Russia's Olympic host city of Sochi ran into controversy Thursday after the city authorities announced a plan to exterminate more than 2,000 stray cats and dogs ahead of the Games next year.
In a tender posted online this month, the Black Sea resort city that is hosting the Winter Olympic Games in February 2014 asked companies to bid for a contract to "dispose" of 2,028 stray cats and dogs by the end of this year.
The city is overrun with packs of stray animals that have sometimes attacked children, a spokesman for the Sochi city authorities told AFP.
The authorities asked for bidders to organise squads that would operate between 5 am and 8 am and offered to pay 1.7 million rubles ($57,000, 43,000 euro) for their services.
Local activists staged a protest at the weekend calling for the animals to be sterilised or put into a shelter.
"When you translate bureaucratic language to human language, the term 'disposal' means 'murder,' wrote the Trud newspaper, slamming the "Olympic slaughterhouse" plan.
One of the organisers of the protest in Sochi, Olga Noskovets, told AFP that the city authorities regularly use poison to control strays, often leading to an even greater public health hazard.
"They put down poison in the street, and cats, dogs and birds die within a couple of hours, right in front of everyone's eyes," she told AFP.
"Then this poison runs off into the sea, while the bodies go into landfills."
The municipal tender has now fallen through as no bids were made, said the city spokesman.
"(The tender) led to a lot of criticism, but we are not cruel, we are trying to solve this problem," he said.
"We have packs of animals in the city, sometimes they attack children. Often these animals are sick, they carry disease."
The city is now planning to build an animal shelter, the first in the city, and a new tender will focus on sterilisation rather than "disposing" of strays, he said. But he added that the shelter may not be ready in time for next year's games, when Sochi expects to host over 300,000 guests and athletes.
The attempt to clear the city of animals ahead of the Olympics is a "familiar story," said animal protection group Humane Society.
"Regions with no meaningful street dog or cat population control strategy often resort to large-scale inhumane extermination programmes prior to high-profile events, such as the Olympic Games," said Mark Jones, executive director of the group in Britain.
"We urge the authorities not to make these animals into innocent victims," he said in comments emailed to AFP.
Over 60 percent of Russians keep pets, according to a 2011 poll, with cats and dogs overwhelmingly popular but rarely neutered by owners.
Sochi is a subtropical city with many privately owned houses, whose owners often allow their pet dogs to run freely in the streets.
Russia is pulling out all the stops to host the 2014 Winter Games in a $50 billion national prestige project to redevelop and showcase Sochi.