Will Russia Legalize Concentration Camps for Stray Cats and Dogs?
- by Care2 Causes Editors
- May 15, 2013
- 12:00 pm
This is a guest post from Natalia Chumak, the founder and a trustee of UK charity LAPA (Helping animals in Russia) which works with its partners on the ground to rescue, rehabilitate, sterilize and re-home abandoned cats and dogs in Russia, provide reduced cost sterilization to low-income Russian pet owners and campaign for effective animal welfare legislation in Russia. Learn more about LAPA’s work at www.lapauk.org.
Concerns are rising among animal welfare activists about the fate of cats and dogs in Russia. There are recent indications that Russia might imminently pass legislation which will result in the immediate slaughter of hundreds of thousands of stray cats and dogs, and many more in the future. If this happens, it will be a huge setback in a tough battle for the passing of adequate animal protection and welfare legislation in Russia.
A bit of background first. The current position on animal welfare in Russia is very poor and is getting worse. There are hundreds of thousands of stray cats and dogs in Russia who suffer and die of starvation, illness, severe weather conditions and cruelty. In most municipalities, strays are caught and killed in inhumane ways. There is no culture of sterilization. Pet breeding and trade are unregulated. There is no animal welfare legislation. There is a severe lack of education about pet care. Criminal laws are inadequate in dealing with the cruel treatment of animals of any kind.
There are organized criminal groups, so called “dog-hunters” who, armed with a wide arsenal of chemical poisons and often shotguns and knives, kill strays and often pets. Some of them openly publicize their activities and yet the authorities do nothing.
In some big cities such as Moscow and Ekaterinburg, many stray dogs are sterilized and put into municipal shelters for life. However, it is well known that the system of municipal shelters is ill-managed and thoroughly corrupt. Municipal budgets are drained of significant funds – millions of US dollars – by companies that “win” tenders to obtain operational licenses for the shelters.
These companies have no animal welfare experience and treat dogs as commodities. The dogs live in cramped and filthy conditions, with no heating in sub-zero temperatures, often starved to death, mistreated by staff and given no proper veterinary attention. There is no attempt to re-home them. Volunteers at the shelters try to help by spending their money and time on feeding, treating and re-homing the dogs. In some instances, volunteers are denied access to shelters and threatened into silence.
The battle for animal rights
Against this background, there is an ongoing battle for comprehensive animal welfare legislation to protect strays, pets and other categories of animals. The first breakthrough came in March 2011 when a draft Statute “On responsible handling of animals” No 458458-5 (the draft Statute) was passed in the first reading by Russian State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Federal Assembly, the country’s legislator. (Link to the bill in Russian.)
Although the draft Statute required significant improvements in many areas, it was the first real, progressive attempt to solve the problem of stray animals in a humane way and to protect animals from cruelty. There were also other promising signs – the State Duma working group responsible for the preparation of the revised draft included representatives of well known animal welfare Russian charities that had proposed over 200 amendments to the approved draft Statute.
However, since then the position has taken a turn for the worse. Since the election of the new State Duma in December 2011, the composition of the relevant State Duma working group has changed and the representatives of animal charities who had been engaged by the previous working group were removed from it. There is no publicly available information about the current status or content of the draft Statute. The head of the working group, Mr Shingarkin, appears to have little experience in animal welfare and has made unsympathetic and obstructive statements on the subject of the draft Statute in the Russian press. (Russian language newspaper article)
Also, a number of individuals have been included in the working group who are suspected by Russian animal activists of being sympathetic to inhumane treatment of animals. Some information published on the official site of the State Duma and in the Russian press suggests that the revised draft should have been presented for the second reading to the State Duma in April 2013. Although this has not happened, the second reading may take place at any time.
So what does the revised draft say and why is it surrounded by so much secrecy? Various indirect and unofficial reports from the working group say that the revised draft abandoned the concept that animals are sentient beings and introduced euthanasia as the sole method for managing stray population instead of a TNR (trap, neuter, release) program which was provided for in the approved draft Statute. The supporters of euthanasia say that TNR is an unworkable solution, at least concerning dogs, because it has been tried and failed in the past and because stray dogs pose a danger to humans. So humane euthanasia is suggested instead.
Why this won’t work
However, there is a problem. There is little doubt that in a country where corruption is rife, the legalization of euthanasia will simply provide a legitimate excuse to funnel more budget money into the greedy pockets of some civil servants and businesses while cats and dogs will be killed inhumanely in secret. In the circumstances where there appear to be no proposed mechanisms for the reduction of the production of pets (i.e. encouragement of sterilization, regulation of pet breeding), no promotion of education programs for responsible pet care, no animal welfare education for vets and no liability for cruel treatment of animals, so called “euthanasia” will in practice turn into nothing more than the secretive brutal murder of thousands of animals on a daily basis.
Couple this with the fact that this legislation is bound to set the tone for the treatment of other categories of animals, e.g., wild animals in captivity, and an ugly picture of a society condoning cruelty and promoting lack of responsibility will emerge.
The issue of pet overproduction and management of strays requires proper consideration, not a haphazard approach. There is extensive evidence from reputable international charities on the success of TNR programs if properly managed. It is incredible that international animal welfare charities are not invited to take part in these discussions and share their experiences.
On 28 April 2013, demonstrations took place in Moscow and 70 other cities of Russia as part of a Russia-wide action “Russia without cruelty” under the banner of “Law must protect not kill!” Up to 1000 people took part in the demonstration in Moscow alone. (Russian animal welfare site)
There is no time to be wasted. It is clear that if we are going to protect animals in Russia, now is the time to act. Please sign our petition and add your voice to ours.