In an attempt to make the Olympic city ready for the international spotlight in February, exterminators contracted by the city of Sochi killed hundreds of strays—often using inhumane methods—prompting a global outcry against the killings. (Related: "Stray Dogs in Sochi: What Happens to the World's Free-Roaming Canines?")
Greeted by a throng of reporters at the animal league Thursday, all of the mixed-breed dogs appeared calm as they were led into their clean and spacious kennels, where they'll live until they are adopted.
Quieter dogs like Glasha, a silver 52-pound (23-kilogram) female, sat at the back of their individual kennels blinking at the video cameras and microphones with calm curiosity.
The friendlier dogs like Bosh, a particularly loving 46-pound (20-kilogram) black brindled male, hung their paws over the railing of their enclosure, happy to nuzzle and play with anyone who walked by. (See dog pictures submitted to National Geographic.)
After receiving a fond lick on the cheek from Bosh, Kelly O'Meara, director of companion animals and engagement at the Humane Society International, predicted the center would have 500 adoption applications within a few days. The Humane Society partnered with Povodog to transport the dogs to the U.S.
Deripaska, who has estimated the Sochi stray population to be around 4,000, initially donated $15,000 (U.S.) to construct the shelter on donated government land and has promised $50,000 (U.S.) a year for operational costs.
Although Sochi had a stray canine problem long before the Olympics came to town, the construction of the Olympic Village only made matters worse.
Many dog-owning families that lived in the residential area that was transformed into the Olympic Village were relocated to apartment complexes to make space for the brand-new facilities. The animals that were left behind began milling around the newly erected Olympic Village.
Anticipating large crowds for the Winter Olympics, the local government and Olympic committee ordered a local stray dog cull. Since extermination efforts started in October, an average of 300 dogs have been killed every month in Sochi. The issue became an unwelcome distraction for Sochi just days before the start of the games. (Related: "Writer's Call to Kill Feral Cats Sparks Outcry.")
Despite officials' claims that the culling is for health and safety reasons, the extermination method used is ineffective—and cruel.
Locals have reported seeing stray dogs shot with poisoned darts, which resulted in the animals violently convulsing and whimpering in pain on public streets. Contracted companies reportedly drive through the city at night collecting the poisoned carcasses.
Olympic Athletes Adopt Dogs
Many U.S. Olympic athletes also decided to bring dogs back home with them after the games.
Gus Kenworthy, a silver-medal freestyle skier, adopted a mother dog and her litter of four puppies. David Backes, a hockey player and founder of Athletes for Animals, brought two strays back with him and placed them in new homes. (See: "5 Amazing Stories of Devoted Dogs.")
Juanishia Lee-Williams, adoptions coordinator at the Washington shelter, said she's confident the newly arrived strays will find homes.
During her final walk through the kennel for the night, Juanishia promised the new Sochi dogs: "It was a long trip, but we will make it worth your while."
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