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ENGLISH VERSION26 мая 2008 22:00

Shelters make big bucks on canine deaths

KP journalist shares the gruesome details of life at a Moscow dog shelter
This is how the dogs on death row wile away their days.

This is how the dogs on death row wile away their days.

Renowned actress Bridgette Bardo once criticized Moscow's inhumane policies to liquidate dog packs roaming the city. But the local authorities have since changed their harsh policies. They're now pushing an initiative to sterilize homeless dogs and send them to shelters. The new tactics are humane, but an undercover KP journalist learns that greedy shelters looking to cash-in on state subsidies will do anything for money. Even kill.

Читайте: Бизнес на собачьих смертях

Dog kennel

I just got off the phone with the director of a local Moscow animal shelter. I said that I was interested in offering my help. He happily agreed. In less than an hour I was already standing at the rusty gates of the desolate concrete building.

"First thing's first. You should know you're not going to get paid right away. We use a trial-period system here," shelter director Rustam Navetovich screamed by the threshold. Dogs wailed loudly. "You'll start off as a cleaner and we'll see what happens."

"Maria Semenova!" he yelled over the phone. "Get ready for another one!" Maria Semenova turned out to be a thick-set, 50-year-old woman with an imperturbable face.

"Well, let's go look at the cattle, shall we!" she said.

The territory looked like a deserted construction site. Rusty iron sheets lay here and there. There were many concrete sections that hadn't been finished. When we got a bit closer, I saw that these outdoor rooms were what the shelter had referred to as well-renovated animal apartments on its Web site. The cold enclosure was divided by partitions with a net pulled tightly over the front. Around 15-20 dogs were crammed in the 3x4 meter compartments. As soon as the dogs saw Semenova, they quieted down and huddled in the corners.

"Alright, you need to clean everything you see here. As well as the luxury cages over there," she said.

"How often?" I asked.

"The concrete housings once per week," she said. "But the warm cages over there you'll need to do everyday. Those dogs pay rent. And don't be late. Now go and meet Duney. She's our little activist."

The dogs stared sadly at me. At first glance they looked like the average mutts with ragged fur, torn ears and crippled paws. But then I saw a Chow-Chow shaking in the corner and a sheep dog licking its wounds. I reached out to pet the poor things, but I heard someone scream out of nowhere.

"Are you mad?! What are you doing?! They'll eat you alive!" said a thin girl behind me. She looked about 20 years old. "Hi! My name's Duney. Have you come to help, too?"

"My name's Dasha," I said. "The dogs aren't really that aggressive, are they?" I asked.

"With the life they lead?" Duney said forlornly.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You'll see," she said. "Let's go. We need to tidy up."

We walked over to the luxury cages. They were warm, comfortable and roomy. One or two dogs were in each compartment. Decorative dog dishes were chained to the net. There were bedding were in the corner. There weren't any mutts, only well-fed, clean and combed pedigrees like Rottweilers, French Bulldogs and Labradors.

"Hey. Why are the cages so different?" I asked. "The other dogs don't even have any bedding."

"The dogs in the lux cages have homes," she said. "The shelter gets state subsidies to use the nice cages for homeless dogs — something like 130 rubles per day. But pet owners pay the shelter at least 500 rubles per day when they leave town. Count the profit yourself!"

"But what do they do with the mutts?" I asked.

"Don't you see? Okay, forget it, Semenova is coming. Let's go feed the dogs before we get in trouble," she said. "And don't mention this to anyone."

I noticed that both the shelter's animals and staff feared the management. But that aside Semenova seemed to be an okay deputy head.

As we headed to the minuscule kitchen I thought about what I had heard. It was something like an outhouse with a tony gas stove. There were huge aluminum pots on the floor labeled "Trash" and "Food" in bright red letters.

We struggled to pick up the heavy pot marked "Food" and dragged it over to the paying animals. The porridge was steaming with chunks of meat and cartilage. Some special dogs were only give the best dry food.

"I'll finish up here," Duney said. "You go and feed the mutts."

"But I won't be able to carry that pot myself," I said.

"Ehh, you'll do just fine. Don't worry. It's real light," she said.

