James Hogan – Canine Savior
Helping One Animal Will Not Change the World, But It Will Change the World for that One Animal – Anonymous
Interview by John Harrison
James Hogan is the vice chairman of Mayhew Animal Home & Humane Education Centre in London, established in 1886. James visits Russia regularly and Passport caught up with him in Moscow in September. A band of stray dogs wandered around aimlessly on the pavement outside the café at Taganskaya where we met, as if sensing we were talking about them.
Can you give me some background as to your involvement in Russia?
I first came to Russia in the mid-nineties, as a result of having a long-term interest in all things Russian, particularly the theater and literature. It was a natural progression to having an interest in the country to attempting to see if I could have some positive influence on developments that were taking place here – especially in regard to the welfare of animals.
When I came to Russia in 1995, it was a very depressing scene. Hoards of stray dogs on the streets were being captured and killed in an inhumane way and the story across other parts of Russia was equally sad. So I left after the first visit being very aware of the extent of the problem, and how huge it was to tackle. In the following years, my efforts consisted largely of providing promotional materials to encourage people to set up animal charities. It was all very basic stuff as everything was at an embryonic stage. I came back again in 1998, just in time for the economic crisis which pretty well occupied me as much as anything to do with animals.
Things became a little more positive around the turn of the century after the Moscow city government appointed Tatiana Pavolova to take over the city fauna department, and she was very positive about how you could humanely deal with the stray dogs situation.
There are a number of approaches about how the stray dogs’ problem can be best dealt with in an urban environment. The one favored by most animal welfare activists is to trap, neuter and then release them. The principal is that this method gradually stabilizes the numbers of stray dogs on the streets; as dogs die naturally and there is also a reduction rate from other causes such as traffic accidents and the like, the numbers start decreasing. Of course nobody accepts that this is an ideal situation, but you are starting from a very undesirable position in the first place and it is seen as part of a phased process that eventually leads to having no animals living on the streets.
It is accepted that you have to sterilize at least 75% of the stray dog population as quickly as possible, ideally within one breeding season, to achieve the desired stabilisation effect and, at the same time, you should also pro-actively encourage people to sterilize their own dogs. A very forensic and methodical approach is needed to make a TNR program work but this never happened in Moscow. Lots of money was spent without achieving the desired result, and naturally enough people complained to their political representatives. Gradually the policy fell into disrepute and was eventually abandoned.
The city government has now created large mega-shelters that can house up to 3,000 dogs each, a policy which does not meet with the approval of most animal welfare activists. The management of large numbers of animals kept in close confinement, especially those that have come from the street, is particularly daunting. The animals can become terribly stressed, it is very difficult to prevent the spreading of disease and it is still not addressing the root cause of the problem. Along with this, people are not being encouraged pro-actively enough to stop animals breeding or to sterilize the ones they own, and of course there is not the same culture here of adopting animals. I believe that something like 950,000,000 rubles was spent on the shelters, which is a really breathtaking sum.
What happens to the animals once they are taken into one of these shelters?
Well, the theory is that new homes will be sought for them, otherwise they will be kept there indefinitely. However, since they opened last year, the design and operation of these shelters has come in for severe criticism from animal welfare activists in Moscow. The city government has also announced recently that it is cutting the budget for these shelters by 66% for the next financial year so it is not at all clear what impact that will have on how the shelters will be managed and operated in future.
What is responsible pet ownership?
Being a responsible pet owner means that you don’t buy on impulse and you think through carefully the implications of adopting an animal. You only take it on the basis that you are going to be able to look after it for 15 years minimum, you will care for it whether it’s healthy or not and that you understand the full implications of such a responsibility.
What is the legal situation here in regard to unwanted and abandoned pets?
There is one rarely enforced article in the criminal code which relates to the treatment of dogs and cats, and there are a couple of other pieces of legislation hanging over from the Soviet era, but there is nothing that one would recognize as being a comprehensive animal protection law. That is one of the big concerns of animal welfare campaigners here. In the Yeltsin era, an animal protection bill was developed in the Duma which made it through two readings and finally reached the President’s desk. Unfortunately, Yeltsin left office before it was signed and one of the first things that Putin did as president was to send it back to the Duma, where it has languished ever since. A special meeting was arranged by welfare campaigners earlier this year with Duma representatives to discuss the resurrection of the bill but no progress was made and the legislative situation remains in limbo. One could even say that there has been a step backwards on the legislative front because President Medvedev recently signed into law a bill which expands hunting rights, something that has greatly upset a lot of campaigners here.
So your main work is to offer advice and expertise based on experience?
Yes, The Mayhew was established in Britain in 1886 and we also work in other countries so we know from great experience what works and what doesn’t. I hope that our engagement with the Moscow city government, whose officials came to visit us in London last October, will bring about a positive outcome in due course. While they were in London, we showed them how we do things and introduced them to other organizations which have a role to play in animal welfare, such as local councils, the metropolitan police and, crucially, how these agencies are integrated to work together for a common cause.
I think there is a huge challenge here to change public attitudes, and I think education is the key, along with legislation and regulation, in other words, enforcing legislation.
So what’s the plan here?
Our International Projects Team, led by our CEO, Caroline Yates, is maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the Moscow city government officials about animal welfare matters generally but especially regarding their shelters and how best to improve conditions for the animals held there. Before joining The Mayhew, Caroline worked in Russia for some years and speaks Russian fluently so her knowledge of the country and the language is a significant advantage for us in promoting our ideas with the city government.
We’re also providing assistance for Barbara Spier and the initiatives she supports under the umbrella of Moscow Animals (www.moscowanimals.org). This supports individuals who take abandoned animals into their homes. We created their website, and that has been very useful in terms of educating people and providing homes for animals.
What can foreigners do to help?
Volunteers are needed at every level from raising funds, to going to shelters and walking dogs to adopting animals. If anybody wants to help in any such a way, they can contact me by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will put them in touch with the right people here. A big difference between Russia and other countries is that the whole idea of helping animals is much more prestigious abroad. When you come into our centre in London you are welcomed by professional staff and enter a pleasant environment. Trying to change the image of helping animals is not going to be easy here. Legislation is largely outside of our control so it is down to individual initiatives and the activities of the animal welfare NGO. It would also be good to get some humane education program operating in the schools and, of course, more public education about responsible pet ownership is vitally important if we are to achieve the desired changes in how people regard animals.