Winter Olympics 2014: Local council under fire after confirming plans to 'dispose' of 2,000 stray dogs and cats

Russian organisers defend decision to deal with 'packs of animals' that 'attack children' in Sochi

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The Independent Online

A war is being waged on the streets of Russia before the 2014 Winter Olympics - a war against cats and dogs.

The council in Sochi, the city hosting the winter sports extravaganza in February, came under fire today from protesters and local press after they confirmed their plan to do away with more than 2,000 stray cats and dogs ahead of the Games next year.

The confirmation of the war against strays came after the authority last month asked companies to bid for a contract to "dispose" of 2,028 cats and dogs by the end of this year. Today they also told news agency AFP that "We have packs of animals in the city, sometimes they attack children. Often these animals are sick, they carry disease."

The authorities have offered to pay 1.7 million rubles (£35,259) to potential pet hunters, with the proviso that they organise squads that would conduct raids of the city between 5am and 8am.

Animal lovers have been given a grim image of chemical warfare, with protesters describing scenes of animals dying in the street due to ingesting poison.

The tender has gone without any bids and now a spokesperson has confirmed that Sochi is planning to build an animal shelter, with any future plans focussed on sterilisation and sheltering rather than exterminating strays. But the spokesperson added that any shelter may not be ready in time for next year's games.

A director of animal protection group Humane Society International/UK, Mark Jones, also told AFP: "Regions with no meaningful street dog or cat population control strategy often resort to large-scale inhumane extermination programmes prior to high-profile events, such as the Olympic Games.

"We urge the authorities not to make these animals into innocent victims."

It is expected that the resort town will host more than 300,000 spectators and athletes.

Russian authorities had previously come under fire for the forced eviction and displacement of 1,500 families in Sochi, with reconstruction forcing the demolition of some homes as the Olympic village and route to the site were being built. Six stadiums within Sochi's Olympic park near completion.

The construction of new houses and tourism sites means that the town has seen renewed logistical investment in the road network and waste disposal. The hope is that Russia can showcase the event.

For pooches and pussycats on the run, that spells bad news.