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Photo of stray dogs walk in front of the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia.

Two stray dogs walk by the Bolshoi Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia.

Photograph by Quinn Rooney, Getty

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published February 6, 2014

Despite a global uproar, exterminators in Sochi have killed hundreds of stray dogs in an effort to clean up the city in advance of the Olympic Games, which officially begin tomorrow.

The decision, announced earlier this week, has inspired several animal lovers to round up and save as many of the dogs as possible. Russian billionaire Oleg V. Deripaska is funding a "dog rescue" golf cart that's now scooping up dogs around Sochi.

"People aren't tolerant of [killing], and now you have the world audience coming to your doorstep," said Kelly O'Meara, a director at Humane Society International.

There are "much more effective ways they could have handled this," such as spaying and neutering the animals, she said.

But the Russian resort on the Black Sea isn't the only place with a dog problem. An estimated 250 to 300 million stray dogs roam our planet, according to O'Meara.

It's easy to confuse a stray dog with a pet, especially in non-westernized countries, added Matt Gompper, a professor of mammalogy at the University of Missouri who edited the book Free-Ranging Dogs and Wildlife Conservation.

For instance, some cultures view pet dogs in a way that's analogous to how Americans see barn cats: A person might feed and house a dog and sometimes give it veterinary care, but the animal still roams as it pleases. (See "5 Amazing Stories of Devoted Dogs.")

"It's a very different concept of ownership, even though all of the dogs are entirely dependent on human resources," Gompper said.

Other dogs are truly strays, hanging around a neighborhood and begging for food. Unlike cats, free-roaming dogs aren't really feral, since they rarely hunt wildlife. (Also see "Writer's Call to Kill Feral Cats Sparks Outcry.")

Some stray dogs—especially those shunned or treated inhumanely—band together into packs for safety and food, avoiding people. But most stray dogs are actually not menacing, because most rely on the public for their food—"positive interaction is necessary for them to get what they need," O'Meara said.

Countries differ in how they deal with stray canines, but generally there are three main methods: killing, mass sheltering, and sterilization and vaccination, O'Meara said.

Killing

Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, Egypt, Russia, and much of eastern Europe and the Baltic countries have mass dog-killing programs. Many such initiatives are put in motion after an outbreak of disease, such as rabies, that's a threat to human health.

The most common form of killing stray dogs is poisoning, a "silent killer" that is being used in Sochi, O'Meara said.

Usually, meat is laced with strychnine, a common poison, and put out on the street for whatever animal might find it—mostly dogs. A poisoned dog can "take up to an hour to die—it's horrific and extremely painful for an animal to go through," she said. After the animals die, the extermination service picks up the carcasses at night.

Other methods include shooting, bludgeoning, or gassing, practices that are often achieved by rounding up large groups of dogs.

According to O'Meara, mass killing is not only inhumane but also ineffective, since the dogs that extermination services catch are usually the animals least afraid of people. The shyest and possibly the sickest dogs aren't caught, which may increase the threat to public health from bites and disease transmission.

Sheltering

This approach—common in Thailand, India, and Italy—takes street dogs and puts them into huge shelters, which are often not equipped to handle the high populations.

Conditions are often poor, and many of the captured dogs have more puppies, only worsening the problem.

Dogs in mass shelters usually live their whole lives in the facilities.

Sterilization and Vaccination

In western Europe, Bhutan, the Philippines, India, Nepal, Costa Rica, Chile, Panama, South Africa, and Mauritius, stray dogs are sometimes sterilized and immunized, then released back into cities.

Since stray dogs are often a public health concern, governments mostly fund these programs with startup assistance from animal groups like the Humane Society. (See dog pictures submitted to National Geographic.)

Advocates of this approach say that packs of stray dogs will eventually die off because they can't reproduce, and in the meantime are not at risk of spreading diseases like rabies (vaccinated dogs are marked by a small notch in their ears).

According to O'Meara, in places where sterilization and vaccination programs have been put in place, the dogs overall act calmer.

For instance, neutered males fight less over females, causing less injury to females and wreaking less havoc among the dog population.

Religion is often a factor in how dogs are treated: the Buddhist nations of Thailand and Bhutan have traditionally avoided killing dogs, while Islamic countries usually adopt the practice. But even that is changing. (Take National Geographic's dog quiz.)

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is the first Islamic city to take on mass sterilization and vaccination, "and the hope is to spread to the rest of the country," she said.

However, Gompper noted that vaccination can be wasteful, since many dogs have already been exposed to diseases like parvovirus and have an immunity to them.

Other Practices

Some countries will also round up their dogs and dump them somewhere else, which is a short-term solution, Gompper added.

Stray dogs can also end up in smaller municipal shelters, which is common in the U.S. In much of the Caribbean, such as Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico, dogs end up in small shelters, but adoptions are low, so the animals are often euthanized.

