On the morning of Saturday, August 6, the 2016 Olympic Summer Games will begin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As the whole world watches, Rio will extend its hospitality to more than just the athletes and spectators. After the brutal extermination of stray dogs in Sochi, Russia prior to the 2014 Winter Games, millions will be watching to see how Brazilian officials tend to their own strays during the events.
Projecting a humane image is imperative for Rio’s reputation as a tourist destination. Brazil suffered negative press regarding their treatment of strays when they hosted the 2014 World Cup. Rumors circulated that the government ordered dogs to be “removed” from the streets and beaches of Recife where the tournament was held. With little available space in Brazilian shelters, concerned citizens and animal welfare organizations suspected that the animals were secretly destroyed.
The city took action to repair its reputation by rescuing more than 900 stray animals from the streets in 2015. In preparation for the Summer Games, Rio authorities and the 2016 Organizing Committee have launched a massive adoption project centered around the Olympic venues. Project #AbraceUmAmigo or ‘Hug A Friend’ hopes to place the city’s stray animals into new, loving homes.
The project will continue into October with available dogs, cats, ponies and horses being showcased on the Rio 2016 Facebook page. Animals located in or around Rio’s Olympic venues will be taken to a special shelter by the municipal government’s animal protection department. There they will be examined by a veterinarian, bathed, vaccinated, and neutered as they await adoption. Two dogs, Atena and Zeca, have already been placed with new families!
The animal welfare organization, World Animal Protection has generously pledged its assistance to the Rio rescue efforts. The non-profit group stepped in to train Olympic operations teams on the proper ways to safely and humanely handle stray dogs and cats. WAP also helped educate local community members on responsible pet ownership. They are even reported to have opened a new feline shelter to take some of the stress off of the city’s existing rescue facilities.
Sociedade União Internacional Protetora dos Animais (SUIPA) is currently Rio’s largest shelter. Its facilities are home to more than 5,000 dogs, cats, horses and other animals. Sadly, the Brazilian recession has left SUIPA with a debt of more than $4 million. They are facing foreclosure and the frightening possibility of relocating thousands of homeless pets.
Rio’s rescue efforts will bring these tragic circumstances into living rooms across the world, hopefully generating more support and funds for Brazilian animals in need.
Although dogs in Recife and Sochi suffered tragic fates, the Abrace Um Amigo Project and the support of World Animal Protection shows that they did not die in vain. Their deaths focused the world’s attention on the responsibility of Olympic and World Cup host cities to care for their animals as well as their visitors. Because of their sacrifice, Rio’s stray pets now have a chance to be saved.
Be sure to check out the Abrace Um Amigo Project’s adoptable cuties and follow all the excitement of the 2016 Summer Olympics on Facebook!
Featured Image via Gabriel Nascimento/Rio 2016
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