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February 24, 2014
Kathleen Collar

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I became interested in the stray dog problem in Russia a few years ago because of my friend Marina who is from Moscow but currently lives in the U.S. Our dogs are best buds and we walk them together. She had told me about this problem, but until the world heard about it, there was nothing I could actively do. Then came the 2014 Olympics. Now we know that there are thousands of dogs being poisoned to death every day on the streets of Russia.

The average life-span for a street dog in Russia is two years. They get hit by cars and there are even some people who intentionally run them down and feel proud of it. They die from diseases because they are not vaccinated and infections from open wounds. In some locations they freeze to death. Their food source is in garbage pails and once the snow covers the garbage, the dogs die. This is the life for street dogs in Russia.

For the past few weeks, I have been networking with several of the animal rescuers and advocates in Russia - some from Sochi and some from Moscow. We have gotten to know each other well enough to where I consider these people to be my friends. Their dreams for the animals in Russia are now my dreams for the animals in Russia. I interviewed one of these rescuers in person. Elena (Lena) was here in the U.S. but on her way back to Sochi. I met with her and her cousin Diana in New York City and we spent the day discussing every topic we could think of, related to the stray animal problem in Russia. I had collected $180 from a small group of friends here in upstate NY and I gave that to her to help the dogs. As soon as she got back to Sochi, she gave it to Olga, another rescuer who Lena regards as the most "selfless" animal rescuer she knows.

With a drastic time change and very little sleep, Lena herself rescued 2 street puppies the day after she arrived back in Sochi.

The stories Lena & Diana told me are riveting, heartbreaking and downright horrifying. I had to stop 2 or 3 times during the interview just to compose myself. There are a few stories I will never share because I'm so afraid of potential copycats.

There are stories about government propaganda and how it has led to an entire culture believing that these dogs are the enemy even though almost all of them are friendly.

There are stories about the "dog hunters" who many people believe are heroes. They volunteer to poison dogs and don't care that the dogs die slow, painful deaths. The dog hunters actively campaign against spay/neuter programs. They set up websites for others to learn how to poison the dogs. Teenagers aspire to be like them. There is a sick, twisted, psychological component to this. This "work" makes them feel powerful and important.

There is the story of the woman who has a 3 year old child. Every time she leaves the house, she puts poisoned meat in her child's backpack. Whenever she sees a dog, she takes out the meat and throws it to the dog….and she feels proud. She uses her child as a vehicle for torture.

There is the story about the woman in Sochi who believes it is cruel to spay her dog. Her dog has had so many litters of puppies, the rescuers stopped counting. Each time there is a litter of puppies, the woman puts them in a box and puts them on a street corner. This woman is not alone in her belief that it is unnatural to spay or neuter an animal. This is how the majority of people feel. The son of my friend who lives in the U.S. was furious with her when he found out she neutered her dog.

These are just a few of the many stories about the street dogs of Russia and I thank Lena and Diana for both their rescue efforts and their educational efforts on behalf of these innocent animals.

On a side note, when I finally came back home after 2 days in New York City, I realized Lena, Diana and I were so immersed in conversation, we completely forgot to have someone take a photo of us together! Hopefully, there will be a next time because these are people who I now consider to be kindred spirits.

So, why help Russian dogs when there are so many in the U.S. who need help?

I must address this question because I know a lot of people are asking it and others are struggling with their feelings about it.

Think of how rescue works in this country. For example, here in the capital region of NYS, many rescue organizations bring dogs up from the south. Other rescues don't like this. They feel we should be taking care of the animals we have here in NY before bringing in animals from another state. I understand both sides of this issue....I really do. But if you take the side of bringing animals in from another state, then what makes it different if you bring them in from another country? Especially one where the dogs die slow, painful, horrific deaths because the killing of choice is poison, either in food or with a dart. In this line of thinking, a dog is a dog and a life is a life. Is it the animal's fault they were born into such brutality? So yes, the photos and videos and stories my Russian friends have shown me have drawn me into desperately wanting to help in some way. Whether it is finding a way to fly some healthy dogs to the U.S., or helping my friends put international pressure on the government, I'm in. And this is indeed, a much bigger issue than stray dogs. This is about trying to help change the mentality of a culture...it's also about a shared love of animals across the globe. I cannot just look the other way and say, "Sorry, this is your problem, not ours."

