TURKMENABAT, Turkmenistan -- Dog catchers in Turkmenabat have been assigned to catch and kill at least seven stray dogs every day, locals say, as authorities in Turkmenistan’s second-biggest city continue a brutal campaign of animal cruelty.
There are not many stray dogs or cats left on the streets of Turkmenabat, and those charged with exterminating them sometimes take away people’s pets to reach their daily target, several dog owners have complained.
In one notorious case, the dog catchers took away a dog that was tied up outside a supermarket while the owner was buying groceries, residents told RFE/RL.
The authoritarian Central Asian state has long been criticized for the systematic slaughter of stray animals using barbaric methods.
In Turkmenabat, a city of some 250,000, each housing-management company is responsible for hiring people to carry out dog and cat culling drives in its neighborhood.
One such company in the city’s Khimki district was recently named as the most successful in exterminating stray animals, RFE/RL correspondents reported, citing officials and residents.
But some of the canines caught in Khimki last week turned out to be pet dogs.
Outraged dog owners demanded that the management company return their pets, only to find out they had already been destroyed, locals told RFE/RL.
Turkmenabat residents also accuse the dog catchers of using brutal methods to catch animals and keeping them in appalling conditions.
A graphic video of a purported dog-catching sweep in Turkmenabat shows three animal-control officers beating two screaming dogs with a rod before throwing them into the back of a garbage truck.
Another gruesome video -- also sent from Turkmenabat -- purports to show the corpses of animals inside dirty cages in dilapidated, dungeon-like premises.
Several residents told RFE/RL that everyone privately condemns how the sweeps are being carried out, but they are too afraid to publicly criticize or argue with housing-management companies, as they depend on housing managers to get certificates that enable them to receive subsidized food in government stores.
Subsidized food is a lifeline for many people in Turkmenistan, which has been plagued by chronic food shortages and price hikes for at least five years. The certificates that indicate each person’s address and the number of people living in a household must be updated each month.
Ironically, the latest sweep in Turkmenabat came as the government adopted a new law on July 25 that bans cruelty against animals.
The law -- which was passed shortly after RFE/RL's Turkmen Service published reports on the country's cruel ways of dealing with strays -- bans causing injuries or other serious harm to dogs or depriving them of food, water, sleep, rest, or exercise.
It also prohibits the use of methods that cause dogs “unnecessary suffering when catching or regulating the number” of strays.
Activists dubbed the law “hypocritical” considering what has been practiced, and said it’s unlikely that Turkmen authorities will comply with it anytime soon.
Turkmenistan has been criticized for its long-standing practice of exterminating dogs and cats by poisoning them, beating them to death, starving them to death, or killing them by refusing to give them water.
Municipal authorities often bribe local teenagers to give poisoned sausages or bread to stray dogs and cats to kill them, animal rights defenders said.
Dog catchers routinely beat strays to the brink of death on the streets.
In one incident in Ashgabat, eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that an animal control officer was seen beating a dog and her puppies with a rod in front of children at a kindergarten.
Authorities have never publicly addressed the widespread criticism of the country's cruelty toward dogs and cats in their country.
The desert nation takes pride in their native dog breed, the Alabai, which are dubbed "wolf crushers" for their ferocity and officially listed as part of Turkmenistan's national heritage.
Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov and his predecessor (and father), Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, have been often photographed with dogs and horses.
The former president has devoted a book to alabais and declared the last Sunday of April to be Alabai Day in honor of the celebrated breed.
There is also a 6-meter-high golden statue of an Alabai -- Turkmenistan's dearest dog -- in a central square in the capital, Ashgabat.