Expert Voices

Dogs in Sochi, Swans in New York: Culling Must End (Op-Ed)

Trumpeter swan cygnets, baby animals 2013
Six trumpeter swan cygnets (the name for young swans) hatched at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo on June 5, 2013. (Image credit: Christopher Bijalba / Lincoln Park Zoo.)

Marc Bekoff, emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is one of the world's pioneering cognitive ethologists, a Guggenheim Fellow, and co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Bekoff's latest book is Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed (New World Library, 2013). This Op-Ed is adapted from two that appeared in Bekoff's column Animal Emotions in Psychology Today. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Human-animal relationships are ... all over the place.

Dogs are our best friends. Well, yes and no. Numerous studies show that many people consider dogs to be family members who often are treated better than human companions. However, this is not always the case. Witness the mass killing of dogs at the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi.

Killing "in the name of the Olympics"

The Olympics are a wonderful venue for athletes from around the world to perform amazing feats in a wide array of sports. However, in Sochi, this is coming at a great cost to stray dogs who are paying the price for human irresponsibility and lack of education — to the tune of about 300 slayings a month. Indeed, the killing of stray dogs in Sochi is worthy of an essay in the New York Times by David Herszenhorn and has garnered global attention. [Sochi Mass Killing Street Dogs in Olympics 'Cleansing']

A fed dog is a dead dog

I want to call attention to this horrific slaughter and also note "responsible animal control policies, including spaying and neutering" that the New York Times reveals are lacking in Russia. So, too, is the act of educating people about responsible care of the dogs with whom they live. And, why are there so many dogs in Sochi? To quote the New York Times essay, "When a big construction project is underway, dogs and puppies always appear whom the builders feed." Of course they do; why would the dogs turn down a free meal?

The situation in Sochi generates interesting discussions in the field of anthrozoology, the study of human-animal relationships. Millions of people know about the killing of the dogs yet are willing to support the Olympics as if this is just fine. Why is this so? Russia's President Vladimir Putin has done little to stop the canine slaughter, yet claims to be a dog lover. How do people justify and live with these sorts of inconsistencies? [Have People Really Killed Pests Too Rarely?]

On the bright side, thank goodness Oleg V. Deripaska, one of Russia's billionaires, is funding a dog shelter to save as many dogs as possible. Thank you Mr. Deripaska.

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What about swans in New York?

Another story that crossed my desk at about the same time is called "New Yorkers in Uproar Over Planned Mass-Killing of Swans." Hefty (weighing in at around 40 pounds) and hungry (everyday each swan can eat around 10 pounds of aquatic vegetation daily) and thought to be very aggressive to other birds, non-native mute swans have become a pest to some people because they destroy ecosystems and displace native species.

A plan is in the works to kill them off by 2025. However, a recent study shows that it's not always the case that these beautiful swans harm other birds or aquatic ecosystems. In an interview I did for this story, and keeping in mind the basic tenets of the growing international and interdisciplinary field called "compassionate conservation" that the life of every individual matters, I noted that killing these swans is wrong and that more humane alternatives have to be developed.

Gladly, some people who will determine the fate of these magnificent animals agree. The mute swan story is a work in progress, but it is important to note that people on both sides of the fence are weighing in and it's not a done deal that they should, or will, be killed.

Bekoff's most recent Op-Ed was "When Wildlife TV Programs Hurt the Wildlife" This article was primarily adapted from "Sport Killing Dogs Sochi Style: A New Olympic Event" in Psychology Today. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.