This article from The Moscow Times, about Moscow’s problem with stray dogs, had me chuckling. It provides an interesting perspective on how pervasive corruption is in the country. I mean, in Russia, the connected can even find a way to make a buck–or a million bucks–from Fido:
By the numbers, the authorities care about stray dogs as much as people.
Moscow City Hall has allocated $190 per month for every stray dog that is housed in its animal shelters this year — the same amount that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has deemed as Russia’s minimum living wage in 2010.
In addition, millions of dollars have been earmarked to construct animal shelters and to neuter strays.
But despite the cash windfall, few shelters are opening, and there has been no decrease in the 30,000 stray dogs that City Hall and animal rights activists say are roaming the streets.
Mayor Yury Luzhkov says the problem has grown so acute that hundreds of strays might need to be put to sleep.
“In good facilities, a dog can live up to 15 years,” Luzhkov said on city-controlled TV Center television last month. “We cannot take care of dogs for such a long period of time. No city budget could survive such a heavy burden.”
But animal rights activists and a former City Duma deputy say the real burden on the city budget is that money earmarked for the animals has disappeared into a black hole.
Indeed, a review of official documents obtained by The Moscow Times found that stray dogs are part of a lucrative — and extremely murky — business that has helped enrich a relative of at least one senior city official. The review also suggests that poor planning and a lack of due diligence are costing the city dearly.
If there’s a will to chisel dough–and believe me, there’s a will–there’s a way. Or a million ways.
The story also reminds me of my rather humorous encounter with Moscow’s strays, in August 2005. I was walking through Red Square on my way back to the Hotel Rossia–hey, if I was going to do Moscow, I was going to do it old school–near midnight one evening. I was with two Italians, now American academics, one male, and one female.* While we were walking through the ???????, about 10 of the skinniest dogs I’ve ever seen came loping along, their tongues hanging out in the warm evening. (It wasn’t as hot as it is now in Moscow, or even close, but it was uncomfortably warm. And the Hotel Rossia didn’t have AC. Man did they improve the country by blowing up that dump.)
No big deal, right? The dogs looked pretty harmless. And one boy dog was very interested in one girl dog so not so interested in three things on two legs. But the female Italian screamed “I’m terrified of dogs!” and jumped into my arms, wailing hysterically. The male Italian, I kid you not, was hiding behind me. I just yelled “scat” a few times and stomped my foot heavily (my arms being tied up by one panicked Italian), and the dogs just gave me a look and turned 90 degrees, loping off towards St. Basil’s.
Little did I know that there was gold in them there paws.
* I will think twice before going around Moscow with Italian academics again. The three of us had broken off from a larger party after dinner. The others–all Italian–were arguing with the maitre d’ of the restaurant where we’d eaten. The place gave all the indications of being mob friendly (you’d think Italians would notice!), and I had no interest in doing a reprise of the Uneasy Rider: the last thing I wanted was to get in a fight, in Moscow Russia on a Saturday night. So I threw money on the table and split. I seriously checked the internet the next few mornings to see whether there any reports of missing Italians. Apparently they made it back alive.