In Russia owners of dangerous dogs
will be subjected to sanity tests
President’s Putin is struck from the mental health list

By Svetlana Osadchuk
Staff Writer

The Moscow Times
A division of The New York Times

MOSCOW — Russian Federation Council Senator Rustem Shiyanov recently introduced a bill requiring owners of dangerous dogs to get sanity tests.

While black Labradors like president Putin’s dog, Connie, have been stricken from the list of risky breeds — meaning the president is no longer scheduled for a visit to the shrink — the bill is now working its way through the State Duma (parliament).

If it passes in its current iteration, owners of the 15 breeds deemed dangerous by the powers that be, including pit bulls and Staffordshire terriers, will have to prove they aren't nuts.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had little to say about the measure except that "Connie is the kindest creature in the world."

Shiyanov portrayed the bill as an attempt to crack down on dangerous dogs, which have become a bigger problem in the post-Soviet era than was the case during communist times.

The Ulyanovsky senator said owning a dog should be akin to owning a firearm.

His bill would prevent people who abuse drugs or alcohol from owning dangerous breeds, bar these dogs from many public places and make sure that they were always kept on a leash and muzzled. Owners would also have to receive permission to keep these dogs in their apartments and receive special training.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist State Duma deputy, shares Shiyanov's concerns about the thousands of people injured or killed each year by dogs.

"I do not understand this passion of our people for bloodthirsty dogs," said Zhirinovsky, whose son owns a Rottweiler, one of the dogs deemed dangerous by Shiyanov's bill. "Why don't they keep poodles? So many children and women are scared to death."

The proposal follows a series of grisly dog attacks.

In April, Dasha Kuropatkina, 8, was killed by a Japanese Tosa dog in the Moscow region village of Nekrasovka. Four months later, a baby girl was mauled to death by a Staffordshire terrier in the Moscow region town of Zheleznodorozhny.

And in the Krasnoyarsk region, the parents of Sasha Perepechko, now 6, are trying to raise $26,000 for an operation to repair the damage done to their daughter's face by a neighbor's pit bull.

Moscow, for its part, has seen a steady rise in dog attacks. There were more than 30,000 attacks in the city in 2005, up from 26,800 cases in 2003, Izvestia reported last year. Rottweilers, pit bulls and Staffordshire terriers were the most common culprits.

Other countries have faced similar canine problems. Britain passed the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991, making it illegal to own certain breeds without a court order. Germany took action in 2001 after a fatal attack on a 6-year-old boy, said Irina Novozhilova, head of the animal rights group Vita, in Moscow.

Shiyanov is the not first to try to change things. Six years ago, lawmakers voted on a similar bill, but the president declined to give it his signature.

A Soviet-era dictate on dogs and cats, which requires that dog owners keep dogs on a leash outside and that dangerous dogs wear a muzzle, is not enforced, said Yevgeny Tsygelnitsky, a spokesman for the Russian Canine Federation.

The foundation is skeptical about the bill, saying it does not address the root problem. "If you ban one breed, they will get a different breed," said Tsygelnitsky. "Unfortunately, people don't understand that they have responsibilities."

He added that many people buy aggressive dogs because they don't trust law enforcement to keep them safe and feel the need for a "four-legged weapon."

It was only after the 1991 Soviet breakup — and the rise in burglaries and other crimes — that so many Russians began taking a liking to ferocious canines, Novozhilova said. Today, she said, the fashion is waning.

Yelena Mikhailova, the owner of a 5-year-old Staffordshire terrier, Dunya, said she was not against making dog owners get a license. "If it can help cut down the number of crazy owners, why not?"

Today it is much easier for people to get their hands on all kinds of dogs. In Soviet times, buying certain breeds required membership in special dog clubs.

Putin may be off the hook, but other politicians are not. European Union envoy Sergei Yastrzhembsky owns a Rottweiler. Anatoly Chubais, head of Unified Energy Systems, has a Central Asian Alsatian, also a "dangerous dog."

Natalia Perepechko, the mother of Sasha Perepechko, the Krasnoyarsk girl attacked by a pit bull, said all the dogs on Shiyanov's list should be banned.

"Now my girl goes to a special kindergarten because her face is ugly," Perepechko said. "She goes to a special kindergarten with handicapped children. She doesn't realize that she's ugly yet."