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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Neighborhood Gone to the Dogs

Irina Petrova's devotion to dogs started in 1991 with what she calls a "love story."

"I was out taking Chip for a walk," she said of her big ginger dog, given to her by a friend. "And he met and made friends with Voissya, a stray." The second dog was wounded, and Petrova ended up taking her home as well. The happy canine pair now have six puppies.

But Petrova's four-legged family doesn't stop there. For the past 10 years, she has collected many abandoned animals from the street and given them shelter, food and medical care in her home in the village of Krasnaya Polyana, located northwest of Moscow. In total, 10 cats and 19 dogs live in the house she shares with her mother and daughter.

It's a situation that doesn't please her neighbors, who have complained that Petrova's makeshift shelter is destroying their quality of life. Now, following a ruling by the court in the nearby town of Lobnya, her animals face not only eviction but also possible "liquidation" unless she can overturn the verdict.

Petrova's legal troubles started two weeks ago when her neighbor, Zoya Sissoyeva, filed a complaint with the local police and court about the disturbance the dogs caused to the neighborhood. According to the court's decree, Sissoyeva said the foul smell and constant noise "prevent her from having a normal and peaceful life in her own home."

Indeed, a chorus of barking greets Petrova's visitors and can be heard echoing throughout the otherwise tranquil area. Other neighbors, dog lovers and owners among them, have also complained about the volume of the pack.

The Lobnya judge who signed the decree wrote that Petrova's activities infringe upon the rights and freedom of other people living in the area. She cited Article 17 of the Russian Constitution, which states that "the exercise of an individual's rights and liberties must not infringe upon the rights and liberties of other individuals."

On Oct. 4, Petrova, who works for the Moscow municipal police department, received a court order demanding that she remove her pets from her home. "A woman came to us with a decree and said we should get rid of the dogs, or they would take them away and deal with them themselves. She gave me five days," said Petrova, who so far has evaded sanctions despite missing the deadline. She is planning to appeal the ruling in the Moscow regional court.

Away from a sea of wagging tails and wet noses, she produced a five-page document in which the judge ordered the suspension of her unofficial shelter's activities and the transfer of all animals to a "specialized organization."

This may spell an early death for Petrova's proteges, as it is not uncommon for the authorities in the Moscow regions to shoot unwanted stray dogs and cats. However, Lobnya's court denied that such a fate was an absolute certainty in this case.

"The case has been transferred to the presidium of the Moscow regional court," said Alexandra Kidinova, the head of the Lobnya court. "Whether they decide to bring a sentence or not does not concern us."

Because there is no legal limit to the number of domestic animals a person can keep in their private home, Russian law is somewhat vague in Petrova's case. The Lobnya judge based her ruling on the statement that Petrova violated the basic standards of hygiene as defined by the town's council of deputies.

But showing her registration documents, Petrova said that her dogs are both registered and vaccinated. Her 5-year-old daughter Varvara, whose nose is at the same level as some of the dogs, seems to be delighted to have so many furry friends to play with.

Petrova's mother and daughter both give her a hand with daily canine care. Although she bears the bulk of the expenses, she receives support from the Philanthropic Society for the Protection of Homeless Animals, and has also been granted certain tax exemptions for her unofficial shelter.

Petrova said she has faith that her lawyer will be able to reverse the ruling. "I think I stand a good chance," she said. "After all, my dogs don't bite. And I don't bite either."