Moscow Plagued by Packs of Wild Dogs

In any big city, crime is a concern, but the citizens of Moscow have a unique danger to dodge on a daily basis.

According to official statistics, last year there were about 20,000 cases of humans attacked by stray dogs; 8,000 of them serious enough to involve the police or requiring hospitalization.

This means that in Moscow you are much more likely to get bitten by a dog than be mugged.

Commuters have to grapple with packs of unwanted strays on a daily basis.

Andrei Akinin, one of the millions of Moscovites who take the underground train to work, told ABC News, "I work in the very center of the city. There is a pack of dogs at my metro station and I'd passed by them every day, but one day I was late for work and was running. The whole pack attacked me. My clothes were torn, I was bitten and had to have nine painful injections for rabies."

The dogs winter in the ventilation shafts of Moscow's subway. There they huddle for warmth and survive the severe frosts.

Come spring their numbers are swelled with puppy power and the Moscow jogger is seriously at risk.

Alexei is one of the many who regularly run the hills of what was the 1980 Olympics cycle course in Moscow's elite Krylatskoye region.

He told ABC News, "I've been attacked more than once by a pack of homeless dogs. I now carry some sausage and a repellent just in case. The food usually does the trick and usually an aggressive dog can be distracted, but you never know. The repellent is just in case. — Being attacked by a stray Rottweiler is no fun."

Many Moscow joggers follow Alexei's example. Along with their ubiquitous iPod, they equip themselves with a piece of sausage and a can of pepper spray.

During Soviet days, stray dogs were simply destroyed with no mercy. In the new post-communist Russia, citizens have more of a say, and because the multitude of pet lovers now voice their objection to elimination, the problem of roaming dogs has become much more complex for Moscow authorities.

"Shooting stray dogs is no longer an option. That ended in 2002," Elena Vlasneva, responsible for homeless animals within the Moscow Municipality, told ABC News. "Policy has changed. And starting Jan. 1 this year, we are supposed to sterilize the dogs we catch."

She complains of red tape and the fact that authorities are oblivious to animal rights.

"There are other priorities and at the moment things are in a mess. It rarely gets done, and the 10,000 stray dogs caught in 2007 somehow disappeared and never reappeared in the streets."

Vlasneva adds that the demand for sterilization far outweighs the means. "Our estimate shows that the number of homeless dogs is growing. For the sterilization program to be successful it is necessary to sterilize 80 percent of dogs; that is 4,200 a month. Current facilities allow us to sterilize only 850 per month."

White dogcatcher vans continue to crisscross Moscow; their victims rarely end up back on the streets, in spite of what the official ruling may say.

Russian NTV TV network recently aired a disturbing documentary showing the plight of street dogs. It revealed a reality that was nowhere close to the by-the-rule-of-law ideal. Stray dogs are still being eliminated. Very few end up in animal shelters.

Many Russian veterinarians warn that the treatment of a dog as commodity can sometimes have grim consequences. Dog breeds that veterinarians consider aggressive are popular with the newly affluent Russians. Next to the sport utility vehicle of the moment, dogs of a particular breed are a macho status symbol. However, if they fail their owners, many dogs end up on the street.

Sergei Filatov, head of the Moscow Veterinary Service, told ABC News, "Many Moscovites treat animals as status symbols. … If they don't like them, they throw them out. This makes all our educational efforts null and void and makes our streets more dangerous."

There are also those like Larissa, a pensioner, who spends much of her time attending to the homeless dogs, whom she regards as the less fortunate inhabitants of her town.

She told ABC News, "I come and feed them every morning. Homeless people often have themselves to blame, but these helpless creatures depend solely on us. I will always defend them. Come spring and they will have more puppies no one needs. They'll grow up and chances are they'll be hunted down."

Alexandra Nadezhdina contributed to this report.

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