|50-letiya Oktyabrya (50 years of October) park in Moscow where the dogs were poisoned.|
Dozens of dogs have died and a man has been made ill after poison was spread around the 50-letiya Oktyabrya park in south west Moscow. One woman, who lost her pet described how her dog started to foam at the mouth and was dead before she could get it to the vet.
Most of the animals died within two hours, displaying the same symptoms of asphyxia, vomiting and convulsions. Vets were only able to save a few.
Locals think it was an attempt to kill off strays, or perhaps it was a response to dogs being let off leashes. Russia has a problem with stray dogs. It's hard to measure but it's estimated there are around a million strays in the country as a whole and perhaps as many as 100,000 in Moscow. Attacks result, with around 16,600 reported in 2008. Some have been mutilated, bitten to death or have died of blood loss when attacked by one or more animals.
Ineffective government policy has failed to tackle the problem. Attempts at killing the animals, sterilizing them or taking them to shelters have cost millions of dollars while doing little to reduced feral dog populations. Many Russians are made angry by parliament's dithering over new laws on the issue.
This has lead to the rise of the 'dog hunters', locals who take matters into their own hands and try to kill dogs themselves. Some are treated as local heroes, seen as protecting people from potentially dangerous animals. But some animal rights activists have gone out of their way to attack the dog hunters themselves. As one shelter owner said, "both sides have been driven insane by the same issue." There's one thing they agree on. They blame the government for letting it come to this.
In this particular case the police received two complaints from people whose dogs were poisoned. They don't know yet what the substance is. The have increased patrols but don't want to shut the park or open a criminal case yet.
Whoever did scatter the poison was probably behind notices that went up after the first attacks. They warn people to keep their dogs on leashes or the attacks will continue. The signs also say they will throw minced meat around the park with fish hooks inside it. The poison they used was, according to the declarations, amanitin from the infamous death's cap mushroom. Tests are not yet back to say if this is true.
In response locals have announced a 30,000 rouble ($960) reward for information and a 100,000 rouble ($3200) reward for finding those responsible. They are reportedly also trying to patrol the park themselves. If the culprits are found they could face up to two years in prison for animal cruelty.
But with feelings running as high as this over the dogs of Russia, whether stray or domestic, it seems it won't be the end of the difficulties for canines or humans.