Erin Van Voorhies
Street dog in New Delhi, India
Tom McMillen had a pretty bad experience with the former Soviet Union and some Olympic referees some decades ago. He was on the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1972 that was essentially robbed of a gold medal because of a series of outrageous calls at the end of a close game. The refs rigged the game in order to keep giving the Soviet men’s team unwarranted opportunities to score and to defeat a superior U.S. squad, which lost the gold. It was a low-point in Olympic competition, which is supposed to be fair and honest.
Today, he’s upset with the Russians for a matter that involves more than sport and more than winning and losing. It’s about life and death for the street dogs of Sochi.
McMillen, a basketball legend who was the first player chosen in the NBA draft coming out of the University of Maryland, went on to a high-profile NBA career in the wake of his Olympic experience. A Rhodes Scholar, he subsequently served three terms in Congress, and is now a successful businessman. And, most importantly for us, he’s a guy with a great heart, with a half dozen dogs at his Maryland home and a leadership role at The HSUS, as a relatively new member of its Board of Directors.
He hates what’s going on with the dogs in Sochi and he sent a letter to the leader of the International Olympic Committee, urging the body to intervene and to stop the killing of dogs in the city streets. He wrote,
"In the last few days I’ve learned to my great horror of the mass killing of street dogs in a misguided attempt to ‘clean up’ Sochi in preparation for the games. I have also heard reports that the government hired a private ‘killing’ company to exterminate what spokespersons called ‘biological trash.’ Mass dog extermination programs as part of Olympic preparations stand in stark contrast to Olympian values. The socially responsible and ethical way forward is to adopt and implement easily available humane methods rather than hunting down and poisoning these animals as all the world watches. Just as Olympic athletes became role models for billions of young people, so do host countries’ preparations serve as examples for future Olympic venues to follow."
Indeed, in the run-up to the Olympic games, there’s been a tremendous amount of discussion of larger social and political issues. That’s the reality for organizers of the Olympics, which can never entirely disassociate sport from the larger swirl of subjects in the world. Animal welfare, too, must be a consideration in these games and in future gatherings. McMillen urged “Sochi authorities to stop this slaughter and to make humane methods of dog control an integral part of future host selection processes.”
With innovative and effective street dog programs conducted throughout the world – like those Humane Society International has implemented that have helped hundreds of thousands of dogs over the past two decades – this is neither an unreasonable nor an impossible task. Russia will not build its image with the world by allowing this mass killing. It can and must do better. This slaughter of dogs threatens to mar the Winter Games in Sochi.