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Ukraine: Rights Activists Protest Treatment Of Stray Animals

Ukrainian animal-protection organizations are concerned over the plight of stray animals in the country. Activists say stray animals are treated brutally before being put to sleep and that there are no laws in the country governing the rights of animals. Officials say they are performing a public service by ridding the country of such animals, which can carry diseases.

Prague, 31 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Mahatma Gandhi said the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals.

Animal-rights organizations in Ukraine say there are no laws regulating the treatment of animals in the country and that strays are often treated very cruelly before being put to sleep. The authorities reject these charges and insist they are clearing the country of stray animals, which spread infectious diseases and often attack people.

Andrei Kurach is the head of the Western Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Animal Rights based in Lviv. He said: "This problem of lack of money and lack of legal regulations ends up in the situation where here in Lviv -- and not only in Lviv, in the whole of Ukraine -- there are no [proper] shelters for animals, as is the practice in the whole world. And stray animals find themselves in [processing] factories."

Tamara Tarnavska is the head of the Animal Protection Society (SOS), based in Kyiv. Tarnavska told RFE/RL that in Kyiv, a municipal organization called Animals in the City is responsible for catching stray dogs and taking them to shelters. She said the company treats the animals with great cruelty.

Tarnavska alleges that in order to earn extra money, employees skin the dogs alive to sell their fur, a practice that makes the pelts more valuable. Fat from dogs is also sold on the black market. Many in Ukraine believe such fat is a cure for tuberculosis. Tarnavska said that 3 liters of dog fat costs nearly $100.

Last October, activists from SOS went on national television with former employees of Animals in the City who revealed that stray dogs are often caught using an inhumane poison and sometimes die slow, painful deaths. The activists used hidden cameras to film instances of such animal cruelty.

Tarnavska said the film caused an uproar in Ukraine but that the company's practices haven't changed. She said that employees of Animals in the City continue to catch animals by injecting them with a paralyzing poison that acts as a muscle relaxant. "After being poisoned, an animal, as well as it may happen to a human being, is paralyzed but remains conscious and dies after 15 minutes of agony. It presents an opportunity for a dog catcher to take the animal from the street because it cannot move. But the death of this animal is terrible. What kind of humanity you can speak of in this case? I don't know," Tarnavska said.

Animals in the City denies it uses such a poison. However, in 2001, the Ukrainian magazine "Krik" published an interview with a former employee of Animals in the City who confirmed that he had used the poison while working for the company.

Valeriy Budko is the deputy director of Animals in the City. Budko denies that his company uses inhumane methods. "[The poison] diethylene is allowed to be used in Ukraine, but we shifted to a softer form [of tranquilizer]. We make a mixture from several legally permitted drugs and, as a result, a dog is not able to move for some time. Later, it comes back to its senses and is brought to the point of screening," Budko said.

Budko said some stray dogs that are considered dangerous or seriously ill are put to sleep on the spot. The rest are killed after 10 days if the owner does not show up.

Budko said Animals in the City is performing a positive service for the city. He said that the number of stray dogs is growing drastically in Ukraine but did not give specific figures.

Viktor Svyta is a deputy chief physician at the Ministry of Public Health. He supports Budko's claims, saying nearly 100,000 people were bitten by stray dogs -- many of them rabid -- in Ukraine in 2000.

Kurach said stray dogs are put to death in that city in a different, but no less cruel, manner. "The people who worked in this [animal-processing] factory told me that animals are put on a metallic plate [and] slopped over with water to have better electricity contact. Then an electrode is put on the nose of an animal, and at the same time the electricity is turned on. The animal dies. I have never seen this execution, but I was told that animals never die instantly and always suffer," Kurach said.

The bodies of the dead dogs are reprocessed into meal and fed to chickens and other farm animals.

The Brigitte Bardot Foundation, based in France, campaigns for animal rights around the world. Salem Sissler from the foundation told RFE/RL that the situation in Ukraine, as described, is not unique. "It does not surprise me," she said. "I saw it in Romania [several years ago]. I know that they can kill dogs with electricity. They can beat them to death. It's very, very brutal," Sissler said.

Budko of Animals in the City said that activists such as Tarnavska and Sissler are standing in the way of disease prevention. "If a mayor [of some Western city gives an order], the order is fulfilled. But here, protests stand in the way because people like Tarnavska. She has managed to organize a group of old women around her, people who are not completely sane, I would say. This is the team that she works with and that she uses as her instrument. Of course, from such sources comes all this secret filming and lies in European newspapers," Budko said.

But Tarnavska's supporters note that the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently recognized her for her animal-protection activities.