When I was discussing this topic on Facebook, I received an e-mail from Pat on Long Island and here's what she said: "In the U.S., we are not sentencing them to a slow death via poison nor are we shooting them in public streets. I think you need only to look at the name of your organization for your answer: Dogs in Need EVERYWHERE. Right now, the dogs in most need are in Sochi and the animal rescuers there need the most help. I am sure you are not ceasing to help dogs here while you work to save the Sochi dogs. Rescues here will continue to work tirelessly to help our population of animals in need. The big difference is that they can do this freely, without fear of reprisal: a luxury those in Russia do not enjoy."

Why there is no "fix"

We are hearing about our athletes bringing dogs home to America and these are wonderful stories. It does shed some light on the stray dog problem which assists a little in international pressure. But it is not going to change the mentality of people who generally do not believe spay/neuter is important. This is crux of the problem. There are NO spay/neuter programs. There is no education about spay/neuter. When the rescuers put up flyers about it, the dog hunters rip them down.

Three days before the start of the Olympics, a shelter was built with funding from a Russian billionaire which of course reflected positively on the Russian government….and at least one dog from that shelter with Parvo, made it through to the U.S.. Now there is pressure to build more shelters in Russia. I have mixed emotions about this and here's why: How this will solve the problem when dogs are multiplying like bunnies and nobody in Russia likes the mixed breeds except kind-hearted animal activists? How will all the veterinary care be paid for? How will all the animals get exercised - socialized? Will the dogs who suffer on the street now, just suffer in cages later? There is a laundry list of questions that needs to be addressed before shelters are established. My advice, which no doubt is very important to the Russian government, is to allow one of the large international animal welfare organizations to help establish a plan of action that will include educational programs & best practice procedures for establishing shelters responsibly. In the meantime, PRESIDENT PUTIN – PLEASE TELL YOUR PEOPLE TO SPAY AND NEUTER THEIR ANIMALS!!

And the breeders?

Just like in the U.S., they're not helping! There are the stories Lena & Diana told me about breeders who dump the breeding dogs out on the street when they are no longer able to pump out puppies…..and those who dump the puppies because they're the wrong color.

The list goes on...

And guess who the dog fighters in Russia use for bait? They don't need to depend on those who advertise free puppies on Craig's list. There is an infinite supply of puppies, kittens and injured animals right there on the street for the taking.

Where does the government stand?

In short, the government doesn't tell the rescuers not to save animals but they don't support their mission either. Remember, it is the government that hired the pest control company to "clean the streets" so the foreigners wouldn't see the problem.

According to Lena & Diana, the local government officials – they give people a "choice." They say "We are a developing country. We are not financially secure enough to have both animal shelters as well as kindergartens, other schools and hospitals... but you can choose which you want." Hmmm... which will the people choose...

Overall, according to my trusted animal rescue friends in Russia, the government supports the dog hunters. There are some legislators who tell the rescuers privately that they believe in spay/neuter programs, better veterinary care, more education, stricter animal cruelty laws... but those private conversations never seem to become public.

Elena Kal'vinskaya – Animal Rescuer & Advocate in Sochi, Russia


Elena (Lena) is the animal rescuer I spent the day with in New York City just before she returned to Sochi, where she lives. She is a 26 year old choreographer and a restaurant singer. She is a volunteer for animals who spends most of what she earns on caring for homeless and often injured dogs. Upon arriving back home in Sochi, with little rest and a drastic time change, Lena has already rescued the 2 puppies that she is fostering.

One of Lena's dogs, Masha, had good intuition. She came to Lena's door step looking like a walking skeleton with almost no fur. It was a miracle she hadn't been hit by a car. She needed food, warmth and TLC. Lena got Masha the proper veterinary care and kept her. Her other dog Chizhik, lived at the bus stop. He was hit by a car and his back leg was badly damaged. He lived helpless for almost a week, looking into the eyes of everyone who walked by, hoping someone would stop. Lena went to the bus stop to feed the dogs she heard were there and noticed Chizhik dragging his leg. She got him into her car and took him home. He had 3 surgeries but the vet was not able to completely fix his leg. He still walks with a limp. Lena says Chiznik is the smartest and most grateful dog ever.


Lena has saved and found homes for many dogs through the years. Luna was one who witnesses say, a man purposely ran over because he stood in the man's parking spot. After surgery for broken bones and 3 months of intensive care, Lena tried desperately to find a home for this pup. A family agreed to feed her, but each day, they let Luna out to wander and she would only come "home" to be fed. Eventually she met the fate that thousands of dog's meet in Russia. She was poisoned by the dog hunters.

rest in peace Luna

We are SO appreciative to Lena for speaking out and providing much of the information in the article above. Lena, thank you also for your steadfast dedication and especially for never giving up on the animals. We look forward to your next visit to the U.S.!

