Hunting to Kill02 Mar, 2017
All images by Ruslan Alikbekov/Novaya Gazeta
In Makhachkala (Dagestan) the mass executions continue and the number of victims has already reached several thousand. These killings are outrageous for their inhuman cruelty.
Within a matter of days, this city of 1 million people has turned into a massacre field. In the yards, bloody corpses are lying around and wounded animals hide in doorways. The residents are afraid to let their dogs out on the streets. There are not enough places able to care for the wounded dogs, but new cases continue to flow in. The animal killers continue their terrible raid. The police and prosecutors say nothing; there is no help from the authorities of Dagestan.
On the 19th February 2017, on the deserted outskirts of Makhachkala, the body of a nine-year-old girl was found with multiple lacerations. Talk sprang up around the city that the girl had been mauled by a pack of stray dogs. The investigating committee brought forward a criminal case for ‘negligence resulting in the death of a person’ (against the Housing Authorities) and on its website, it states that the death was brought about, allegedly, by being bitten by dogs.
The causes of the child’s death will only be known following the results of forensic medical examinations, the results of which will be released in March. The Dagestanis have not waited for March. On social networks, groups sprang up in which residents called for the killing of dogs. The Mayor of the town, Musa Musaev, stated directly: “Our main task is to ensure the safety of the Makhachkala residents and visitors to the capital, and we need to resolve the problem by giving it our best efforts and utilizing all available resources.”
It was following this, that the massacre in the city began.
Mayor’s office gives the go-ahead
“Where? What’s the exact address? Wait, I’m leaving now.” Olga Vyatkina, a fragile young girl in her last months of pregnancy, spins round to me whilst dialling the number for a taxi. “Irchi Kozak Street, right in the center. An injured dog is bleeding, there are two puppies.”
Me and Olga, head of the Makhachkala Zoolife Centre, one of the main animal protection organisations in Dagestan, dash out of her office. Every day and all throughout the week since the death of the schoolgirl, Olga and her colleagues receive dozens of calls with reports of injured animals. Young people in expensive cars shoot at dogs at random all over the city: their weapons range from pistols to shot guns to firearms. Any that survive are finished off with sticks, stones and iron bars. Dogs which manage to get away after being injured die a slow and painful death. The injuries they sustain are incredibly brutal. There have been cases of dogs having their legs cut off.
“A woman called us last night to tell us there was a dog bleeding out under her house, whining in pain”, Olga tells me whilst we are on the road.
“First, they had shot the dog in the jaw, shattering the bones. Then they shot it directly through the lung. But the dog could breathe and was still alive. We took her to the veterinary clinic and they operated on her for three nights and saved her.
But there are not enough hands to help all of them. There is only one vet who is willing to work with us. He does his work for a minimal fee but it is the medicines which we must pay for”, says Olga.
… On the Kozak Street pavement, outside the entrance to a ten-storey unfinished brick building stands a young girl in a black hijab.
“My name’s Amina. It was me who called you. I was walking to work and I saw her. Her puppies are whining in the basement. They are hungry.” A little further on, lying in the dust, is a big reddish-black dog. Her fur is matted with blood. There are two bullet holes behind her shoulder blade in her abdomen. Her eyes are red. “It turns out that she was wounded several days ago. People who live here don’t know what to do or who to call. Everyone is afraid of the dog and they don’t want to approach it themselves. It seems that it is preparing to die. How you are going to catch it, I’ve got no idea. She won’t even let the puppies go near her…”
We try to get nearer to the dog. She struggles to her feet and moves to the side of the yard leaving bloody footprints behind her. Olga does not know what to do because the dog is huge and as a pregnant woman, she cannot handle it. But the dog is even more afraid of men; they were the ones who shot it.
“This one here is not the only one who was wounded, another one was shot to death”, a local passing resident, Ahmed, tells us, “At six o’ clock I was woken by their shooting. I look out of the window and it was some young lads who have turned up in black jeeps and they are shooting at the dogs with a Winchester rifle. They are shooting away and even hit someone’s car. The neighbours came outside, completely outraged. And they said ‘We are allowed to do it. The Mayor’s office has given us the go-ahead.’ Then they sat down in their jeeps and drove off.”
All of the witnesses of the massacre tell us of the young men in expensive cars.
The residents of Makhachkala are outraged that the dog killers consider themselves to have been given the green-light by the authorities to act with unpunishable sadism and ostentatious arrogance.
Almost immediately after these dog hunts began, amateur videos of the killings began to appear on the internet. I don’t have the strength to watch all of them to the end, but even after a few minutes, you get the feeling that those who are filming perceive the killing of the dogs as a celebration and a form of entertainment. In one of these, on the screen there are several dozen dead dogs piled up in a heap. The man speaking over it, whilst laughing boastfully, says “Now children, I’ve been working hard tonight. And now you can see that my clients are lying down to sunbathe. Now you can sleep peacefully, as we all will.”
He is up to his elbows in blood.
The Zoolife volunteers and others who have witnessed these sadistic actions have repeatedly called the police. Even though these killings fall under the heading of animal cruelty, the police don’t even register the calls. Nevertheless, around a thousand people have contacted the police with reports of dog shootings.
“Let’s catch the puppies and try to lure the dog to them”, says Olga as she clambers, with difficulty, over the piles of construction rubble. After forty minutes of unsuccessful attempts at catching the dog, she desperately rolls up a pair of black nylon tights in her hands. “They didn’t have a lead with them, so I picked these up. I thought we could put them on the dog instead of a collar.
