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Dog lovers are doing their best to rescue Sochi's at-risk strays

Around the Games: Day 0 - 2014 Winter Olympic Games
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The scene in Sochi has been marred by unfinished, under-construction hotels and other stories of infrastructural horror, but few tales have been quite as terrible as that of the admitted relocation and alleged slaughter of stray dogs throughout the city. As noted by Yahoo's own Charles Robinson on Sunday, a reported "Olympic slaughterhouse" plan has involved the city hiring a private company to remove strays. Reporters have seen dead dogs on the streets over the past few days, although it's unclear how those deaths occurred. According to Robinson, this is not just a controversy specific to the Olympics — Russians have been at odds over how to deal with stray animals for several years.

[ Related: OLYMPICS-IOC says no 'healthy' dogs being killed in Sochi ]

While the allegations of dog slaughter don't paint a wonderful picture of Russia's relationship with pets, the reality is much more complicated. It appears as if the reports out of Sochi have inspired many of the country's dog lovers to act, with several news stories depicting the efforts of citizens.

First, take a look at this article from Natalya Krainova of The Moscow Times:

[Igor] Ayrapetyan, a long-time dog owner, brought 11 stray dogs from Sochi in the back of his BMW SUV in January, after reading a Facebook post that said local authorities had hired a company to shoot street dogs and cats ahead of the Winter Olympics, which open Friday. A friend traveled with him so that each of them could take turns driving while the other napped.

Ayrapetyan was planning to leave to pick up another group of stray dogs from Sochi before the start of the Olympics but was delayed because several roads in the Krasnodar region, where Sochi is located, were closed in early February due to the Olympic torch relay. He still plans to make the trip, after the start of the Games. [...]

When Ayrapetyan arrived in the Moscow region with the Sochi dogs, he found volunteers to take eight of them and to look for new owners. A dog handler acquaintance took two of the remaining three canines for two months of training. [...]

Several other local dog advocates, having heard about the extermination efforts, started a group helping stray animals in Sochi on Vkontakte in order to take them off the streets and into homes. As of Wednesday afternoon, the group had almost 4,100 members. [...]

Ayrapetyan, from the Moscow region, is the only one who has come for strays from another city. Most of the dogs find new homes in Sochi or elsewhere in the Krasnodar region.

[ Related: Sochi city hall orders killing of stray dogs ]

Krainova's story includes conflicting reports as to whether or not Sochi authorities ever hired a company to dispose of the dogs, with one contractor admitting to the practice (and describing his brutal methods in detail) and a public official stating that everything has been done in a humane manner with no poisons. The most positive takeaway, though, is that many Russians are doing their best to provide a home for Sochi's strays. That includes residents of the city itself, as also described in David Filipov's piece for The Boston Globe:

So Vlada Provotorova, a local dentist and a diehard dog person, recruited some friends and went on the ultimate rescue mission. “I felt like I had to do something,’’ said Provotorova as she fended off a playful leap from Katya, a German shepherd mix she picked up a few weeks ago.

She and her friends have been collecting all the strays they can and placing them in any shelter they can find, like the one in the swamp, in a space lent to them by a dog-friendly couple who breed mosquito fish in marshy pools. [...]

She estimates that between 5,000 and 7,000 dogs have been killed in the current cull, a figure no one in City Hall was available to confirm or deny. She and her friends have rescued “no more than 100.” [...]

“We carry the ones we can — some of them are so big they won’t budge,’’ said Provotorova, who has received help from about 30 volunteers. “We sterilize them, we vaccinate them, we rid them of fleas, and we try to find a place to put them.”

It's clear that these rescuers are incapable of helping all strays themselves, both because there are too many animals for a few individuals to save and because the surrounding area lacks the shelters to house for the animals. Yet everyone continues to do what they can, out of a sense of obligation to the dogs and the desire to improve the situation.

[ Related: Olympics-Uproar over stray dogs mars Games preparations ]

At a time when media reports have focused on everything going wrong in Russia, these stories serve as a reminder that Russia is a more varied place than these more dystopian reports would have us believe. There are many people fighting to improve situations for both animals and humans in the country, even if many problems persist. While we must continue to pay attention to the more unsavory aspects of these Olympics, here's hoping that we get a few more positive accounts of the locals, as well.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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