|Sochi Culling Stray Dogs Ahead of the Olympics|
|Kirit Radia||Jan 31, 2014, 3:01 PM|
In this photo taken Nov. 28, 2013, a stray dog and its puppy sit behind the railings in the middle of a highway outside Sochi, Russia. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)
SOCHI - The city of Sochi has quietly hired a private company to kill as many of its stray dogs as possible ahead of the upcoming Winter Olympics, ABC News has learned. The city's move came after it publicly backed off plans to do so last year amid outrage from animal rights groups.
The owner of the company, Alexei Sorokin, told ABC News by phone that he did not know how many dogs his company has culled so far and would not say when it was hired by the city of Sochi. He suggested the strays posed a threat to the games.
" Imagine, if during an Olympic games, a ski jumper landed at 130 kilometres an hour [over 80 mph] and a dog runs into him when he lands. It would be deadly for both a jumper and for the stray dog," he said.
" Dogs must be taken off the streets even if that means putting them to sleep," he added.
Sorokin said his company generally uses poisons and traps, but denied suggestions of animal cruelty. He said his company is the largest of its kind in Russia, but the practice of hunting stray dogs has become common throughout the country.
In Moscow, animal rights groups and pet owners have battled against so-called "dog hunters" - vigilantes who leave poison-laced meat in parks to kill off strays. The dog hunters say the strays are dangerous and have to be taken off the streets.
Sorokin described similar fears, saying the city has " an epidemic of rabies." He described his work as a public service.
" I am for the right of people to walk the streets without fear of being attacked by packs of dogs," he said.
Yet Sorokin also displayed a clear disdain for the strays.
" Let's call things by their real name. These dogs are biological trash," he said.
The homeless canines are a visible presence all around the city, as they are throughout Russia, where sterilization is not common and some owners simply abandon the animals in the street.
" Russia, in general, has irresponsible dog owners who, when they get bored of their home pet experiment, kick them out on the street," Sorokin said. "So parks are dumping grounds for unwanted dogs. We end up with many stray dogs who pose a threat to population."
The mayor's office did not respond to calls by ABC News seeking comment.
Sorokin noted that the city has tried other means to control the stray dog population, including trying to work with animal adoption agencies.
ABC News' Dada Jovanovic contributed to this report.