“Line up at the start”… “Ready?”… “Bang!”

Hearing this, you would expect that to be the gunshot signifying the start of a race, or that of a heat. Wrong! In fact, that is the sound of what is occurring behind the scenes of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

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This year’s Olympics have thus far yielded a plethora of criticisms for various issues. However, one issue in particular is at the heart of recent controversy. Reports of stray dog slaughtering in Sochi is among one of the newest issues surrounding these Olympic games, sparking controversy and anger amongst animal rights groups across the globe.

The act of killing stray dogs is not a new issue in itself; in fact, it has been occurring for years. However, citizens have recently seen a dramatic increase in deaths and severity, watching dogs collapse and convulse violently on the streets. According to animal rights advocate Tatyana Leshchenko, back in November, approximately 300 dogs were being shot and killed with poisoned darts per month. It is estimated that another 1,700 have been killed since then, bringing the death toll up to almost 2,000 dogs.

The dogs posed a public safety and health risk and were “biological trash,” according to Alexei Sorokin, director of Baysa Services (the company who is responsible for the capture and killing of Sochi’s stray dogs).

“A dog ran into the [Fisht] Stadium, we took it away. God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony. This will be a disgrace for the whole country,” Sorokin said after attending a rehearsal of the Olympic opening ceremony.

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), “only sick and dying” dogs have been killed. Eyewitness accounts from Sochi residents suggest this might not be true.

Russia has spent more than $50 billion in preparation for this year’s Olympics, the highest recorded amount in history. Recently discovered documents reveal that the government agreed to pay Baysa Services approximately $2,800 for the “trapping and gathering of neglected animals” as of May 2013, with the cost of killing each dog approximating $30-35. The budget then increased to $54,000 due to the deadline of the opening Olympic ceremony on Feb. 7.

The director of companion animals and engagement for Humane Society International, Kelly O’Meara, mentioned that she and other colleagues offered to help Olympic organizers set up a vaccination and spay/neuter program last summer. However, upon hearing the news that Sochi officials gave the order to kill, she was “very surprised.”

In addition to this, the recreational use of orca whales and dolphins have been reported. A Russian company called White Sphere, or The Russian Orca Team, has allegedly captured two killer whales just off of the north coast of Japan to be displayed in Sochi’s Aquatoria.

In response to this, a petition was created that quickly gained the support of over 100,000 people. Although White Sphere conducted the act, various animal rights activists are holding the IOC directly accountable.

While Sochi is currently drowning in a pool of controversy, animal rights have always seemed to be a neglected issue at the Olympics, especially when it comes to exploitation and cruelty. Looking back on the past ten years alone, there has been a corpulent violation of animal rights occurring all over the world.

Athens had the same issue with stray dogs back in 2004, with the summer Games. But instead of taking the ethical approach, like they initially proposed (implementing a $5 million annual sterilization plan for stray dogs), they allegedly slaughtered over 15,000 dogs in hopes that it would clean up the city’s image.

“They mixed poison in with meatballs that they toss on the streets at night when nobody can see what they are doing,” reported leader of Welfare for Animals in Greece, Costis Zois, in an interview in 2004.

At the Summer Olympics in 2008, in Beijing, over 200,000 stray cats were killed as a result of overpopulation, once again in an attempt to maintain the city’s ‘utopian’ image. At the time, China believed the cats posed a serious health risk and went as far as to say that they may have contributed to the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Drawing attention more locally, there was the issue of the sled dog massacre at Howling Dog Tours Whistler shortly following the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Robert Fawcett, an employee of Howling Dog Tours Whistler, conducted the killing as a result of a downturn in the company’s bookings following the Games. He claimed that he took part in “execution-style killings” in which he wrestled dogs to the ground, stood on them, and shot them or slit their throats. It was described as “one of the world’s biggest ever animal cruelty cases,” and ultimately threw the effectiveness of Canada’s animal cruelty laws into question.

Two years ago, in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics, London was faced with a dilemma in relation to their use of various domesticated and farm animals for entertainment. A coalition of six animal rights groups wrote to Olympic organizers in an attempt to persuade the director of the opening ceremony, Danny Boyle, to reverse his decision to use live animals in the show, entitled Isles of Wonder, which would have featured 12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, 70 sheep, and three sheep dogs.

The coalition warned the committee they might be liable for prosecution under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, which “forbids intentionally causing undue fear and distress to animals.”

At the time, a spokesman for the London 2012 Olympic committee said, “The welfare of the animals in the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony is of the utmost importance. We are working with the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) which is providing animal welfare advice.”

So, what might this mean for animals involved in future Olympic venues, such as Rio 2016, Pyeong Chang 2018, and Tokyo 2020?

The future of animal rights looks quite bleak, unless the host country’s Olympic Committee realizes the consequences of their actions and how they reflect poorly on the country. Until action is taken against the Olympic Committee to prevent future violations of animal rights, mass killings will only continue to occur.