Legal Concentration Camps In Today’s Russia: Illusion of humanity at no-kill shelters.

Warning: very upsetting/graphic content.

09.05.2016, Moscow

Russia is raging. Not only animal advocates, but also the general public, who until yesterday didn’t seem to notice thousands of stray cats and dogs wandering around the streets, is scandalized about the recent discoveries at one of the municipal animal shelters. There are those, who are invoking “lynching” of Elena Petrosyan, the director of the organization called BANO ECO, state contractor for the management of a chain of shelters. Only between 2014 and 2016 over 340 million Russian roubles (over 5 million USD) were paid to the organization by the Russian government to be nicely laundered and landed clean in the pockets of corrupt millionaires.

So, what went wrong in this well-oiled scheme, that was perfectly working for years? As Cathryn Louis said: “Greed, in the end, fails even the greedy.”

Last week, the unbearable corpse smell started spreading along the territory around BANO ECO animal shelter located in the Veshnyaky district of Moscow. Later, mass graves of cats and dogs, layered on top of one another have been discovered. Horrified volunteers and animal advocates managed to get media involved to uncover the dreadful truth about “humane animal treatment” in the praised no-kill shelter. Outraged public stormed the shelter for three days to rescue the animals who were still alive. The events made it to the national television and while pens with decent-looking dogs were shown to the public, the managers were franticly trying to hide the horrendous truth.

Mass grave of cats and dogs discovered at Veshnyaki.
Mass grave of cats and dogs discovered at Veshnyaki.

Black plastic trash bags with corpses of dogs and cats, dead and already half-decayed, hanging on the walls next to the (still) alive animals. Walls covered in blood. The “bowls” that supposed to contain water, that actually are dirty old leaky buckets filled with liquid of greenish color. Dead puppies and alive puppies, together. Dead cats next to the still, breathing once.

Dead animals left to decay at the BANO ECO shelter.

Thin bodies and frightened eyes, hundreds, thousands of frightened eyes. Locked hidden rooms with larger sick animals abandoned to rot to death. Scarily skinny sick dogs and cats mixed together and left crawling in their own blood and feces. Little kittens, the size of the palm of your hand, side by side: a healthy-looking tabby sitting next to a fluffy, blind kitten lying covered by something damp – maybe dirt, maybe blood. It doesn’t squeek like a kitten, it cries like a wounded bird, and it’s a chills down the spine cry. The tabby is frightened, it doesn’t know what to do, it licks his little friend to comfort him, whilst getting infected by all possible deceases at once. Limbs lying around. Syringes and hammers covered in blood.

illusion final_ek copy illusion final_ek copy

Slaughterhouse? No, just a government-mandated no-kill shelter for strays in Russia.

The place where our lost pets and unwanted offspring of our beloved cats and dogs, that we refused to spay 10 years ago end up. Children, whose rights are not acknowledged in this country, because there is no law protecting them.

The corpses are not disposed of immediately, because every living (or in this case dead) soul is paid for by the government. They are not being euthanized. Oh no, these are ABSOLUTELY ‘HUMANE’ NO-KILL shelters, where animals are simply left to die a painful death forgotten and ignored. No one can adopt a dog or a cat from this kind of shelter – you will not be allowed inside. The management doesn’t benefit from rehoming pets or attracting attention to the situation. It’s more profitable to simply hide a corpse, or thousands of corpses.

All shelters, financed by the government, are run using the same scheme – the animals cannot be put to sleep, but the shelter must admit every animal. An ideal ground for managers to fraud the state using the voiceless. They cut maintenance expenses by feeding cats and dogs with expired rotten fodder and put the difference in their own pockets. Animals, in the meantime, die, while on the paper, none was euthanized, maintaining the illusion of humanity.

Skinny sick dog with bedsores rescued from the BANO ECO shelter.
Skinny sick dog with bedsores rescued from the BANO ECO shelter.

BANO ECO is not the only organization running shelters in this manner. In most municipal shelters across Russia this is what happens on a daily basis, it is happening right now, while you are reading this. There is obviously no interest in changing the situation, because with time the problem of stray animals and hence the need in such shelters would disappear, as it is happening in many countries, letting multi-million funding to slip through the corrupt greedy fingers.

