It should have been a concern the day after Sochi won its bid for the Winter Olympic Games several years ago.

It is reported that authorities or private contractors are taking the street dogs off the streets in Sochi, in preparation for the Olympics, which start tonight. A friend of mine was living in Athens for the weeks before the Summer Olympics there, and she told me that authorities did the same, and that included summary executions, of the dogs, where they were found.

This has sparked outrage, of course.

I do have to wonder why the decision is made to remove these dogs, and in thinking about this, an obvious question emerges: Why are these dogs there to begin with? That, of course, raises another question: Why are there almost no street dogs in the United States?

When I was a kid dogs that needed to do their business were let out the front door as often as the back. Your dog would run around on the streets for a while and then return. It was not uncommon for a dog to hang out on the front porch, if it was shady (in the summer) or a warm spot (in the winter). If you saw a dog on a leash it was usually a puppy being trained to heel. Also, puppies did not know how to not run in front of cars or, for that matter, find their way home. So, unless you had an older dog in the household that could teach the little yelpers how to be a dog, human owners would take on this task.

In fact, if you saw an adult dog on a leash, chances are that one was a biter, or in some other way, badly behaved.

Then leash laws started to pop up in various communities, and spread, and now they seem to be everywhere. Dogs still run free-ish in rural areas. There may be enclaves in the United States where town dogs run free. Let me know if you know of any. I imagine such enclaves to be in more remote areas, more common in the South. Or Alaska.

If people’s dogs can run free, then now and then a dog can liberate itself entirely from human bondage and become a street dog, or in rural areas, what is clumsily referred to as a “wild dog.” Also, people let dogs go or dropped them off in remote areas when they were done with them, and free-running dogs would, of course, reproduce. In this way populations of wild dogs, city-dogs, and the in-between junk yard dogs became a thing.

I shall disabuse you now of a notion that may come to mind but that I think is false. This is the idea that in a state of tradition or nature (neither term works well), in pre-Western or pre-First World societies, dogs ran wild like they do in many cities around the world today. In traditional societies, dogs do not necessarily run wild. Well, they run around in the wild, but they are owned and curated by the humans and controlled. The wild city dog is a thing of cities or larger villages, a post-agriculture, post-peasant society thing, generally of recent centuries. Street dogs are not part of our Enviornment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (or we’d probably be immune to rabies!). This is based on ethnographic information and my own personal observation living in various “traditional” societies. It may look like the dogs are running around like Sochian or Athenian street dogs, but they are not.

Neutering and spaying and leash laws, together, have transformed the American dog into a different beast and we don’t really have street dogs any more. This is true for many “First World” places, but I do not assume this to be a qualifying characteristic of First Worldness. There are probably plenty of First Worldy places that have street dogs in the cities. And, of course, in the US there are wild dogs in the woods in may areas.

So why are they taking the dogs off the street in Sochi, and why did they do that in Athens, and why will they presumably do it in Rio?

Perhaps it is this. The Olympics is a First World phenomenon. You clean up your city and the nearby country side to be real nice for all the people to come and participate in the games as athlete or watcher. You remove some ramshackle neighborhoods and route traffic around others. You clean up the downtowns and pretty up the inter-urban routes. You fix the transit system or even install a new one. And you remove the dogs. And cats, much of this applies to cats too.

This means irony happens. The outcry, justified of course, over mass rounding up and extermination of innocent canines is itself a bit of a First World thing. And the rounding up and extermination itself is a product of First World sensibility conflicting with the rest of the world which is, indubitably, mostly not First World.

I think people involved in the outcry should realize this. Even though you would personally not agree to this, the cleanup is being done on your behalf. By no means does this justify the killing. But it does mean that your complains are tainted. There is probably not much you can do about the dogs in Sochi at this point, but Rio is two years away. If you want the officials there to not round up the dogs and put most of them down, this would be a good time to start working on that. Complaining about it after it starts will actually not help the dogs even a little.

But what would you do? I suppose one possibility would be to change the culture in Rio so that dogs are routinely spayed or neutered. I suppose you could agitate to get Rio to leave the dogs alone and let this particular Third World Thing alone during the pre-Olympic cleanup. Perhaps a combination of the two.

When you do that, of course, you will run smack into a different problem. You will be spending valuable first world resourses and demaning others to do the same to save the dogs, right before the wide sad eyes of starving children living in rags on the same streets. Or, at least, it is going to seem that way. Perhaps getting international funding to hire sad-eyed starving children to work with officials to manage the dog problem would be a good way to go. Perhaps something like that would start to change the culture of human-dog interaction in that particular city. Whatever solution is attempted, however, will have to be done at a massive scale. Rio is whopping big. In retrospect, it might have been a good idea to have started something like this in Sochi the day after the decision was made to have the Olympics there. That would be more of a bite size project. Also, it is probably, simply, too late for Rio. Two years is not enough time.

Pyeong Chang 2018?

Comments

  1. #1 Smarter Than Your Average Bear
    February 7, 2014

    I doubt anything can be done with Rio, Korea perhaps but I don’t think it’s as big a problem there (at least I saw very few dogs when I was there in 78 but then it was winter and damned cold. I think with Rio pressure should be placed to take advantage of the cull to move forward with spay/neutering programs , which will be cheaper to implement with fewer street dogs. In the end it still comes down to the local culture and how they view dogs, as in China or Indonesia they are likely be looked on as livestock

  2. #2 rsm
    February 7, 2014

    The similar issue in Vancouver in 2010 was poor people. Not bussing them to the local dog catcher or anything quite that brutal, but deliberate gentrification and shoveling the poor out of the city core to less visible parts of the city. AFter that I’ve become somewhat immune to rounding up animals, similarly mustering up any outrage over what is done to animals in Sochi, when what is done to people in Sochi, Quatar (22 WC) and Rio is if not worse (they aren’t killed and poisoned outright for the most part) is dehumanizing at best.

