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article imageSochi's dogs find a saviour in Russian billionaire

By Karen Graham     Feb 10, 2014 in World
In the aftermath of worldwide media reports and a followup Facebook campaign, the culling of stray dogs and cats in Sochi, believed to number close to 2,000, may have a happy ending. A Russian billionaire has become the hero of the Olympic Games.
Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, and head of a number of energy and commodities companies, has stepped into the media fray, offering to fund animal shelters for the stray dogs of Sochi. The businessman decided to fund the shelters because he remembers as a child adopting a stray dog as a pet.
Condemned to death by a private pest control company, about 150 dogs have been saved so far. Last week, Sochi officials decided to drop plans for "disposing" of the 2,000 stray dogs and cats roaming the streets and venues of the Olympic park after media attention spotlighted the problem.
Russian media has alluded to a witch hunt by western media, looking for "bad stories." Without a doubt, the biggest, baddest story, including pictures of cute, obviously friendly dogs, has been the contract that had been put out to kill the dogs of Sochi. But while Deripaska is very much "pro-Putin Russia," the thought of destroying stray dogs was distasteful.
According to The New York Times, Olga Melnikova, who is heading up the rescue for the charity Volnoe Delo financed by Deripaska, was told by Sochi authorities, "Either you take all the dogs from the Olympic Village or we will shoot them."
On February 3rd, Humane Society International sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin, asking him to put an end to the slaughter. It was a direct appeal to Russia's president, knowing he was a dog lover, often being photographed with Koni, his black lab. It was after this and other approaches failed that Deripaska donated $15,000 to start the animal shelter.
The businessman, worth $8.5 billion, also pledged $50,000 to keep the shelter running for a year. Mr. Deripaska was also responsible for the construction of Sochi’s main road, seaport, airport and the Olympic Village, according to Forbes. The shelter will be built on government land on the outskirts of Sochi. Today, it is nothing more than a hodge-podge of doghouses at the end of a dirt road, with no water or electricity.
Sochi hasn't solved the stray dog problem yet. There were only 80 adult dogs and 12 puppies at the shelter last week, but rescuers are finding dogs left at the site, and that is a good sign. Animal rights advocates say many of the strays and their offspring were pets, abandoned by families whose homes and property had been demolished over the past several years to make way for the Olympic venues.
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