We Go Where Others Fear To Tread



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

30 Dec, 2018

In the past few days international news agencies have been praising the Russian Duma for passing the law, that “outlaws all forms of cruelty to animals” and “bans killing, pitting and other forms of mistreatment”.

Just by reading these, one immediately realizes that there’s something wrong with it. Hunting, fur and meat farms are still legal, so obviously the new law doesn’t concern all animals. So, let’s go beyond sensationalist titles and analyze the “present” the government gave to the country for the New Year.

The lawyer of Forgotten Animals, an international NGO working in Russia explains: “Banning all killing” in reality means a complete ban on euthanasia of unwanted 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 until they die a naturally.

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

For obvious reasons the majority of Russians doesn’t welcome the ever-growing packs of stray dogs on the streets. It’s unsanitary, it’s dangerous, it’s sad to see. It is also cruel to throw out just neutered dogs out on the streets. And that is exactly what will happen, because the new law does not provide any funding for even the basic neutering procedure and post op care.

Some people in Russia take measures in their own hands – groups of vigilantes kill them in cruel ways by poisoning, unless the government removes them from the streets. They call themselves “dog hunters” and thousands of them freely converse on an online forum sharing the deadly recipes of medicine mix for quicker and more efficient ways to poison animals.

Hungry dogs pick up poisoned sausages and die in agony for 3 hours, no one ever gets brought to justice.

In Russia dog population management is not carried out by municipalities but is contracted out to private companies. With the new law and its requirements no company will bother to bid for a tender issued by municipalities for the the catch-neuter-vaccinate-return (CNVR) programme, because the amount offered is ridiculously low and there are not enough skilled vets do to a TNR programme and there is no space in shelters. Most cities don’t even have municipal shelters and those that have them make you want to cry in desperation.

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 scared.

Nobody is suggesting euthanasia alone as the method to solve the stray crisis.

A complex approach involving shelters, awareness campaigns, re-homing practices, spay and neuter programmes for owned pets and obviously legislation initiatives, such as obligatory microchipping  for pets should be used, along with humane euthanasia, just as EVERY COUNTRY that solved the stray problem did.

The country is drowning in stray dogs and cats, there are outbreaks of rabies and hundreds of thousands of cats and smaller wild animals get torn apart by hungry wild dog packs. Thanks to the new law nobody is going to try and manage it. Apart from “dog hunters”.

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: because it’s the most humane thing to do under many circumstances.

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.

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 shape. Building a basic decent dog shelter for 100 dogs costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and it’s even pricier to maintain it and feed the animals. Add the costs of  basic veterinary care and staff salary. Children orphanages, hospitals or nursing homes don’t get this kind of money, let alone dogs.

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

A well-funded network of good private shelters such as those run by the Humane Society in the United States or Dogs Trust in the UK doesn’t exist in Russia. There are mostly small makeshift shelters run by individuals or hoarders, struggling to provide basic vet care and re-home animals and very few somewhat decent private shelters that all have a hard time to finance their operations and must often refuse accepting new animals. They will now be further overwhelmed.

Neutering is very expensive comparing to the average income in Russia. The new law will prompt people let their dogs roam free in the hopes of them being picked up neutered for free. This means more unwanted puppies, because the services will not function due to the lack of budget and veterinarians.

Despite these very obvious problems of the TNR method for dogs and the experience of all countries that successfully solved the stray problems, this very method is being loudly advocated for by the avid “no-kill” advocates, who clearly have a very limited knowledge of this complex issue and even less desire to learn. They prefer to march the streets with “no killing, no euthanasia” slogans instead of educating themselves for the good of animals and people. To please and calm the screaming animalists before they ruin the illusion of how great the things are, the government smartly  preferred to throw them a bone in the form of hastily drafted unenforceable and unrealistic “law” ignoring the warnings of ecologists, biologists, lawyers, scientists and skilled animal welfare advocates.

That being said, the law isn’t all bad.

It introduces the obligation to pick up owned dogs waste, which will of course be well compensated for by the packs of stray dogs, worsening the sanitary situation.

It also theoretically 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.

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 by the restaurants and lion cubs rented as photo ops that were “acquired” before the law will stay right where they are until their natural death. But, as absurd as it sounds, this is probably actually the only positive aspect of this law.

Russia has no wildlife sanctuary, so even if seized, those animals would have simply nowhere to go.

In the next 6 months the government needs to develop the underlying laws which would allow this law to function, as of now it is a bare document of general platitudes of bans, without punishments, budgets, enforcing agencies.

People across Russian regions 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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