The contrasting fortunes of a world gone to the dogs were quite evident in two of the unlikeliest cities on the planet: Sochi and New York. For dogs of pedigree, New York appears to be the best place in the world right now. The city’s most reputable kennel club, the Westminster Kennel Club is headquartered on Madison Avenue, two blocks from the Empire State Building and a short walk from Madison Square Garden. The Westminster Dog Show features the finest canines from around the country. Thousands of fans follow their favorite dogs to the show that is an advertisement of how well prize-winning dogs can be cared for. At this year’s kennel club show on Tuesday, Nathan the bloodhound won the country’s heart, but it was a wire fox terrier named Sky who was adjudged Best in Show. Think of it as the pinnacle of canine existence. Betty Regina Leininger, the Best in Show judge said of the five-year old winner, “She is a beautiful wire. She really made us proud. This was her night.”
Nine hours away in Sochi, Russia, there are other medals to be won and Olympic glory to be showered on athletes from eighty-eight countries. However, the situation is a world apart for the dogs in Sochi, where the fate of the stay dogs in the city is a cruel contrast from their celebrated cousins in New York. The reported culling of stray dogs ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics has led animal rights groups and citizens to take to rescuing strays from off the streets. Dogs are being picked up from street corners and transported to any shelters that will accept them in order to prevent them from being slaughtered. Stray dogs have always been a common sight in Russian cities, with construction workers feeding the animals and using them as guard dogs. Over a year ago, the Russian government had announced the culling of stray dogs in order to improve the city’s image ahead of the Olympics, but has softened its stance by agreeing to explore “other options” after international outrage threatened to mar the city’s image ahead of the games. Kelly O’Meara, Director of Companion Animals and Engagement for the Humane Society International, said, “Over five thousand dogs have already been killed. We were very surprised and appalled that they carried through with the killing and hired a private company to do it.”
Meanwhile, back in New York, there is barely a mention of the fate of the dogs in Sochi as thousands of animals face the risk of being killed. With this year’s Westminster Dog Show eclipsing the success of the last, the American Kennel Club and handlers from around the world are expected to turn their attention to preparing for next year’s competition. As the Winter Olympic Games pass the halfway mark and the international press focuses on Olympic glory and LGBT rights at the games in Sochi, the efforts of thousands of Russians and foreigners to rescue these gentle animals from death may be forever consigned to the back pages of the history of animal rights in Russia.
Editorial by Grace Stephen