This is a story about how people can make a positive difference in animals’ lives. It’s also a story about how the informal global animal rescue network can see a need and respond immediately. When it comes right down to it, it’s not about whether there are dog rescue shelters in Sochi or not. It’s more about the stray dogs that are rescued from Sochi, and animal shelters that were created after the scandal.
It started with the 2014 winter Olympics and grew from there. As Olympic athletes visited Sochi and saw the overpopulation of stray dogs, as reporters began transmitting photos of the hungry, mangy animals that populated the streets, as social media began spreading the photos of the way stray dogs were treated, our heartstrings were tugged. In the world of immediate information exchange, the world’s eyes were turned to Russia and the way it dealt with stray dogs.
Not everyone in the world looks at stray dogs the way the citizens of the United States do. In the United States, there is an ongoing push to neuter and spay pets so there aren’t a bunch of stray animals wandering around in places they aren’t necessarily welcome. For that reason, there are a variety of ways to get your pet neutered or spayed at low or no cost. There are even mobile centers that reach out to people who may not be able to afford these services or do not have transportation to get to a vet. However, not every country has these kinds of services, and Russia in particular let it be known that they don’t consider this a priority.
In fact, in Russia, having your pets neutered or spayed is not encouraged, and the services themselves can be hard to find. Not every veterinarian offers spay or neuter services, so they certainly aren’t likely to offer discounts on them. For some, the stray dogs and cats are considered useful as a means by which to control the rat population in large cities like Moscow. For others – like the exterminator the Russian government hired to reduce the stray population – they are thought of merely as “biological trash.”
United States citizens who went to Russia for the winter Olympic Games saw the strays as lovely, cuddly animals in need of nutritious pet food like CANIDAE, a warm and loving home, and a lap that invited snuggling. To that end, while Olympic snowboarder Lindsey Jacobelli was there she found her 4-legged best friend and went through all the pains of bringing him home. Jacobelli named her stray dog Sochi, and she and her beloved rescue pet are living happily ever after. Her story went viral and sparked a movement within the U.S., a movement which I’m happy to say is still growing and going strong today.
A mother and daughter team from New York helped to create the first no-kill, all volunteer animal shelter in Sochi. Tanya and Anna Umansky learned about the distressing stray dog situation in Sochi, and how one local woman, Vlada Provotorova, wanted to do something to save the dogs. Tanya Umansky immigrated from Moscow 22 years ago, so she had a personal connection to the cause. Sochi Dogs was founded in January 2014, and Provotorova and the Umanskys have been working together to fundraise, coordinate adoptions and raise awareness about the stray dog situation in Russia.
Since its inception, Sochi Dogs has bettered the lives of nearly 500 stray dogs. Sochi Dogs doesn’t just rescue dogs but continues to help people in the U.S. and other countries adopt stray dogs from Russia. Sochi Dogs currently houses around 50 stray dogs and continues their outreach efforts. Others have stepped up to help the Sochi strays as well, including billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
Yes, there are still many strays in the United States that need homes and it’s important to continue work towards local, regional and national solutions, but with the advent of real-time information the world is getting smaller. The Olympic Games in Sochi shined a light on the fact that the strays in Russia have very little in the way of any supporters while the U.S. has many supporters who don’t just seek to find homes for the strays, but also help promote spay and neuter services.
My hat is off to everyone who sees an animal in need, wherever they may be, and responds with their time, energy and love.
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell