Recently, stray dogs from the streets of Sochi, Russia have been finding their way to the United States for adoption. Just before the 2014 winter Olympics began, news stories broke that the Russian government was rounding up stray animals from the street for mass euthanasia to clean things up before the world descended upon their city. While this practice is not unusual for events that generate a global audience, what was unusual this year, is that the media picked up on the Olympians themselves attempting to do something about the practice and stray animal population. Adorable and heart-warming photos littered our social media feeds with Olympians snuggling puppies—puppies that most likely would be euthanized soon. Before I go any further in this post, I want to applaud both the Olympians for stepping up for these animals and the media for covering the story (although, my hunch is that it was social media that drove the news story to the front page, not traditional media efforts).
In the months after the Olympics left town, shipments of dogs have been arriving in the US and elsewhere to be put up for adoption, and once again the media has jumped on this heartwarming angle of the story. However, it has ferociously renewed the ongoing (and sometimes messy) internal debate amongst animal welfare professionals and supporters about the responsibility and value of transporting strays from the other side of the world to our cities. Read the comments section of any online news story and you will see for yourself the split between those that find this practice life-saving and laudable and those that believe we should solve our own stray animal problems before moving dogs in from oversees.
This debate is not new to the field. Many times over we have argued for or against transporting adoptable animals from one location to another, whether it is from state to state or even between neighboring cities. And that debate has drawn a very divisive line within the field. Mirroring the Sochi dog rescue emotions, some feel we should not be moving other’s stray dog problem into our area until we can fully solve our own stray dog issues. In my opinion, a stray dog is a stray dog, no matter what zip code they call home. If I am driving around my own neighborhood and see one or on vacation on a Caribbean Island, my instinct to intervene sets in all the same. (Just ask my husband, he has been dragged on stray animal chases all over the globe, including China!). When it comes to the well being of what I consider to be beloved animals, a protectionist view of the world does not fair well with my goal of achieving a society that respects and values all living beings.
The recent story of stowaway kittens that took a 5 day freight train ride from Chicago to Edmonton, Canada, is a good example of stray animals knowing no border. Thankfully, the Edmonton Humane Society took the kittens into their program and will be placed for adoption when ready—in Canada; yes, the Edmonton Humane Society will be taking responsibility (including financial) for these Chicago kittens. Under the protectionist sheltering view, they would have been shipped back to Chicago for a local animal shelter to deal with. So if we can all smile and cheer at this story, why do some of us find it hard to celebrate the story of the Sochi dogs coming into the US? I am proud that our Olympians stood up for the barbaric animal control policies in Russia, and fought to do something about it. Might be extreme, but just as the United States has always been considered the melting pot of the world, why not extend that analogy to the homeless animals of the world? Furthermore, I find it difficult to define my community. For me, is it the 6200 block of Niagara Avenue? What about the Norwood Park neighborhood? Or is my community all of Chicago, the surrounding suburbs, how about Illinois? I consider myself a global citizen, so limiting my community to one definition is difficult.
One complaint I do have about how the media frenzy handled the Sochi dog story regards the missed opportunity to highlight the animal welfare challenges we face locally. This would have been a perfect chance to celebrate the Sochi dogs, and also plug adoption and support of local humane societies and animal welfare groups. Emphasizing that we have not solved our own animal welfare challenges yet still extend our helping hand to Russia’s animals would have been the perfect tie-in and happy ending to the story that would have benefitted all animals.
What are your thoughts about transporting homeless animals across borders: life-saving or life-limiting? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!