Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska is making a last-minute effort to save Sochi’s stray dogs from being killed ahead of the Winter Olympics.
A dog shelter backed by the Russian billionaire is stepping up to rescue thousands of stray dogs that are being killed by a pest control company, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
“We were told, ‘Either you take all the dogs from the Olympic Village or we will shoot them,’” Olga Melnikova, who is leading rescue coordination for the charity, Volnoe Deloe (roughly translated as Good Will), told The New York Times.
The charity is using a golf cart to scour the Olympic facilities and the surrounding venues for stray animals.
The dogs rounded up will be brought to a local shelter located on the outskirts of the city.
READ MORE: Sochi city hall orders killing of stray dogs
The makeshift shelter, called PovoDog after Povodok, the Russian word for the leash, reportedly has 80 animals, including about a dozen puppies.
Russian authorities have said the stray dogs are wild and dangerous often “biting children” and are being disposed of before Friday’s opening ceremonies.
The company hired to remove the strays has refused to specify whether the dogs are being shot or poisoned and where the corpses are being taken.
GALLERY: Below are images of stray dogs wandering the Olympic facilities in Sochi
Reports of their systematic extermination have caused outrage among animal rights advocates, including Humane Society International (HSI), which sent an open letter to President Vladimir Putin calling for an end to the slaughter.
Kelly O’Meara, the director of companion animals and engagement with HSI, says the issue around street dogs should have been addressed by organizers of the Sochi Games years ago.
“The problem is there is no overnight solution to the street dog issue,” O’Meara told Global News. “[Russia] has known they were going to be the host of the Olympics for years and if they had allotted a certain amount of money to deal the problem, this wouldn’t be happening.”
O’Meara says other solutions like mass sterilizations, and vaccinations should have been considered before killing the animals, to help control future populations and prevent deadly diseases like rabies.
O’Meara also says providing a temporary shelter will only push the issue until after the Olympics when the dogs could still be killed.
“Sheltering is another problem because what happens to dogs that are not adopted is they are just killed behind closed doors,” said O’Meara. “Other animals could also come into that area where there’s a food supply, and they could be more dangerous. The ones already killed or rounded up would be the friendliest.”
Oleg Deripaska is Russia’s 16th wealthiest person with a fortune of $8.5 billion according to Forbes.
Deripaska, who made his fortune in aluminum, has provided $15,000 in start-up costs for the shelter and has pledged $50,000 a year for operations.
The International Olympic Committee responded to the controversy on Wednesday saying that no healthy dogs were being destroyed.
The dogs entering the PovoDog shelter receive medical treatment, including vaccinations and will be available for adoption.
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