Did Tajik border guards screw the pooch when it comes to the war on drugs?
The suggestion that sniffer dogs provided by the United States may have been sold off certainly has Tajik officials on the defensive.
The story has gained traction in local media following the release of this U.S. diplomatic cable by Wikileaks.
"The Border Guards cannot account for all the dogs provided, and post has previously suspected that local Border guards sold the pups of these dogs for personal profit."
The cable goes on to express U.S. diplomats' concern about the way Tajik border guards treated the drug-detecting dogs, which were given to the country in 2005.
Embassy officials who visited two border posts observed that the dogs were "posted outside in sub-zero temperatures to serve as watchdogs, which adversely affects their intended purpose of detecting narcotics."
The diplomats allegedly were "deeply disturbed" by what they saw during their visit to the Bogh and Bahorak border posts, saying "the border guards have made no sincere effort to integrate the dogs into their work program."
Khushnud Rahmatulloev, spokesman for the Tajik National Security Committee's border services' department, has denied the allegations as baseless.
"Tajik servicemen in these border posts have not sold the service dogs, because there were not any dogs whatsoever in the Bogh and Bahorak posts," he says.
It is not the first time the media has focused on the issue of drug-detecting dogs in Tajikistan. There were reports in the past that underpaid Tajik servicemen had sold sniffer dogs' food, leaving man's best friend to starve.
Not Exactly A Dog's Life
The drug-detecting dogs are quite high-maintenance and consume some 50-100 dollars' worth of special food per month, experts told local media.
Speaking to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, a former employee of Tajikistan's anti-narcotic agency says he seriously doubts the allegations that sniffer dogs are being mistreated by border guards or any other agency in Tajikistan.
"For example, the anti-narcotics agency keeps its 16 dogs in special quarters in the Varzob area outside the capital [Dushanbe], where they have a special kitchen to prepare dog food," the ex-official said. "They have vets to look after them,"
"As far as I remember these dogs' diet includes plenty of meat, eggs, and cream, and they are washed in bathtubs with hot and cold water. None of these is available for local people," he said. Not exactly, a dog's life, is it?!
The former official, however, adds that the "efforts are worth it, because the dogs are absolutely crucial in detecting illegal narcotics."
Tajikistan has become a major route for traffickers, who transit drugs from neighboring Afghanistan, a country responsible for over 90 percent of the world's opium production.
All things considered, it has not been easy to verify the Wikileaks claims that sniffer dogs were sold or mistreated in Tajikistan. As for media reports about the dog-food issues, perhaps this comment posted by "Ahmad" on the website of RFE/RL's Tajik Service puts it best:
"Dear America," Ahmad writes. "Please don't send us dogs anymore if they need 100 dollars a month for food. With average monthly wages of 50-60 dollars, we can barely afford to feed ourselves. The dogs would do better if you took them back. "
-- Farangis Najibullah