Humane Society International's O'Meara said that the organization encourages adoption. (See "Can Dogs Feel Our Emotions? Yawn Study Suggests Yes.")

Yet adopting animals is a concept foreign to many cultures, noted Gompper, especially in Asia where dogs might be perceived as dangerous or diseased: He described how a visiting Indian colleague was taken aback to see a dog on his living room couch.

"Not surprisingly, there are going to be barriers against shifting toward a culture of adopting dogs," he said.

However, the idea of a dog in the home has made inroads into some countries, including the Chinese, who were once more likely to eat dogs than keep them as pets. Thanks to an interest in house pets in rapidly developing China, more stray dogs are being adopted there, O'Meara said.

Humane Society International is training many vets abroad to catch dogs without hurting them and teaching best practices for spaying and neutering and humane euthanasia. In the Philippines, veterinarian Alice Utlang has even pushed the city of Cebu to switch from killing dogs with gas chambers to using the less painful method of sodium pentobarbital.

Overall, despite the fact there are a billion dogs on Earth, Canis familiaris is a species we still don't understand. For instance, little is known about domestic dogs, in particular how they act in their environment, and with us.

This needs to change, since no one knows the risks of having so many of these "wolves in domesticated clothing" in our midst, Gompper said.

"There are implications we haven't thought through."

Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google+.

24 comments
Reade Michael
Reade Michael

What this doesn't point out is that the dogs they are putting down are not strays. They're FERAL. They attack pet dogs and people on the streets and run around in packs terrorizing Russia. If they were stray dogs they could be adopted and kept as pets. But these dogs are feral. These dogs have been living on the streets for generations to the point where they can no longer be cared for safely by humans. They are a danger to themselves, children, and other animals. It's in the best interest of the people.

Richmond Acosta
Richmond Acosta

My cousins from California visited us here in the Philippines and, except for the oldest one who understands the local language Ilocano, our relatives fed them dog meat stew without them knowing.

Razi A.
Razi A.

I reserve the right to say this is right thing to do.


Garth Poulain
Garth Poulain

This truly upsets me being a dog lover. Especially after having a dog that could have been considered a stray since she was abandoned to fend for her own for about 4 months. She did have issues but Jazz turn out to be a good girl who had a happy life until the end of her days.

Bella Johannes
Bella Johannes

This is terrible and heartbreaking. Animal killings can be observed in many countries worldwide, incl former USSR republics. Here's what a group of volunteers came up with in Armenia. Please, visit our page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/DiNGO-Animal-Lovers/231650913567152 We need support as DINGO is a non-profit initiative entirely reliant on donations from its members and kind people both - in and outside the country. Please, visit our page on Facebook, like it and donate to help us continue rescuing dogs/cats from mass shootings. We provide sterilisation, vet care, nourishment, and temporary sheltering and, afterwards, send the healed ones for adoption, find homes for these innocent creatures... Please, help us, we need your support:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/166545076772757/

Tony Cooley
Tony Cooley

I have heard the claim that part of the wild dog problem in Sochi was the eviction of large poor districts so these could be demolished to build the new hotels and other facilities.  The evicted residents were unable to take their dogs with them to wherever they ended up.  I don't know whether this is correct.


It is a reality that uncontrolled reproduction of stray dogs and cats in the absence of some control method will result in an overpopulation of strays.  Spay/neuter efforts of pets as well as strays is a worthwhile endeavor that reduces the need for euthanasia.  However, the stray population does need to be limited to avoid the formation of dog packs.  


I am skeptical about this article's claim that dog packs are not a danger to people, wildlife, and domestic animals.  Dogs are natural pack animals and behave differently in a pack than they do as individuals.  They also behave differently when on a hunt than when interacting playfully with a human.  A cat I had was killed by a dog pack and feral dog packs in rural US are considered a danger to solitary individuals, especially children.  They definitely chase down deer and have been known to kill sheep and calves.  What I know is anecdotal, so I am open to reading about scientific studies that possibly debunk this.  However, until I see such, I will believe that feral dog packs pose a danger.  Even packs of domestic pets can be dangerous.  Dogs in a pack will follow their instincts to hunt.


I love dogs and hate to see them euthanized.  However, we cannot allow uncontrolled reproduction of stray dogs and need to limit their numbers.  Shelters throughout the US euthanize thousands.  This needs to be done humanely, but limiting strays needs to be done.

Monica Nair
Monica Nair

That's ironic!! I've heard that earth is suffering from certain diseases like  population explosion, deforestation, global warming, and many more. 

Root cause of this epidemic? Human beings!!

But it is obvious that mass massacre of human beings, to curb the "epidemic" is "inhumane" ......

Then why is it that killing other species is regarded as the lesser evil?

