Off the slopes, there's this brewing controversy: What to do about stray dogs. They've been roaming around Olympic venues and they're being rounded up, both by a pest control company that may euthanize them and by animal lovers trying to rescue them.

NPR's Tamara Keith has been tracking the hounds in Sochi.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's after dark in Sochi and a pack of stray dogs is hogging the sidewalk like they own the place.


KEITH: There's a dachshund mix, several random mutts, and one that looks like it may be part chow. They're cute and look like pets, seemingly well-fed with decent pedigree. That is until a fight breaks out.


KEITH: It's loud but more dog park than street fight. And they quickly get back to prancing around and eating abandoned leftovers. Such is the life of a Sochi stray, dogs who have become cuddly symbols of an Olympics that is just a little bit rough around the edges. But the fate of these dogs is raising the ire of animal rights groups and dog lovers worldwide.

A local pest control company has a contract to scoop up and kill Sochi's strays, in part to avoid any embarrassing appearances by dogs during competition. The International Olympic Committee is trying to paint a less gruesome image of the dogs' fate. Mark Adams is a spokesman.

MARK ADAMS: It is absolutely wrong to say that any healthy dog will be destroyed.

KEITH: Stray dogs were also an issue around the Athens and Beijing Olympics. Many seem to consider the Sochi strays a positive force. Members of the Canadian women's short track speed skating team spotted a yellow Labrador outside their practice facility and named it Honey. Local animal rights activists say they've been trying for years to convince officials to launch a mass sterilization campaign, a more humane way to control population.

Nadezhda Maiboroda is with a group called Goodwill Cause, operating a makeshift shelter on a muddy patch on the outskirts of Sochi.


NADEZHDA MAIBORODA: It's really ridiculous to try and solve this problem only poisoning them, and not making shelters, not making this program. So it's just investing money in nothing.

KEITH: She doesn't think the pest control company will succeed at ridding the Sochi Olympics of dogs, but she and other volunteers are taking in as many strays as they can. Yekaterina Gontareva is a member of the Center to Protect Animals and is also housing rescued animals at the shelter.

YEKATERINA GONTAREVA: (Foreign language spoken)

KEITH: She leads us up a small hill to a fenced in area with several dog houses, and a speckled black and brown German shepherd mix named Simba.


GONTAREVA: (Through translator) I love Simba and all of them. They are my children.

KEITH: She points to another one, a small red female dog with pointy ears who she says was almost killed by a dog catcher.

GONTAREVA: (Through translator) The poison did hit. But you see a dog catcher shoots from a pipe with a syringe. Apparently it came off but still she got some of it. He thought she was dead. He took her thinking she was dead and threw her into the car. And when he opened the door she jumped out.

KEITH: Many others weren't so lucky. The 80 or so dogs - some puppies, some pure breeds, many mutts at the shelter - are now up for adoption. The volunteers say they hope some of the visitors here for the Olympics will consider taking one home.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Sochi.

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