What’s it like for cats and dogs in Russia?

Russia is in the news. Yes, I am referring to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And yes, it is an invasion. Before, I read up a little bit about Russia and their citizens’ relationship with pet cats and dogs, I sensed that things were less sophisticated than in the West. That’s because Russian society in many respects is more basic generally than in the West. Just look at the clunky war machinery used by Russia in their invasion for instance.

Russia pets
Russia – pets. What is it like? It could be better. A lot better. A rather backward attitude to companion animal welfare in Russia I am afraid to say. Image: MikeB
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

There is also more than the usual amount of corruption in Russia and the biggest difference between the rich and the poor than any other country (as I recall). This points to a lack of animal welfare because where the state does not adequately protect their vulnerable citizens it is unlikely to protect animals. It is about perceived value.

And my feelings are correct if we are to believe an article on the 4freerussia.org (FREE RUSSIA) website written by Alexandra Garmazhapova a Russian journalist. This woman is interesting because I have a strong sense that she dislikes the Putin regime and what is going on in Russia in general and particularly with respect to the war in Ukraine. She is the kind of freethinking person who I admire but who is in danger of retribution from the Russian state. They don’t like freethinking women in Russia.

Number of stray cats

The TASS Russian news agency tells me that in general terms there is a very similar numbers of stray cats to those found in the West such as Germany and other European countries. I’m not sure that I can believe it but it may be true because the harsh Russian winter’s may naturally cull many stray cats from the streets. That sounds horrendous and it is horrendous.

They crawl into basements because there are often ventilation apertures at ground level the cats to crawl through. These would be unheated basements but the temperature there may be a bit higher than outside. But I believe that there are more stray cats in Russia than in other parts of Europe because of their general attitude towards cat ownership.

Attitude towards cat ownership

I’m not saying that every person is the same as a Russian citizen interviewed by volunteer Ksenia Vasilchenko who works to find homes for dogs. She says that “pet owners have a lot of archaic ideas about what it means to keep a pet.”

For example, in Russia she says there is no information about sterilising companion animals. She says that people project their own ideas about sterilisation onto their pets. For example, they might say “That my dog needs to be a mum”. This is anthropomorphising companion animals. It happens a lot but it is not a good idea to do it because you don’t want to project human behaviour onto cats because human behaviour is not particularly good!

And apparently religion has an impact on attitudes. The volunteer I mention asked a lady with kittens running around her kitchen why she hadn’t spayed the mother. Here response was, “Aren’t you orthodox? That is a sin. Everything is God’s will.”

In that simple statement there is a lot of information about attitudes towards companion animal caretaking. And in Russia there are no free or discount sterilisation programs.

Animal welfare law and enforcement

Ksenia Vasilchenko mentions in her article that Russian Pres Vladimir Putin, in May 2021, signed off a list of instructions with the purpose of promoting “a society with a responsible relationship towards animals”. That’s quite a recent proclamation. But only as recently as 2018 a federal law was introduced “On the Responsible Treatment of Animals”. She says that the law has been ineffective due to a lack of enforcement.

She says that law enforcement turns a blind eye to animal cruelty. The law I’ve mentioned states that animals are “capable of experiencing emotions and physical suffering”. I doubt whether it states it but animals are sentient beings. The purpose of that statement is to try and get people to respect animals more. However, according to Vasilchenko people violating the law are let off with a slap on the wrist.

The law referred to is called: ABOUT RESPONSIBLE HANDLING WITH ANIMALS AND ABOUT MAKING CHANGES TO INDIVIDUAL. It is a federal law and was adopted by the State Duma on December 19, 2018. I have skimmed it and it is comprehensive. But the fact that it was brought into law about five years ago indicates that Russia is behind Europe in terms of animal welfare laws.

This reflects on a general attitude issue which I’ve mentioned. Another person working in the field of animal welfare, Lidia Kondrashova, a communications expert for the RAI charity fund which helps stray animals, agrees with Vasilchenko. She says that the above-mentioned law “exists on paper, but in practice, no one is ever punished for these crimes.”

That’s quite a typical problem in countries which are a little unsophisticated. The lawmakers i.e. the politicians are keen to create laws which give the impression that the country had animal welfare in mind but the process breaks down almost totally due to a lack of enforcement. This is a failure within the police forces. This is probably often due to corruption within the police force and a failure to ensure that the police act independently and is not politicised.

Education

There appears to be a need in Russian society to educate people about cat and dog ownership. Kondrashova said, “We need to focus on educating people, and right now only some welfare organisations are doing that but they don’t have a lot of resources.”

Education is the root of animal welfare. If it is neglected people use archaic ideas as mentioned about the need to let a female cat have kittens to feel better which is entirely misguided.

Relinquishing pets

Vasilchenko says that people constantly call her shelter trying to get rid of their pets. Once again, she points to an attitude problem. For example, she says the following, “A girl will call and say, ‘I want to get rid of my eight-year-old Spitz. I got him when he was still a puppy, and I don’t want him anymore. His eye has started to run”. Attitude problem. She says that often Russian citizens treat their pets as “things”. This is about valuing a companion animal’s life or in this case devaluing it to the point where it becomes an object and not a sentient being.

Veterinary treatment-caring for health

In line with this attitude, it appears that often Russians don’t want to spend money on their companion animals particularly when it concerns health. This I think also reflects an attitude regarding the animal as an object rather than a sentient being requiring maintenance. So, if a cat or dog becomes ill it seems that some Russian citizens don’t take their cat or dog to the veterinarian and the animal dies. And they regard this as acceptable.

Breeding

It appears that there is a lack of regulations about breeding animals. Vasilchenko says that breeders do not ensure that they provide dogs and cats which are in good health when sold. And they don’t verify that the purchaser is able to care for the cat or dog properly.

Improvements

As would be expected, there are gradual improvements in attitude. Awareness of the sentience of animals is growing. And people are more likely in some large cities to adopt a rescue dog from the shelter rather than by a purebred dog.

Conclusion

My brief journey into Russian citizens’ relationship with cats and dogs tells me that, as expected, Russian society is a little bit backward comparison to mainstream European society such as in countries like Germany and the UK where there is a more sophisticated attitude towards companion animal ownership. This results in more suffering by companion animals in Russia then you will find in continental European countries. There is still a lot of work to do in the UK and other countries, however, to bring animal welfare up to a good standard.

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