This method of extermination of "other species" takes place in most parts of the globe and we tend to turn a blind eye towards it.

I personally feel that cruelty towards animals, in any form, needs to stop.

Jordan Díaz Avilés
Jordan Díaz Avilés

the only way to really stop this...is just in our hands, in my country (México), a lot of families purchase puppies for their kids, the problem is that when the dog grow up, and gets bigger, is rejected by the children in most of the cases, so the parents, ( because of  their dramatic low culture) just leave them to go out to the streets to never open the doors for them again or by dumping them after a car travel, in the outskirts of the city......and yes my stupid government just kill them and treat them like shit in the process....its so lame to see this little beings suffer like that just because their no more look like puppies or are "violent"... and most of them die in the avenues, run over by the cars.. our driving culture is also a wreck

Derrick Gao
Derrick Gao

The phenomenon of eating dogs is more common in Korea than China, I think.

Neil Jakeman
Neil Jakeman

An interesting article. No conclusion is given though as to the most effective method, rather it appears all methods have a drawback. I can understand the problem, dog faeces are not welcoming to step in and can carry disease. I do believe however, that mass extermination is not generally popular with the masses, and there is always the fear that to become numbed to gassing dogs can lead to gassing humans you may consider to be 'dogs' or inferior. It is not a mindset to encourage. Malta, where I live is currently embarking on a neutering program to keep cat colonies in check. It is too early to tell if it will be successful, however I do not think the Maltese would tolerate seeing  piles of dead animals as a 'solution'. 

Robin Vigfusson
Robin Vigfusson

People must start to regard animals as members of the community and view themselves as their guardians.  Only then, can responsible ways of controlling dog and cat populations can happen.  Until their lives are accorded value, the carnage and misery will continue in one form or another.

Evgeniy Maiorov
Evgeniy Maiorov

I think all countries have this abnormal  practise to kill stray dogs (cats) before any important events. But there are a lot of people in Russia (me too) who dont support  killing and slaughtering of homeless animals. 


P.s. And stop thinking that all russian people are scoundrels. 

Bricia Castro
Bricia Castro

this is awful :( when is the human race going to learn? a little common sense maybe?

Bricia Castro
Bricia Castro

this is awful :( when is the human race going to learn? a little common sense maybe?

Cynthia Carlson
Cynthia Carlson

There is truly something wrong with humans. Kill. Kill. Kill. The recent murder of two  wolf packs in the Frank Church Wilderness area in Idaho, the murder of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, the recent exposure of the Whale Shark (a highly imperiled species) slaughterhouse in China and on and on and on. This is but a small example of the rampage and carnage that is going on around the Earth daily. It is not normal, it is not the norm in other species. There is something severely abnormal in the human species.

Rita Benson
Rita Benson

I WILL NOT WATCH THE OLYMPICS THIS YEAR, I THINK PEOPLE SHOULD BOYCOTT

I THINK IT IS REALLY SAD AND TOTALLY OUT OF ORDER TO PUT THOSE DOGS DOWN AND TO TOP IT OF TO POISON THEM RUSSIA SHOULD BE ASHAMED

AND AS FOR PUTIN HE SHOULD BE SENT TO THE MOST REMOTE PART OF THE WORLD AND HAVE TO LIVE THERE FOR 10 YEARS OFF THE LAND.

I HAVE ADOPTED 26 DOGS AND 16 CATS  MOST ARE FROM KILL SHELTERS IN NORTH CAROLINA

WHICH I AM TOTALLY AGAINST THE WAY THEY KILL THEY HEARTSTICK.

THE WORLD NEEDS TO STOP KILLING AND PAY MORE ATTENTION TO SPAY/NEUTER AND PROVIDE DECENT CLEAN SHELTERS.

I WORK A FULL TIME AND PART TIME JOB TO TAKE CARE OF THESE WONDERFUL PETS IF I EVER WON THE LOTTERY I WOULD DONATE LOTS TO SHELTERS

I THINK THAT SO MANY RICH PEOPLE COULD DO BETTER WITH THEIR MONEY FOR ANIMALS THEN SPENDING IT ON BOOZE, PARTIES AND DOPE.

GOD BLESS THE HOMELESS ANIMALS.

Gillian Stone
Gillian Stone

@Andre Tirtodipoero

Sadly cruelty to pets happens in western countries too. Just read about the bodies of an emaciated husky and thin kitten found in an alley in Calgary Canada. The mouths of both animals had been taped shut. Both bodies showed evidence of traumatic injuries.The photos are heartbreaking.The dog either starved or died of dehydration or froze to death. A generous reward is being offered by the Calgary Humane Society to apprehend and prosecute the culprits. Just one of the many examples I read about on the internet every day. And we cannot ignore the abhorrent puppy mills who feed the pet trade.


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