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7 Aug, 2007 15:27

Dog abuse case still to be resolved after 14 hearings

A landmark cruelty to animals trial has yet again been postponed after a key witness was unable to attend. Ryzhik, a stray dog, died in March last year, after being attacked in the Moscow metro. However, no one has been convicted so far.

The case concerns a dead mongrel and a Moscow metro attendant, but animal rights activists are making sure its impact is much wider. They are still picketing after 14 court hearings without a verdict in the hope they can change how society and the legal system treats animal cruelty.

“I am here for justice. I want those who mistreat animals to be punished,” one of them says.  

“Even if this trial is endlessly delayed, we believe this case is educating the public. But we do not know how it can take so long,” the other adds.  

Ryzhik was one of the hundreds of stray dogs that found their home in the Moscow metro.

Prosecutors say that on a day in March last year, Boris Surov started publicly hitting Ryzhik inside the station.  He then dragged him to this underpass, and continued to beat him with the handle of a knife, blinding him in one eye.

The dog was rescued by a passer by, but died two weeks later.

The defence does not deny that Surov hit Ryzhik. However, they say he did not cause his death.

The trial has also been delayed because, first Surov, and then an expert for the defence claimed to be too ill to attend the trial.

Regardless of whether the defendant is guilty, there is little doubt that not enough is done to curb the abuse of animals in Russia. Only about 80 people a year are charged with animal cruelty across the country, about the same as in nearby Latvia, which has a population 75 times smaller than Russia's.

Some of the problems may lie in public attitudes.

“Even though Russian people are very emotional, most of them don’t think about cruelty to animals as being a crime. The attitude in Russia towards animals in general is that they are treated as objects of entertainment or food,” says Elena Mauyeva, animal rights expert.  

Animal welfare is also given low priority by the police forces.

“In Russia we don’t have a law that protects animals. The only document that we have is a small article of the Criminal Code of Russia, and police even don’t know about its existence. If they do know, they ignore it. They say they have too many investigations concerning humans,” Elena states.   

The fact that Ryzhik's case went to court at all can be considered a triumph for the animal rights campaigners, even if the trial doesn't find out who or what killed the dog.