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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Suburban Dog Hunters, a License to Kill

Strapped by a tight budget and flooded with complaints about stray dogs, the authorities in a Moscow suburb have come up with a simple, if brutal, solution: They shoot them.

The job is carried out nightly by a team of six hunters in Dolgoprudny, a town of 70, 000 just north of Moscow near Leningradskoye Shosse, according to Sergei Muravyov, head of the town's Public Service Office.

From 3 to 5 A. M. , the hunters, armed with rifles and accompanied by police officers, patrol Dolgoprudny's streets in search of stray dogs and cats - and with orders to shoot to kill.

"They are trained, licensed hunters", Muravyoy said in an interview this week. "Except they don't hunt boar or moose. They hunt strays".

Muravyov said the practice of shooting strays was started after his office received "innumerable" complaints from residents about packs of stray dogs. He said many of the shootings were in direct response to such complaints.

In previous years, Dolgoprudny had employed a state agency that captured strays and put them to sleep. Last year, when those services were privatized, the city paid a firm called Zabota to take care of the strays.

But that firm stopped offering the service because it was losing money, and now, putting dogs to sleep costs too much -15, 000 rubles (almost $15) per animal, Muravyov said.

The hunters of Dolgoprudny are paid 6, 000 rubles a head for their work, which Muravyov said is starting to show signs of reducing the city's stray animal population.

When the practice was started at the beginning of June, the hunters would bring back "20 or so" dead animals a night, Muravyov said. Now, they bring back "five or six".

"Before, I couldn't let my children out on the streets. Gradually, I think the problem is being solved", he said, adding, "Of course, not without some difficulties".

For example, a woman called him on Monday to complain that her cat had been shot by the hunters. Other residents have complained that the shooting keeps them awake at night.

Another complication is that Moscow dog owners do not put identification tags on their pets.

"Normally, you would not expect a pet owner to let his animal out at three in the morning", Muravyov said. He contended that the shootings were necessary and "the lesser of two evils".

Not so, according to the Moscow Chapter of the Society for the Protection of Animals. "What you are telling roe they do is a violation of Article 230 of the Civil Code, on prevention of cruelty against animals", said a member of the society, Galina Susorova. "If we get a complaint from someone in the city, we will take action".

But Susorova was unable to say just what the society could do. It is unclear whether Soviet-era legislation can now be enforced to stop the practice in Dolgoprudny.

Meanwhile, each night the town's dog hunters continue to do their work.