  3. #3 Kelly
    San Antonio, Texas
    February 7, 2014

    San Antonio, Texas has an estimated stray population between 150,00 to 200,000 and it’s growing exponentially.

    Approximately 30,000 more dead cats and dogs are picked up by waste disposal each year. Such pick-ups are referred to as “euthanasia by proxy.”

    Truth be told, we kill more animals each year than Sochi ever could. Our animal control also engages in “sweeps” before such events as the marathon, etc.

    The key, of course, to reduce dog and cat “exterminations” are massive spay and neuter programs. Our own “first world” city has yet to grasp that fact. Yet there is no international outcry over the killing of San Antonio.

    Sochi actually had a small stray population easily controlled by spay/neuter. But as you pointed out, it should have been implemented years ago.

    Despite proclaiming they want the authentic flavor of a particular Olympic city, tourists really want the Disney experience. The big spending Olympic tourists don’t want to be subjected to (gasp!) the authentic flavors of duo public toilets, poverty, hungry dogs, or starving children. This is the dirty truth.

    I really do not hold out hope for Rio.

  4. #4 Smarter Than Your Average Bear
    February 8, 2014

    rsm @2 – there was just so much wrong with the 2010 Olympics it’s hard to know where to begin. I live in the Kootenays but Vancouver is my home town. The number of lies that were told to the citizens of BC to get their approval was staggering. There was zero benefit to any community outside of the Lower Mainland and the route to Whistler. But all of us will be paying for that “privilege” for decades to come.

  5. #5 daedalus2u
    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/
    February 8, 2014

    I hope they don’t apply the dog solution to the sad-eyed children problem.

  6. #6 G
    February 8, 2014

    Population/resource dynamics are so much easier to see when they occur with species other than one’s own.

    Dogs don’t cause mass CO2 emissions. If we should spay/neuter dogs as a more humane alternative to shooting them in the streets, what shall we do about a human population that is roughly twice Earth’s sustainable carrying capacity?

    Inconvenient truth: The birth rate goes down to sustainable levels when female humans have full legal and cultural equality with male humans. That means human rights guaranteed under law, educational equality, and access to family planning.

    If we should pressure various national governments to spay/neuter all those aesthetically-objectionable but ecologically-harmless stray dogs, then shouldn’t we also pressure various other national governments to enact full equality for women and girls?

    Lastly a bit of history: In the Middle Ages there was a Pope who decided that cats were “the Devil’s familiars,” and ordered the faithful to kill every cat they could find, the more painfully the better so as to torment Satan.

    Minus cats, plus rats, and thus plus fleas, and further spread of the plague.

    From which history one can also hypothesise that the reason modern cats are so independent-minded about humans, is that this is a natural selection outcome. Cats who trusted humans too much were more likely to be taken out of the gene pool; those who were skittish about humans were more likely to live and reproduce.

    So: what do those street dogs and street cats eat?

  7. #7 Smarter Than Your Average Bear
    February 10, 2014

    Greg – it appears a Russian billionaire has stepped in to help the dogs by funding a shelter http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26114678

  8. #8 Thomas
    February 12, 2014

    I think that many people in the outcry against the murdering of these canines don’t realize that these dogs are not tamed or controllable. I live in West Virginia, and it is not uncommon to see a random dog in your yard or as a matter of fact many other forms of wild animals including deer,racoons, or even a bear. I my self as well as other neighbors let our dogs and let them run around, my dog has even chased after a deer and was gone for an hour or two, I wasn’t worried because he is a dog, its in his nature. Dogs in nature are relatives off the wolf, wolves are predators that hunt in packs and hunt other animals, they are vicious animals that if left alone they do what they have to do survive. Although I do not agree with killing these wild dogs in Sochi and Athens, honestly I do not know of any other solution to this problem. It is easy to sit outside these places and point out their flaws but does anyone have a better solution? I know I don’t. I mean there is no way that you could capture all these mean animals and hold them, that uses way to much time, money and resources for these places that have bigger worries. You cant try to give these animals away for adoption either because they can be retrained at an old age and it would be dangerous. Sadly and unfortunately killing these dogs is the fastest way to get the best results at this time. Hopefully organization in these places will look towards the future at try to nib these problems in the bud so they don’t have more of these problems in the future.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    February 12, 2014

    My daughter lived in a village not far from Sochi, as the Russian artillery flies, and there were “street dogs” that were basically pets without portfolio, friendly, non aggressive, fed off the kindness of strangers, probably had fleas.

  10. #10 Taylor
    February 12, 2014

    I believe the third comment I read sums up a majority of my feelings towards this media-frenzed topic. Obviously, as a dog lover, I am heart broken about this being done. I was, of course, even more heartbroken the first time I heard of these events happening in Athens. I was absolutely not shocked to be seeing it all over the news this year along with outcries of protests. The second a problem is publicized, especially at the Olympic events, we are almost innately programmed to object to the abuse. That of course is if we are oblivious to these reoccurring events. The main thing I take away from this is not the lack of humanity in Sochi or Athens, but the complete disregard of society for all of the issues right in front of them. A person is suddenly concerned of mass euthanization in Sochi when it happens everyday in their local animal shelters. This is, although, in our nature to be concerned and even the smartest of individuals are not knowledgable of all unfortunate events occurring in our world. I believe the only good that can come of the crazy protests is finally shining light on an issue and hopefully opening other’s hearts to do what they can in their own community.