Malicious Craze for Dog Poisoning Spreads
Published: September 26, 2012 (Issue # 1728)
SERGEI PONOMARYOV / AP
Olga Krasotova walking her dog in a park where dozens of dogs were poisoned.
MOSCOW ŚáVera Lesovets held up photographs ofáher dog, Yasha, aáspunky 5-year-old corgi, nipping playfully atáthe heels ofáa German shepherd twice her size.
But Yashaĺs life was cut short this week: After snacking onásomething ináa Moscow park, she fell intoáa seizure atáLesovetsĺ apartment andábegan foaming atáthe mouth. Theáfamily rushed her toáa nearby animal clinic, where theáveterinarian said this was theásixth case he had seen that week, andáthere was nothing he could do.
OnáFriday police opened aácriminal investigation intoáwhat they suspect are poisonings byádog killers. Cruelty toáanimals is common ináRussia andáanimal protection laws are rarely enforced, but reports ofáas many as 70 dead dogs this week have spurred theápolice toátake action.
While some residents suspected that aávigilante matriarch, wary ofáher children being bitten, might be theácause ofáthe attacks, Lesovets was quick toásuspect aámore malicious culprit: dog hunters, aákind ofádeadly hobby gaining ground ináthe Russian online community.
Dog hunting forums Ś theámost well-known ofáwhich are Vreditelyam.net andáPest.net Ś are populated byáthose who call themselves ôvolunteersö andáprovide graphic photos ofátheir trophy killings. Theásites require extensive registration andáidentification processes foráparticipants.
ôItĺs aáwhole community. They have websites,ö aáyoung event manager said. ôThey write how they kill them, post photographs, tell you which poison is better andáwhere toábuy it.ö
Ináthe case ofáthis neighborhoodĺs dogs, theápoison ofáchoice was amanita phalloides, also known as theádeath cap mushroom, which has no known antidote andáis dangerous foráboth animals andáhumans.
Before theáattacks, theá50th Anniversary ofáOctober park inásouthwest Moscow, near theáProspekt Vernadskogo metro station, allowed residents toágive their dogs aámomentĺs respite fromácramped city living andáfrolic without aáleash ináthe grass or ináthe snow.
Owners no longer feel safe toádo that, as theánumber ofáslain dogs keeps growing. Police estimates have ranged fromá40 toá70 killings, based onácomplaints filed byáowners. According toáthe website ofáone nearby veterinary clinic alone, they had received about 20 cases that week, 14 ofáthem fatal.
Theápolice were first notified ofáthe poisonings early this week andáformally opened aácriminal investigation onáFriday.
Masha Beshina was out walking her dog onáThursday when she discovered some pieces ofáham suspiciously scattered ináthe part ofáthe park where she usually walks her dog.
ôUnfortunately theápolice donĺt take measures,ö said theámiddle-aged teacher. ôBecause foráthem aádog is not really something that exists.ö
Russian law calls foráa prison sentence ofáup toátwo years foráthose who kill or abuse animals, but animal rights activists say it has been rarely enforced.
ôWe need investigative bodies, theápolice, theácourts, theájudges toástart working,ö said Darya Khmelnitskaya, director ofáVirta, aácharitable fund foráanimal welfare. ôThe legal clause already exists.ö
She said that one way toátarget dog killers would be toátrack IP addresses ofáthe users who spread information about it online or shut down theásites completely. While some ofáthe sites have been closed, information is still easily spread byáindividuals through websites such as Vkontakte, theálargest Russian social network.
According toáKhmelnitskaya, only nine cases against dog hunters ináMoscow have made it toácourt since 2011, with just one ending ináa conviction.
Onáthe site Vreditelyam.net, now moved toáthe domain vredy.org, theáowners state inátheir manifesto that they consider themselves keepers ofáthe peace: Since Soviet times, theápopulation ofástray dogs, which now reaches anáestimated 25,000 ináMoscow alone, has ballooned, andáfear ofábites andáattacks has grown as well.
But just as theápopulation ofástrays has grown, Muscovites also have long been aáfriend toámany ofáthe shaggy mutts. Dog hunting has touched aánerve ináa society where stray animals have traditionally been ignored byáthe state andáinstead taken ináby big-hearted citizens. One group established onáVkontakte ináopposition toáthe dog hunters has attracted almost 4,000 members.
Most ofáthe local residents said their dogs were former strays found either onáthe streets or ináMoscowĺs overcrowded, underfunded shelters.
ôI took these dogs off theástreet fromáhomeless people four years ago,ö said Oleg Maximov, aámiddle-aged man who said he works foráa construction company.
ôHow can I wait forásomeone toápoison these dogs, these dogs that I saved fromáa likely death?