The "Trash" pot turned out to be about four times lighter than the previous load even though there were more mutts than pets. I lifted the lid off slightly and quickly set it down again. It was full of greasy, rotten macaroni and soured milk. I couldn't believe I had to feed this to the dogs. I rushed to the kitchen to take another look around, thinking I might be missing something. But there wasn't any other food.

I went back to ask Duney. "Listen, that pot was just a bunch of rot," I said.

"That's what they eat. Go and feed them," she said.

I was shocked. "Feed them that?!" I said.

"Well, go on!" Duney said.

The mutts had no bowls. I dished the food onto the concrete floor. I got nauseous halfway through, but the dogs ate the spoiled heaps like fresh beef. Since I was a small girl I've always carried dog treats in my pocket. I pulled one out and threw it to the dogs. There was a clacking of teeth and a horrid roar. Five dogs dove at the prize and then at each other, biting, twisting and howling on the ground.

Tough life, tough bite

A week passed. Despite Semenova's implicit instructions, I brought food for the dogs from home. That's probably why they wagged their tails whenever they saw me around and let me freely clean their cages.

My schedule was tight, but I found a minute to care for the miserable animals.

I took 13 dogs from the small cage to the open-air enclosure and left myself one behind. I called him Spot. He was a little guy — once a white, shaggy terrier. But wagging his tail before me he looked more like a skeleton. It was cold outside and we walked to the lux cages to wash Spot up. He didn't fight back, even when I poured cold water over his back or scrubbed him with the rough sponge. He just kept wagging his tail. Spot's skin was swollen and scratched through and through. His fur had taken on a yellowish brown color from urine and feces as the homeless animals were forced to sleep on the concrete floor in their own excrement. I rinsed him off and then went looking for a towel. But when I got back, Spot wasn't there. I heard a yelp near the outdoor cages.

Semenova had thrown the wet dog into the cage and slammed the gate.

"Don't you have anything better to do?" she screamed. "Did you feed the normal dogs? And clean them?"

"He'll freeze," I said cautiously.

"I don't give a damn!" she said. "Do your job or you're out of here!"

Spot shuttered from the cold, but there was nothing I could do. The temperature sank in the evening. I couldn't bear looking at Spot any longer and went to see the director. After listening to me, without looking up from his papers, Navetovich let me put some hay in the cold cages for the animals and turn on the heat.

"Ahh, by the way, the district commission is coming to inspect us. There's going to be a lot of work," he said.

Before I left I checked on Spot. He was sleeping on the hay, curled up in a ball.

There's no treating them! Only putting them to sleep!

The next morning I went to see Spot and take him some cuts of beef from home. But he was nowhere to be found. I couldn't find Duney either. So I went to see Semenova.

"Where's that dog I was with yesterday?" I asked.

"Being prepared to be put to sleep," she said coldly.

"Why?" I asked.

"Cut the questions, Dasha," she said. "I don't have time for this. Get to work. They brought us three new dogs."

But instead I hurried to the room where they prepared to put the dogs to sleep. It smelled like medicine and death. There was no blood, knives or anything else, but I felt something gruesome in the air.

"You got a dog this morning to put to sleep?" I asked the first person I met in a white smock. "Where is he?"

"Which one exactly?" he asked. "We've already put some to sleep. And some are still in the cages."

I saw a sheep dog and four sad mutts. But Spot wasn't there.

"But what about the beige one?" I asked. "Maybe you didn't get him?"

"He's been put to sleep already," the doctor said. "These dogs are sick. They had an increased temperature. For instance, the sheep dog has bad swelling. They could infect all the others. Are you the owner?"

"No," I said.

I couldn't understand how they could put a dog to sleep because of a common cold. There are so many antibiotics nowadays. Any person or animal would catch a cold sleeping on a concrete floor. But it's not fatal!

Shipment for breeding

"Where have you been?" Duney asked. "I've been covering for you!" She was preparing a lux cage for the newest arrival. The English Bulldog was young — less than two years old — clean and collared.

"You see, it's our latest addition to the shelter family. We're about to make puppies again," she said.

"What do you mean?" I asked, not completely understanding.

