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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Cruelty Bill Not Only For Animals




A recent conversation about the seeming stoicism of young soldiers maimed in the Chechen campaign sparked an interesting remark from a Russian acquaintance: "Maybe if we weren't always so stoic," she said, "we could learn to be a little more compassionate."


Indeed, the Russian capacity for endurance has been proven so many times and under such a wide variety of grueling circumstances that it is distinctly beyond dispute. What might really be novel at this point would be watching Russians question an obstacle rather than dutifully hurdle it - for them to see cruelty as something to be fought rather than borne with a stiff upper lip.


The State Duma's recently passed animal-protection bill is a small step in the right direction. The bill, which has yet to be signed into law, is several degrees short of a blockbuster - Russian civic infrastructure is still too weak to support any number of worthy laws, let alone a concerted animal-rights effort. But the fact that the bill was passed at all is cause for hope that, more and more often, decency and humanitarianism will be at the root of legislative activity.


Russian animals are as stoic as its people. A beloved pet in Russia is as lucky an animal as they come anywhere - dedicated owners devote enormous amounts of time and energy caring for their cats and dogs - but a homeless stray is a luckless creature, doomed to a life of hunger, discomfort and freezing winters. To an outsider from the West, where animal protection efforts have kept public sensitivity high and stray populations relatively low, Russian streets can seem like an endless tableau of helpless animals. It is a heartbreaking symptom of this country's severe and enduring poverty.


The bill attacks a wide swath of general concerns with a handful of impractical solutions. The court system is ill-equipped to enforce a possible onslaught of animal-cruelty convictions, and mandatory sterilization for pets isn't likely to go over big, either. Cultural reluctance aside - many Russians are adamant opponents of neutering - there is simply a dearth of qualified veterinarians to make such a provision workable.


Still, it may make people "start to think about things," as Vyacheslav Sluzhivov, one of the bill's authors, put it. And if it seems indulgent to worry about Russian animals when so many of its people are suffering themselves, it pays to remember that the two are not unrelated. As Mahatma Gandhi wrote, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."