Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Animal Lovers' Are Turning Us Into Animals

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

I love animals. But not so much that I want to crawl around on all fours. Unfortunately, that seems to be what things are coming to lately.

I can't stand stepping out of my apartment onto my staircase. Before I open the door, I take a deep breath and run to the elevator, hoping to avoid breathing in the smell of, pardon me, cat urine emanating from the fifth-floor apartment of a certain 70-year-old cat lover. On the walls of our staircase, some fed-up neighbors have scrawled, "Send Nyrova to a mental hospital!" and "A brick will fix Nyrova!"

I don't know what we are supposed to do. Buy gas masks? How are we to deal with the clouds of flies buzzing around her door all year round? How am I to convince the young extremists who hang around our courtyard that a "brick" isn't really the best way to cope with our problem? Unable to answer these questions, several residents have appealed repeatedly and unsuccessfully to the local authorities.

But this really isn't just our local little problem. Just the other day I heard a radio interview with a woman who keeps 17 dogs in her apartment. "What is it like? the admiring interviewer asked. "How can we develop such a feeling of oneness with all the creatures of the world in our young people? Can we teach it in the schools?" Not a thought was spared for the woman's poor neighbors, who no doubt are awoken at dawn everyday by the howling and who, like me, cannot stand to linger an extra second on the stairs.

Nothing was said about the thousands of innocent passers-by who are bitten by dogs each year in Moscow. I saw an article recently that said several dozen people each year are seriously injured and even killed in dog attacks. Maybe we do need to teach "humanism" in the schools.

Once you start thinking about this subject, you notice all sorts of things in the press. I just finished an article about Klara Yakushevskaya who lives in a fifth-floor apartment together with … 13 goats! Naturally, her neighbors aren't particularly pleased with this situation, but Vitaly Kuzmin, the head of the local police station, told the newspaper that there is nothing he can do. … More likely, he doesn't want to do anything.

I've also come across articles that describe a mental illness from which some people suffer. It seems that in some cases particularly lonely and isolated people seek compensation in the companionship of animals. In some cases, this illness becomes so extreme that sufferers begin to hate the "human world" and its "unnatural" striving toward cleanliness. They react with particular hostility against the official representatives of that world, the commissions, inspectors, police. …

And finally, here is what Tatyana Pavlova, the municipal official responsible for domestic-animal policy, said in a recent interview. She said that alongside the capital's genuine animal-rights advocates, a certain cadre of fanatical old women has emerged, collecting huge numbers of cats and dogs in their apartments: sometimes as many as 30 or 40.

According to official statistics cited by Pavlova, there are more than 20 such women in Moscow, though she suspects that there are actually as many as 100. "They are suffering from numerous disorders," Pavlova said, adding that these domestic animal shelters are "nothing short of hell for others living in their buildings." Pavlova has said that she knows of cases in which the ceilings of apartments literally drip, soaked through with dog urine from the apartment above.

And still our "humanists" wonder what more we can do to teach young people to love animals. ...

But what happened at my house the last time we appealed to the authorities to help us with Nyrova? They sent a commission that stood for a long time on the stairs, knocking vainly on the door of apartment No. 31. Only after commission member Sergei Pavlenko knocked in a particularly vigorous and threatening way did the door finally open a crack.

Through a potent wave of the most disgusting smell, the commission saw a shaggy, gray-haired old woman peering out at them from behind the chained door. After lengthy negotiations, Nyrova agreed to let Pavlenko in, the rest of the commission gratefully agreeing to wait outside.

Later Pavlenko told us what he had seen. He estimated that there were 15 cats and an untold number of kittens in the apartment. They answered nature's call wherever it found them, scratching afterwards at the parquet floors. Throughout the apartment were little plates of brown mush. There was a heap of urine-soaked rags on the balcony. The cats were all sick with various illnesses, listlessly oblivious to everything going on around them.

Nyrova answered questions briefly without looking up from the floor. Yes, she said, she loves animals and spends all her time taking care of them. She doesn't understand why her neighbors are complaining all the time. She is not afraid of the things the kids have written on the walls.

While Pavlenko was enduring this torture, I had a chance to speak to the other commission members. They claimed that in such cases, they are essentially helpless. "We've been writing Nyrova up for several years now," the commission secretary said. "Each time she pays her 8 ruble fine and there is nothing else that we can do. …"

I couldn't believe my ears! The commission seems to still be living in Soviet times. I don't think any of them have even heard of Article 293 of the Civil Code that says: "If the owner of a privatized apartment, having been duly warned, continues to infringe the rights and interests of other residents or to use their apartment for purposes other than those for which is was intended, the organs of local self-government has the right to sell the apartment at a public auction on the condition that it turns over the money received (minus the cost of enforcing the decision) to the owner of the apartment."

Seems clear enough to me, although the commission continues to complain about how the law is too vague. How many cats is a person allowed to keep in their apartment? And is it really illegal to keep goats, cows or elephants? So they just levy their 8 ruble fines and go on with their business.

And so the whole thing continues. Our entrance is now graced by new graffiti: "Let's lynch Nyrova!" The other day I saw my neighbor, a law professor, trying to wash it off with a damp rag. "Can't Luzhkov's people do something before people take the law into their own hands?" she asked in despair. That night, her fears almost came true. Someone at the end of their wits stood on the stairs, pounding Nyrova's door and screaming insanely until she finally called the police to report that she was being murdered. The police came, wrote a report and left. Sooner or later, though, matters won't end so simply.

Lyudmila Dmitrieva is a freelance journalist living in Moscow. She contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.