"Owners pay big for these dogs, or they're sold with fake papers at three times their price. Semenova organized a club right here. She sells "pedigree" club puppies. If you consider that an English Bulldog costs 30,000 rubles, and not even a real pedigree, it's not hard to see what kind of money the shelter is making. I don't even know where they get these dogs. Sometimes they bring Yorkies, or Labradors. Sometimes Toy Terriers. As if their owners just throw them out onto the street! And they're all in collars..."

"The owners never show up looking for them?" I asked.

"No of course not," she said. "We're only open to visitors once every two weeks. And that depends on the director. When someone comes they put the ugly dogs in the lux cages and hide the rest. Who'd want to give those away for free?"

"Maybe we should tell someone what's going on?" I said.

"They'd just throw you out. And they won't pay you. If someone makes an inspection, they'll just close the shelter, put all the unwanted dogs to sleep and move somewhere else."

Duney quieted down as she saw Semenova heading our way..

"Girls, tomorrow the commission is coming. You have to be here at 07:00. Take all the dogs from the lux cages to the shed. And put all the dogs who are in line to be put down in their places. Now go home. We'll take care of everything ourselves."

Show execution

It was gloomy in the morning. I was sad. I dreamed about Spot's woeful eyes all night. If I hadn't washed him, he would still be alive.

I had a bad feeling that made me uneasy. And it wasn't without grounds.

When I got to work I bumped into Duney in front of the gates. She was dragging two huge trash bags.

"Help me," she muttered. I noticed her eyes were swollen with tears. I grabbed a bag. I looked inside. Dead dogs.

I sat on the ground. I don't know how many animals put to sleep because there wasn't enough room in the shed, but at least 10 or 12.

I don't remember how I got the trash into the dump, or how I made it back to the lux cages. All the pedigree animals had been moved. The cages were empty. Duney and I cleaned quietly. Without saying a word we went to get the dogs in line to be put to sleep and put them in the lux cages.

There were 20 cages in the corridor. In 5 were bitches dressed in bandages after recent operations. They had been sterilized, although only a day before they had been caged with male dogs. Several animals had been drugged and couldn't move. The sheep dog who had with the wounded paw sat nearby. Only the paw was gone. Instead he had a bright red bandage where the paw had been amputated. A pool of blood formed beneath his stomach. The sight would touch the commission. We led the dogs to their cages.

"Finish up and then go see the director," Semenova yelled at me.

"Ahh, Dasha, good work. You've really proved yourself," Navetovich said smilingly. "I'll hire you first thing next month. Here's your payment for a job well done. I hope everything stays between us." He handed me an envelope. "That's it for today. You can go home."

Duney was sitting next to the lux cages.

"Mukhtar is feeling really sick," she said swallowing her tears. I walked over to her. Mukhtar turned out to be the three-legged sheep dog. The blood beneath its stomach was growing. He had already lost consciousness.

"Get some bandages," I said. "Take this money. Buy some Novocaine and a styptic agent. Just hurry." She rushed off.

I took the bandage off Mukhtar.

"Listen, Sweety. Do you have to stick your nose into everything!" Semenova said to me from behind.

"He needs to be re-bandaged or he'll die," I said.

"The doctors will handle it. You were paid for your work. Now go home!" she said.

Maybe I wouldn't have listened to her and taken Mukhtar to real veterinarians. But he died then and there in my arms.


I learned later the shelter had organized the bloody massacre to win a state endowment. Once a year, a district commission composing civil servants and veterinarians visits shelters. They decide who gets state funds for upkeep (130 rubles per dog per day). Funds are also given to companies to catch and sterilize homeless dogs. The companies are chosen by tender, and are usually run by shelter directors. Most often, the commissions endorse shelters with sick and wounded dogs. They assume the shelters will take care of the animals if they have more money. Who would think that animal shelters would kill and cripple dogs just for money?

Why does no one say anything? The shelters pay well. When I went home, I looked in the envelope and saw 10,000 rubles. The people who actually care about the dogs are threatened that the shelter will be closed and the dogs will be put to sleep. So they keep quiet, hoping to at least save one life. But even my desire to show a bit of love to one dog ended up killing him in these horrid conditions.

Moscow has 20 state and non-state shelters for homeless dogs. I can't say that all the shelters just make money. But volunteers like me have said that there is only one normal shelter in Moscow that really works to save the lives of innocent dogs.

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Читайте: Бизнес на собачьих смертях

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