Diana Samusenko – Animal Advocate and Foster Mom – U.S.


Diana is Lena's cousin, and one of the ladies I met in New York City. She grew up in Russia but moved to the U.S in 2007. She is currently a Zumba instructor at a local gym. When Diana was younger, she was always picking up homeless animals on the streets in Russia and bringing them to her mom or grandparents. When they couldn't take anymore and told her she needed to stop, she showed up at her friends' homes, animals in arms! Diana's main goal is to "propagandize" the importance of adoption and spay-neuter in Russia. Diana has 3 rescued cats and fosters both cats and dogs whenever she can. She has been immensely helpful in sharing her insights into the Russian street dog population, as well as serving to provide translation whenever needed. Thank you Diana – everything you do on behalf of the animals is truly appreciated!

Margarit Kulyan – Animal Advocate in Sochi, Russia

Although Margarit cannot physically go rescue animals, she networks and advocates for them tirelessly! She is also what she calls an "amateur painter" but you will see why I think she's a professional. Here is her story:

"Hi... My name is Margarit... I'm a teacher... I live in Sochi most of my life... have six cats and a dog, named Mayla... they had all been adopted a few years ago before I became a disabled... I found out about one of Sochi volunteer group a year ago... now I'm one of its administrators as I couldn't help in saving stray dogs and cats physically... I started helping in the way I could... by sharing the info, contacting different people and telling them about our rescuers... helping this way can also be very useful as most of volunteers have no time for doing pc work... so every person in our team work is very precious... but I hope to recover one day after spine surgery, and then help much more than I do now... So now we have a group of activists from different cities of Russia... but what is really great is that after the world got to know about culling of strays in Sochi (because of Olympiad people), different countries started uniting against such cruelty... we feel now we are an international team with the same goal. I do understand those people who say there are stray animals in the U.S….I wish every single dog and cat to find a sweet home no matter where they are... our planet is so small & there are no borders for love which poor animals need so much... I guess American sportsmen were not thinking about any dog rescuing when they came here... but they just couldn't pass by someone in need... and they found something that's more important than any medal in the world... loving and thankful friends in the animals... thank all of you guys... let's change the mentality of all the world in the way of love and mercy."

Thank you Margarit for showing the world that no challenge will stop you from defending the defenseless. The networking you do is such an integral part of helping the animals and we know you use every waking hour to do that!


Olga Korol: Animal Rescuer in Sochi


Olga was previously a police officer in Russia. She and her mom have been saving animals for years. She has 5 dogs and 8 cats at her tiny two room apartment. She also takes care of at least 30 stray dogs out in the forest. She has 6 self-built shelter areas and either she or her mom go out there twice a day to feed them, give them fresh water and provide human interaction. When I met Lena in New York City, I gave her $180 I collected from a few of my kind-hearted friends in NY – Dee, Mary Lynne, Lorna, Mary Jo & Jake, and Maria. Upon her return to Sochi, Lena gave this money directly to Olga. Olga has very little time for social networking as she puts almost all of her time into caring for the animals.

There is a video of Olga's shelter but we decided against showing it at this time because you don't see the shelter until the end. The beginning shows one of the street dogs having a seizure & dying from being poisoned. It's absolutely horrific and extremely tough to watch. At the end of the video, there is a good clip of Olga's shelter and all the wonderful work she and her mom do for the pups.





Olga has dedicated her life to this desperate situation and from the bottom of our hearts, we thank her and her mom for all the love and kindness they show to the hundreds of innocent animals they save every day.

Mila Modzelevskaya – Animal Rescuer & Activist in Moscow


Mila is a top manager with an international company, who spends much of the little spare time she has, rescuing animals. In February, 2014 Mila told me, "There are several things I want to do in the coming years: 1) change the animal laws in Russia (right now, an animal is like a "thing" with no rights... and there is no punishment for murdering an animal, 2) I want to open a fund to gather money from all over the world for Russian animal help, 3) I want to open one big shelter…a good shelter with help from large sponsors…good health care programs for dogs and cats and good adoption programs so they'll find homes. I want a good website, photos, advertising, help from famous people, programs where children can socialize with the animals, and finally I would like to coordinate a large rock concert once a year that will focus on raising awareness for animal rights. Here is my dream!"

