Dogs with bright blue fur photographed roaming the streets in Russia could be suffering from skin irritation and internal bleeding as a result of exposure to toxic or harmful chemicals, the world’s largest animal protection agency has told Newsweek.
Humane Society International, which has 12 million members globally, has called on authorities in cities across Russia to implement sterilization and vaccination programs to protect the welfare of stray dogs like these.
Photos of the dogs taken near the Russian city of Dzerzhinsk, 230 miles east of Moscow, emerged online earlier this month, and have since gone viral. The dogs have an ethereal cobalt tinge to their coats, thought to be the result of exposure to copper sulphate at a nearby abandoned chemical plant.
While the unique colour of the dogs’ coats may be eye-catching, Kelly O’Meara, Humane Society International’s Vice President of companion animals, has warned the unusual colouring could point to a “myriad of animal welfare concerns.”
“This situation with street dogs living near an abandoned chemical plant in Dzerzhinsk, Russia, has shown a very obvious welfare issue through the discoloration of their fur,” she said.
“The dye on their fur implies they have had direct contact with or even ingestion of potentially toxic or harmful substances. This could result in painful skin burning or itching or internal bleeding and illness that could lead to death, without veterinary intervention.”
Humane Society International is the international division of The Humane Society of the United States, with offices in Central and South America, Africa and Asia. However, O’Meara says, engagement from Russian authorities, where HSI do not have an official presence, is low.
“To date, authorities in cities across Russia have not implemented effective, humane strategies to address their street dog populations, and can often resort to cruel and ineffective methods of control,” she warned.
“We encourage them to adopt sterilization/vaccination programs to enhance the welfare of these dogs and to avoid the both accidental and intentional hazards and cruelty they often experience.”
The incident in Dzerzhinsk is not the first time strangely coloured animals have been spotted in the city.
Andrey Mislivets, the bankruptcy manager of the chemical plant thought to be responsible for the leak which caused the dogs to turn blue, told Russian state-controlled news agency Sputnik: “Several years ago something similar happened when stray dogs got unnatural ‘dyes.'”
He confirmed suspicions that the dogs in this case had been exposed to industrial chemicals: “Possibly they found the remains of some old chemicals and rolled in it, and possibly it was copper sulphate,” he said, adding: “They must have found something. No one controls them.'”
A Russian government spokesman is reported as saying: “Talks are being held with the chiefs of the enterprise about the possibility of catching the dogs. They must be checked, their health must be assessed, and the reason for their hair dye must be found.”
O’Meara echoed the concern, saying: “We hope in this case the source of the issue is identified and found to be benign, and the dogs’ welfare is not compromised.”
The discolouration of the Dzerzhinsk dogs’ fur is far from the first occurrence of animals with unusual hues. In 2017, pictures circulated online of a pack of bright-blue street dogs taken in Mumbai, India. An investigation revealed the dogs had been exposed to chloride pumped illegally from a local factory into a river in which they swam; the factory was shut down.