Agence France-Presse reports
that the Doghunters network is now operating in several large Russian cities after branching out from its original base in Moscow. The informal, shadowy group is now firmly established as far afield as Novosibirsk in Siberia and Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains.
Members of Doghunters say they are trying to reduce the number of stray dogs, a serious problem in many Russian cities, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. Abandoned pets and their feral offspring roam many Russian cities in packs, often menacing and biting passersby.
According to AFP, more than 400 people have been killed by stray dogs in Russia in the years 2000-2010. More than 13,000 people are reportedly bitten each year in Moscow alone. There are an estimated 30,000 feral dogs in the capital.
In its online manifesto, Doghunters states that it's goal is "to fight against the parasitic fauna that stops humans from living safely and comfortably."
"We don't want to become victims," a Doghunter who goes by the name 'Dogmeat' told AFP.
'Dimitri,' a 19-year-old pediatric medical student told Bolshoi Gorod that he joined Doghunters to protect children.
"I work in hospitals and have seen the problem of stray dogs from the other side-- badly mauled children are brought into the department several times a week. Now I try to eliminate all the packs of strays I can find."
Doghunters use poison and air rifles to kill as many stray dogs as they can. But not only feral animals fall victim to their campaign of death. Last month, around 500 dog guardians staged a demonstration after dozens of pet dogs were killed after ingesting poison in Moscow parks.
The BBC reports
that more than 40 pet dogs have been killed in one park in western Moscow alone.
"We are fighting wild dogs. We do not exterminate pet dogs," the Doghunters website claims, pointing to signs in parks that warn dog guardians that their pets must remain muzzled and leashed. "If you do not respect these rules, your dog will die too," one sign reads.
But animal rights groups and other critics say many Doghunters have no qualms about killing pets alongside feral dogs and that many act of sheer sadistic pleasure.
One female Doghunter from St. Petersburg, who gave her name as 'Svetlana,' admitted to taking pleasure from killing dogs.
"I use various means. I just enjoy the process itself," she told MR7, admitting she killed pets as well as strays.
"The Doghunters are maniacs. They enjoy killing," Daria Khmelnitskaya, an activist with the animal rights group Vita
, told AFP. "Unfortunately, the police do not want to react."
While it is illegal to kill or abuse animals in Russia, police rarely enforce the law.
Doghunters' slaughter of feral dogs is reminiscent of a similar government-approved campaign in neighboring Ukraine, where tens of thousands of stray dogs were exterminated
in the run-up to the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer championship.