SOCHI, Russia – After appearing to back off of a 1.7 million Ruble bounty to "dispose" of more than 2,000 stray dogs and cats in the host city for the 2014 Winter Games, Sochi officials reportedly hired a company to seek and exterminate homeless animals.
In what one Russian newspaper previously dubbed the "Olympic slaughterhouse" plan, ABC News reported that Sochi officials have contracted a company to kill stray dogs in the run up to the Winter Games. It's unknown how many stray dogs have been killed by the company, which was identified as Basia Services extermination company by the United Kingdom's Daily Mail.
On the heels of the report, several dead dogs could be seen on the retail boardwalk area of Sochi's mountain complex early Sunday morning. A Sochi volunteer on the scene identified the dogs as dead strays but said he did not know when or how they had died. Less than an hour after being seen on the boardwalk by a Yahoo reporter, the dogs had been removed.
Sochi officials sparked protests from animal rights groups last April when they sought bids for companies that could "dispose" of 2,028 stray dogs and cats before the Olympic Games. According to multiple reports, the government sought bidders who could carry out the job between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. each day, offering 1.7 million Rubles (roughly $48,000).
The Russian newspaper Trud dubbed it the city's "slaughterhouse" plan and penned a searing condemnation stating, "When you translate bureaucratic language to human language, the term 'disposal' means 'murder.' "
After the backlash, officials suggested the city would consider building a shelter focusing on sterilizing strays. But ABC News reported that Sochi hired an extermination business belonging to Alexei Sorokin, who said his company used poison and traps to kill stray dogs but denied the efforts were out of cruelty. According to the report, Sorokin called strays "biological trash" and said they posed a serious threat to the Games.
"Imagine, if during an Olympic Games, a ski jumper landed at 130 kilometres an hour [over 80 mph] and a dog runs into him when he lands," Sorokin told ABC News. "It would be deadly for both a jumper and for the stray dog. … Dogs must be taken off the streets even if that means putting them to sleep."
"Russia, in general, has irresponsible dog owners who, when they get bored of their home pet experiment, kick them out on the street. So parks are dumping grounds for unwanted dogs. We end up with many stray dogs who pose a threat to population."
Yahoo's attempts to reach Sorokin and the Sochi mayor's office for comment were unsuccessful.
The treatment of dogs has been a persistent hot-button topic for animal rights activists in the country, particularly in Moscow, where issues with the roaming animals have increased in recent years. As recently as 2011, lawmakers discussed "deporting" thousands of stray dogs out of Moscow and into a facility in nearby Yaroslavl. There have also been litanies of message boards dedicated to "dog hunters," who often talk of organized efforts to kill off strays through poisoning and other methods.
The stray dogs problem is just the latest issue in what has been a bumpy road to Russia's Winter Games in Sochi, joining a chorus of international criticisms that have ranged from terrorism security cooperation, gay rights, historically gargantuan Olympic budgets, suggestions of mafia ties to Sochi's selection, allegations of corruption in construction contracts and unfinished infrastructure only days before the Olympic torch is slated to be lit.