The huge, fluffy puppies, which look just like bears, let out deafening howls at the sight of humans.
“They tried to kill them too but they were saved by this dirty basement. They hid themselves away, and these sadists did not want to climb down and get themselves dirty, and then dirty up their car interiors”, says Elmira, a lady who works at a neighbouring butchers shop.
“I’ve known this dog for two years and I’ve seen four generations of her puppies. I feed them, as all of the neighbours do. She is a good, affectionate dog. I would take her home with me, but she is too big for my small apartment.”
Following Olga along Irchi Kozak Street, we are approached by lots of new faces, the Zoolife volunteers. In general, the Centre consists of Olga and several of her friends, but, in her words, Zoolife can always count on the sympathy of people who, at any time, will pluck themselves from their home and come to any part of the city, to help catch an animal in need of assistance, to take it to a veterinary clinic, and afterwards, to find a place where it will be looked after.
Fatima is one of these. As soon as Olga phoned her, she came to where we had caught the injured dog. Her new, beige BMW stands out against the backdrop of construction rubbish.
“I brought blankets to make it easier to put the dog into the back of the car”, Fatima opens the pristine boot of her car. After half an hour, we managed to catch the dog, wrap it in a blanket, and put a lead and a muzzle on it. While the puppies clamber over the leather upholstery, Fatima helps to carry the dog into the yard of the veterinary clinic.
In the small veterinary hospital, Dagvet, they have been operating since the early hours.
“We have already had nine shooting victims, you are the tenth”, the nurse tells us, completely exhausted. Here, injured dogs are operated on and treated free of charge.
Elmira, one of the Zoolife volunteers tells us of how it is not only the strays being shot, but also domestic pets.
The Centre heard from a man, who was walking his dog in the evening, when an unknown man ran towards them, shot at the dog point blank and ran off. “The bullet stayed in its head and any movement by the dog can displace the bullet and damage the brain”, says Elmira. “It is impossible at the moment to predict the fate of the dog. The dog is suffering terribly and her owner, having gone through such a shocking experience, has fallen ill. It was his daughter who brought the dog to the veterinary clinic.”
Elmira has herself been helping Zoolife for several years. She is thirty years old and owns a small jewellery shop.
“When all of this began, I dropped my whole business, as many volunteers do”, she tells me.
“We are all covered in blood, spending every daylight hour on the road. We find injured animals, get them under control, take them to a vet then find a shelter for them.
Yesterday I didn’t leave the clinic until five in the morning.
X-rays are of vital importance to us”, Olga says. “We are currently in negotiations with private clinics so that we can do x-rays there in secret. Today we have brought in a seriously injured dog. Her wounds are going all the way through her. We are going to examine her so that we will then be able to legally get the investigative committee to initiate a criminal case and begin the hunt for these sadists.”
There were more animals outside the clinic. One dog which had been operated on, another, which had a haemostatic injection. Fussing over a big beautiful dog was its owner, Sapiat, a middle-aged woman who was wearing a green shawl. The dog had two wounds; one directly between its eyes and one in its stomach.
“See, if he’s been hit between the eyes, that means they called him over, and being the trusting fool that he is, he’s trotted straight over to them”, Sapiyat told us through sobs. “We got him from a shelter a few years ago. He’s a kind, gentle pooch. Last night we went for a walk. He ran after some dog. I didn’t even bother looking for him, he always does it and always comes back. Then in the morning, he turns up, barely able to crawl, completely covered in blood. We live between Makhachkala and the Caspian Sea in a small village. Everyone knows each other there, and we consider the dogs to belong to all of us. So none of our lot would have done it. That means whoever did it was from elsewhere. They came especially to kill.”
A defenceless target
Straight after the girl’s death, the Rospotrebnadzor (the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-being) announced that, in 2016 in Dagestan, 4,582 people had been bitten by animals. The capture and sterilisation of stray dogs in Makhachkala must be dealt with by the local authorities. A bid for the contract of animal capture takes place annually and the sums of money which are put forward are impressive; £39,000 in 2015, £41,000 in 2016. Both times, the bid was won by the municipal company, Vityaz. That was because Vityaz was the only bidder. The other candidates were barred from the bid because they weren’t registered. According to the Russian company database, Spark, the main activity of Vityaz Ltd is the cultivation of crops. Why the company has been entrusted with the capture of animals is unclear.
Zoolife activists have long been opposed to this organisation and its methods. They have told me repeatedly that “instead of their employees catching the animals, Vityaz shoot them with pneumatic weapons and hand guns. The Vityaz staff are committing acts of corruption.” But the Dagestan authorities don’t pay it any attention and Vityaz goes on operating.
“Over the last few years, the dogs have been reproducing in considerable numbers due to a slackening in the sterilisation procedures”, says Olga Vyatkina, “But they are not naturally aggressive animals. They are not hungry; there is an abundance of food for them in the urban land fill sites. They protect the city from rats, the cats alone can’t cope with this problem. But their numbers do need to be regulated. We have asked for help with this hundreds of times, but the authorities have done nothing. And now, in the city, a massive uncontrollable and cruel slaughter has begun. It bears no relation to the protection of the people. It feels as though someone has found a legal excuse to kill and to take out all of their anger. The dogs are simply a convenient, helpless target.