Activists Kick Off Drive for Animal Rights Law

Two animal rights groups released a grim film of slain stray dogs in Moscow on Tuesday as they kicked off a campaign for a law barring the cruel treatment of animals in Russia.

The rights groups Vita and Save the Animals screened the film, containing images of dead dogs in pools of blood on Moscow's streets, to a group of celebrities and government officials at a roundtable.

Many of the dogs were shot for sport from moving cars and apartment windows, while others were poisoned or strangled by dog haters and city dogcatchers, the groups said.

"All these dogs and cats have lost their lives for one reason: They live in the streets," said Yelena Nadezhdina, an official with Save the Animals.

The rights groups, supported at the gathering by a group that included prominent rock singer Andrei Makarevich, sent a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev calling for a law that would prevent cruelty to animals.

"We want to campaign for new legislation in Russia that would regulate crimes against animal cruelty, which have been spreading quickly in recent times," said Irina Novozhilova, president of Vita.

Russian law currently only forbids killing animals for financial profit, out of hooliganism and in the presence of children.

Therefore, the groups argued in the letter, the brutal killing of stray dogs, cock fights and cruel medical tests on animals are allowed to go on unchecked.

Russia is required to pass a law against the cruel treatment of animals under its obligations to the Council of Europe, which it joined in 1996. But it is lagging behind countries like Ukraine, which approved the necessary legislation in 2006.

The issue of animal rights rarely becomes a matter of a wide public interest in Russia. In an exception earlier this year, endangered sheep in the Altai region made the headlines when the Kremlin's envoy to the State Duma died in a helicopter crash during an illegal sheep hunting trip.

Animal rights activists accused city authorities of rounding up and killing stray dogs ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow in May.