has 65 volunteers and has been active in 34 cities across Russia and Eastern Europe. Started only three years ago by a Russian-born trader, the foundation has achieved a lot so far – neutering on average 350 dogs and cats every month across 15 cities, introducing social aid programmes, providing humane education as well as taking part in the the Duma’s (part of the lower Russian Parliament) working group in introducing the long awaited anti-cruelty and animal/human contact legislation and stray population control. The charity doesn’t have an office and 95 per cent of all donations go directly to the animals in need.

Two years ago the Russian Government introduced a new drug enforcement regulation, which banned the use of ketamine in veterinary clinics. One vet who kept using ketamine to neuter animals was jailed for eight years. A more expensive drug, Zoletil, is imported from France but this has made the procedure unaffordable for average Russian incomes (£160 per month). These actions have increased prices and even if people want to help dying cats and dogs on the street or sterilise their own, they simply can’t afford it. As a result, excess of born kittens and puppies are either drowned in a bucket in small towns or they are handed over to ‘Korobocniki’. These are people who stand on the markets and for a small sum will take the puppies from you and promise to rehome them. In 99 per cent of the cases this never happens and at the end of the day the animals are dumped.

The government tries to control the stray dog population by shooting the animals with a drug called Adelin, which suffocates the animal. Big Hearts Foundation is trying to get rid of this practice, and introduce more humane and effective ways of controlling the stray population, using experience from Europe and the UK. The culture of animal welfare has been developing for many years in Western countries and now it’s time to use this experience and spread it in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Despite this hard environment, Big Hearts is making great strides and is positive on the changes that can be achieved depending on the amount of help it can get. There are animal loving volunteers in Russia, who spend their time, last assets and money to change their surroundings.

The Big Hearts Foundation has successfully impacted one regional law in Karelia and another federal anti-cruelty law which has been prepared by the charity’s lawyer Anastasia is about to get passed through the final voting round in the Duma this year.

The foundation has helped set up five shelters, and supported many others, so they are able to rehome neutered animals, grow and bring their shelters and foster homes to a better level.

This large amount or work has been done by close co-operation between the Foundation and other charity organisations in Europe and Russia, such as Zoozov and Cruelty-free International. The amount of knowledge and information sharing across cities and countries is huge and has proven highly beneficial to the animals – more responsible rehoming, less unwanted puppies and less cruelty. The foundation is trying to inspire people to change the situation in their cities, publishing a lot of information about successful collaborations between organisation and individuals.

The Big Hearts Foundation strongly believes in the power of education and that is why one of its main activities is to spread the word among the young population. Three months ago the foundation commissioned the first episode of a ten-series animal welfare cartoon, which is guaranteed to be played on several Russian channels and will help raise a more humane, kind and responsible generation. Also the foundation is working on several programmes and events to make children visit shelters and learn how great the animals are and how they can have an impact on their well-being.

The Founder, Anna Kogan, has been spending all her yearly salary on improving the plight of animals during these years, but much more needs to be done. Large numbers of cities are still awaiting the small affordable neutering programme. The nine episodes of the animal welfare cartoon also need to be funded.

Anna’s dream is to be able to introduce an emergency service for animals in Russia and develop an organisation similar to the RSPCA, which plays such a significant role in animal welfare system today. Hopefully the Big Hearts Foundation will be able to grow to the same scale.

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