Russia’s New Anti-Cruelty Law is “Fake News”.

30 Dec, 2018

In the past weeks, newspapers and news agencies around the world, praised the Russian government and president Putin, for passing a new law which “outlaws all forms of cruelty to animals”, and “bans killing, and other forms of mistreatment of animals”.

Just by reading these words, anybody with any critical thinking ability immediately would realize that there is something wrong. Hunting, fur and meat farms are still very legal, so are traveling dolphinaria, so obviously the new law does NOT concern ALL animals.

But that is not even the biggest issue. The new law is basically a recipe for disaster.

Let’s go beyond sensationalist titles, and analyze the New Year’s “gift” the Russian government gave to the country.

The lawyer of Forgotten Animals, an international NGO working in Russia, Anastasia Komagina explains: “”Banning all killing” in reality means a complete ban on euthanasia of unwanted/stray cats and dogs: all regions are now mandated to trap stray dogs, neuter them and release them back to the streets or keep them in shelters (that barely exist anywhere but Moscow, and are not exactly what a potential pet owner in western world is used to) until they die their natural death.”

Sounds like an animal lover’s dream? Here’s why it’s actually a nightmare.

The country is drowning in stray dogs and cats, there are outbreaks of rabies, and hundreds of thousands of kittens and smaller wild animals are routinely torn apart and eaten, by hungry packs of dogs. Even people get attacked, mostly young children and the elderly.

For obvious reasons the majority of Russians don’t welcome the ever-growing packs of stray dogs on the streets:

  1. it’s cruel to throw the recently neutered dog out to the streets
  2. stray dog packs can be dangerous to other animals and people
  3. animals in distress are an incredibly upsetting sight, especially for children
  4. seeing animals roaming the streets, sends the message that it is OK to abandon pets to already irresponsible pet owners

And yet, the new law will not change any of this:

The few severely underfunded and overcrowded shelters which exist in Russia, already struggle to provide enough food for their animals, let alone any resources for basic veterinary care or any decent re-homing efforts. People who work there, and a handful of unpaid volunteers, love animals and fight for them every day, but, unfortunately, due to the lack of the responsible pet ownership culture and completely inefficient laws, they are often forced by circumstances, to put animals down, as they can’t provide anywhere near decent life conditions for most of them.

The new law, instead of helping shelters, is basically their death sentence.

“Shielded” by the new law, the same careless pet owners who throw the litters on the streets, will now praise themselves for being “more humane”, and taking those litters to the nearest shelter. These shelters, with no support from the state, will however be obliged to accept all of them, despite not having capacity or resources. Humanely euthanizing those animals instead of condemning them to a life in hell is no longer an option.

But this is not even the most gruesome result of the new law.

A category of people, that are particularly unhappy to see stray dogs on the streets of Russia have been taking measures in their own hands. Groups of vigilantes kill dogs in the most cruel way by poisoning. They call themselves “dog hunters” and thousands of them freely converse via online forums, sharing the deadly recipes of medicine mix for quicker and more efficient ways to poison animals. Hungry animals pick up poisoned food and die in agony for hours, and none of their killers are ever  brought to justice.

With the legalization of packs of dogs on the streets, these “dog hunters” will be very busy.

Anyone who is convinced that the complete ban on euthanasia is humane, is kindly invited to visit one of the Moscow municipal dog shelters, a.k.a. “concentration camps for dogs”, where thousands of dogs sit in rows of filthy cages, one on top of each other. They urinate and defecate on each other, most are never walked or socialized, because shelters don’t have enough volunteers to do that. A few luck out and get rescued, socialized and adopted. The absolute majority of them sit in cages until they “die a natural death”, eating garbage, cold, sick, lonely, and terrified.

Let’s ask ourselves why countries with advanced and humane animal legislation and treatment such as the UK, the Netherlands or Germany, that don’t have any stray animals on the streets,  have NOT banned humane euthanasia of animals?

The answer is: humane euthanasia is the most humane thing to do under many circumstances, when working with abandoned or abused animals

Per this new Russian law, even the aggressive, impossible to socialize dogs with zero chance to be adopted won’t be euthanized. They cannot stay on the streets, so they will be put into “dog concentration camps”, dangerous for other dogs, staff, volunteers and visitors, without any possibility of release, socialization, or any physical activity.

The government was quick to pass the populist “humane” law, but no one specified where the money to keep all these animals would come from. Russia’s economy is not in a splendid state. Building a basic decent dog shelter for 100 dogs costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and it costs even more  to maintain it and feed the animals. Add the costs of basic veterinary care and staff salary, and the costs become exorbitant. Orphanages, hospitals, and nursing homes don’t get this kind of money, let alone animal shelters.

All of the above means more “dog concentration camps” built all around Russia, or the blatant disregard for the law altogether.

And what about wild animals? What does the new law mean for them?

In theory, the law bans petting zoos, and outlaws wild exotic pets, such as lions and crocodiles. But, the petting zoo ban will be very hard to enforce due to a contradiction within the wording: it bans petting zoos, but allows “activities involving contact with animals, provided that the animal has the possibility to hide in a provided shelter”.

This basically means that thousands of petting zoos in malls across Russia will just add some kind of “shelter” to their cages and will keep operating freely.

The worst part is that traveling dolphinaria and zoos, animal circuses, and baiting stations, are barely affected by the law, and all the exotic pets such as bears in filthy cages, kept by the restaurants, and lion cubs rented as photo ops that were “acquired” before the law passed (December 2018) will stay right where they are until their natural death, abused and exploited for many years to come.

Surprisingly, this is probably the only positive aspect of this law, as Russia has not a single wildlife sanctuary, so even if seized from their owners/business establishments, those animals have simply nowhere to go.

In the next few months the government needs to develop the underlying laws which would allow this law to function, as of now it is simply a document of general platitudes of bans, without punishments, budgets, or enforcing agencies.

People across Russia have started to realize how contradictory, unclear and unenforceable this law is, and are already filing complaints. Forgotten Animals is currently working on amendments to propose to the State Duma, and in parallel is working with regional governments, in order to prevent the disastrous consequences of the new law, for animals and people.

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