What makes BANO ECO stand out is the scale of their fraud, which is only possible in the richest city of Russia – Moscow. They managed to secure huge funding from the government, to then proudly announce, that the problem with stray animals in Moscow has been resolved without euthanasia. But hundreds of similar “shelters” are now spread all over the country with a lot less funding. People go to work there every day and come back home to their kids. Smelling of blood, death and fear. Now TV will make some noise about the BANO EKO case, but this situation will eventually leave room for a new “sensation” and be quickly forgotten. “Bad managers” will be replaced by someone with yet better skills in money laundering. And the animals will keep suffering.

Unless.. someone stands up and does something.

Shutting down one single shelter and prosecuting Elena Petrosyan won’t change the situation. What Russia needs is an effective legislation and efficient, informed, well-organized and realistically thinking animal advocacy movement working united.

People who deal with problems concerning animals need to be educated and taught how to work effectively in order to actually achieve positive result. Writing and lobbying laws is neither sexy nor fun. Collaborating with someone you don’t necessarily agree on everything with can be annoying. Rescuing single animals and volunteering at the shelter feeding puppies and caring for kittens is a lot more rewarding. But somebody needs to do the boring job in order to destroy the corrupt system and build-up a new one, that actually works and safeguards animals and taxpayers.

Without this, Russian animal advocacy will keep stepping on the same rake over and over again. The only hope is that now, when Moscow’s myth about the success in “humanely” solving the stray crisis using the state funding has been destroyed, volunteers and animal advocates all over Russia realize, that the problem should be looked at from another angle, and an alternative complex solution should be implemented.

Stuffing millions of cats and dogs in dirty cold pens for life without human interaction, clean water or decent food, depriving them of basic rights, vet care or a simple daily walk while furiously fighting against allowing humane euthanasia as part of the complex solution is, as it stands, considered to be HUMANE by most Russian animal advocates. Organizations and individuals who speak up and suggest to look at the example of many developed European countries, that already solved the problem, adopting that very complex solution are called murderers and “foreign agents”. Animal advocates fight against each other instead of uniting against puppy mills, lack of responsibility, awareness and culture and the complete law vacuum around pet ownership. In the meantime, millions of animals in the world’s biggest country keep suffering unnoticed.

Cat with a large wound on the neck rescued from BANO ECO.
Cat with a large wound on the neck rescued from BANO ECO.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. As the BANO ECO case showed, the price for the experiments with illusion of humanity is thousands of lives, great deal of suffering and millions of tax money. Unfortunately, there is no universal method of reducing the amount of stray animals, that allows to save every single life. Not for a country as huge and vast as Russia with its harsh climate and fairly low living standards. Rescuing single animals from the streets and rehoming them, TNR (trap- neuter-return) programs can only be a part of the solution, alone those are only eliminating the consequences instead of fighting the cause.

The root cause – is irresponsible pet ownership not regulated by any law. Until we eradicate the cause itself we will fight against the result forever.

How to overcome this problem? There are methods! And they have proven their undoubted efficiency, implemented by many developed countries and have long-standing positive results confirmed by the statistics. It is the complex approach used by many developed European countries which includes the development of adequate legislation, high social responsibility, mandatory registration and identification of pets to prevent uncontrolled breeding and abandonment, unlimited admission shelters allowing humane euthanasia of unclaimed and sick animals after a certain amount of time established by the law.

Only this approach together with an effective, well-organized and informed animal advocacy movement will greatly reduce the amount of stray animals quickly reducing the need to use euthanasia, eradicating the suffering once and for all.

Big Hearts Foundation is working tirelessly to unite the realistically thinking animal welfare advocates, who invest their own time and resources, across former Soviet countries, in order to bring the change. We employ a full-time lawyer, vegan and experienced rescuer with her own shelter – Anastasia Komagina and a biologist and shelter owner Vladimir Rybalko. With the help of a few volunteers they investigate the complex issues of regional versus federal legislation, write and lobby better laws in the hopes of ultimately reducing the suffering of Russia’s animals.

To learn more about our work, about how to get involved and help us built a better Russia for animals please check the following material: russia/.

Feel free to contact us at info@bigheartsfoundation should you have anything to share with us.

Disclaimer: all photos and videos used in this article are courtesy of the local volunteering groups rescuing animals from BANO ECO shelters.