Dog Hunters Plan Big Cull of Moscow Strays

Stray dogs stand in front of a wall of Moscow's under-construction business district "Moscow City," March 4, 2009. (Grigory Sobchenko/AFP/Getty Images)

MOSCOW - Dog owners in the Russian capital are on alert.

A call has gone out on internet message boards for a massive cull of stray dogs in Moscow on Friday evening. An announcement posted online vowed to "clean the city of the fanged pests." Organizers are asking supporters to meet them at a metro station north of Moscow. From there they will fan out to parks and alleys where the dogs are known to sleep, laying out their preferred trap: meat laced with deadly drugs.

Animal rights supporters have taken to social media to organize a counter-protest. According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, police have vowed to be on hand to "prevent cases of cruelty to animals."

The event is organized by a shadowy vigilante group derisively known as dog hunters. One animal rights group estimates they have killed over 1,500 dogs in recent years.

On internet forums the dog hunters swap stories and tactics. Many post photos of the dogs they kill. They also link to news reports of dog attacks around the world. Some posts attempt to answer critics, denying they kill the dogs for sport and saying they fear Moscow's huge stray dog population is getting out of control. They say they are only doing what city authorities should be doing.

The moderator of one online message board for dog hunters attempted to lay down some rules in a " manifesto." The author explained they support proper dog breeding and have no intention to harm cats. The author also vowed not to use tactics like fishing hooks, poison, or broken glass to kill the dogs. The tuberculosis medicine they often use to kill the dogs isn't poison, the author explained, suggesting it was merely an overdose.

Stray dogs are a common sight in Moscow. The city is home to between 30,000 and 50,000 strays, according to a veterinary expert interviewed by the Moscow News. Many were purchased for protection and then abandoned once they were no longer needed.

The dog hunts have drawn loud protests from the city's dog owners as well as animal rights activists.

Pet dogs have sometimes become victims after eating or sniffing the poisoned meat. Last fall the city's dog owners took a stand after dozens of pets were sickened by poisoned meat that they ate in parks. At least 70 of them were sickened and three died, according to Russian news reports. Alarmed owners began to organize patrols, hoping to catch the culprits. They even offered rewards for their capture. In October, hundreds of dog owners gathered in central Moscow to demand the dog hunters be punished.

Some owners have tried to protect their pets by putting muzzles on them, lest they stumble upon the dog hunters' traps.