During the Olympics, not only did Mila send $1500 to Sochi animal rescuers, she & her mom Irina also rescued 11 "snow puppies" near Moscow. The story is... Natalya, an older, very poor woman, had been feeding 11 six-week old puppies who lived out in the snow very close to the railroad tracks. Mila and Irina went to help, and Mila took 2 puppies home. The other puppies had scattered in different directions and it took the ladies a couple of weeks to round them all up and finally bring them all to safety. Mila ensured that all the puppies received proper veterinary care and paid to board them.

Mila kept one of the puppies and she and her mom found homes for the rest. No doubt, many more will be saved by these wonderful women... Mila & Irina, we're so thankful there are people like you and we look forward to hearing about Mila's shelter one day!

Alexey Mayorov – Animal Advocate in Moscow


Alexey does not consider himself an animal rescuer but he is very important to the animal community in Russia! He says the following:

"My whole animal rights activity started about 4 years ago. At some point I noticed that every time I was on Facebook I was mostly looking at posts about lost animals and shelter or stray dogs looking for adoption. I started sharing this info. I wanted to do something to help somebody, something that will be really useful. Something you could touch... I suggested my wife that we should visit a shelter.  We've collected all old blankets, warm clothing we are not using any more, bought several bags of dog food and went to a shelter 30 miles away from Moscow. This visit kind of changed our lives. 400 dogs in mud behind the bars all barking and desperately waiting for someone who could get a leash and take them for a walk... 400 dogs looking for someone they could fully trust, someone they could devote their lives to, someone who would become their one and only guardian, 400 dogs looking for real home.  400 hearts full of love...

When I learned they are killing dogs in Sochi to "clean" the city for Olympics and someone from Moscow drove 3500 miles to that city just to rescue as many dogs' lives as possible, I just grabbed the phone and called my old CNN buddy Ivan Watson who was covering the Games. I said "Ivan this is appalling, we must do something, we need a scandal!" Well we did. After a story on CNN, NY Times, Washington post articles followed, ABC and BBC joined the company.  The authorities got scared, the Olympic committee apologized, a Russian billionaire and dog lover Oleg Deripaska who already had had a shelter flew to Sochi and offered immediately to build a bigger one. Well, we saved some dogs I guess. For me it's a lot."

Alexey if a former military intelligence officer, ex-CNN and Voice of America producer, & former Deputy Editor in Chief of Russia Today TV channel. The reason he stays involved in animal rights protection is because "we must protect those who cannot protect themselves. The strong must protect the weak. At least they should. Speaking of dogs, we are dealing with tons of love and devotion of most amazing creatures on earth, looking for someone they can give their love to and not expecting anything in return..."

Thank you Alexey – for this story, for everything you did to get the word out during the Olympics, and especially for the heart you have for the animals!

Linda Arslanova: Founder of Zhivchik Animal Shelter
Co-Founder of Zeus Foundation

Linda is an animal rescuer in Moscow who has been dedicated to saving animals since she was 10 years old. She started with catching dogs from parking lots and getting them spay-neutered. Then she began bringing more and more kittens home. Soon she became a volunteer for different shelters. Finally, she was able to obtain land in a countryside village about 110 miles from Moscow and open a shelter called "Zhivchik." There are currently 260 cats and 40 dogs living there. Fifty percent of them are either seniors or special needs. There are 10 more dogs in foster care. Linda's pets at home include 3 dogs and 20 cats!


"Everything is at my expense," says Linda. "I am doing my best, but it is not easy to find homes for most of the shelter pets. However I keep on trying."

Even with a full time job, Linda drives from Moscow to the shelter 3 times a week. There are also two employees who take care of animals: feed, clean, give medicine etc. and a veterinarian who comes to the shelter once a month.

During the 2014 Olympics, Linda went to Sochi to support the local volunteers who struggle to save animals there. Her mission was to help animals in the most desperate need of veterinary care or the ones who would have the most difficult time finding homes. She was able to take 6 dogs and 8 cats back to her shelter.

Linda says, "We were very glad to get acquainted with Sochi volunteers who found themselves in a very hot spot and we admire their endless efforts to save as many animals as possible."

Betty      Henry


Linda has partnered with some friends and businesswomen in New York to launch a non-profit organization called The Zeus Foundation. Their information is below:

Facebook & Twitter Info:
Zeus Foundation @ZeusFoundation
Contact Information:
Phone: +7 985.233.9373
Fax: +1 201.297.7633
Linda Sabantseva: linda@zeusfoundation.org

A big THANK YOU to Linda... for your life's work in saving so many. You are their hero and we need more people like you!

And thank you to all our fellow animal rescuers and activists world-wide for your compassion and activism on behalf of animals in need everywhere.

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