SOCHI, Russia - Thousands of stray dogs have been living amid the mud and rubble of Olympic construction sites, roaming the streets and snowy mountainsides, and begging for scraps of food.
But as the games drew near, authorities have turned to a company to catch and kill the animals so they don't bother Sochi's new visitors — or even wander into an Olympic event.
Alexei Sorokin, director general of pest control firm Basya Services, told The Associated Press that his company had a contract to exterminate the animals throughout the Olympics, which open Friday.
Sorokin described his company as being involved in the "catching and disposing" of dogs, although he refused to specify how the dogs would be killed or say where they would take the carcasses.
The dogs have been causing numerous problems, Sorokin said Monday, including "biting children."
He said he was stunned last week when he attended a rehearsal for the opening ceremony and saw a stray dog walking in on the performers.
"A dog ran into the Fisht Stadium, we took it away," he said. "God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony. This will be a disgrace for the whole country."
The strays tend to gather near construction sites where they have gotten food and shelter from workers. Dogs have even been able to get inside the Olympic Park and accredited hotel complexes and villages, in the coastal cluster of arenas and venues up in the mountains.
A pack of at least a half-dozen healthy-looking dogs roamed around a loading zone of a gondola, 400 metres (1,200 feet) above the Gorki Plaza in the mountain venues for the Olympics as construction work continued late Sunday.
Olympic volunteers patted and cooed over strays that trotted into the park Monday. Another dog dropped to the ground, sunbathing under the Olympic Rings near a public site where medals will be presented to athletes during the games.
Animal activist Dina Filippova is among the opponents of the latest dog-culling plan, saying city authorities are using the Olympics as an excuse to cover an ongoing practice.
"We should understand that it is done not only before the Olympics but constantly," she told the AP in an interview in downtown Sochi, where she was trying to find homes for seven puppies she recently rescued near the Olympic Park. "Two killers from that company work for the city to kill 300 dogs a month."
"It is not humane," she added. "There is a humane way of solving the problem of stray dogs which is used in Europe and the United States and even in some countries of the former Soviet Union — that is a mass sterilization which eventually leads to no stray dogs on the streets."
Sorokin's company operates in the Krasnodar region, which includes Sochi and the neighbouring area. He refused to say how many dogs they kill a year, calling it a "commercial secret."
Sergei Krivonosov, a lawmaker from the Krasnodar region, last year supported the dog culling.
Krivonosov said taking the dogs off the street was Russia's "responsibility to the international community and that their elimination is the quickest way to solve this problem."
He conceded, however, that this is "not the most humane way" of dealing with the problem and that authorities should encourage dog shelters.
Sochi city hall last year announced a contract "to catch and dispose" of strays in Sochi — a move that animal activists vehemently protested. Authorities pledged to give up the practice and build animal shelters for strays instead.
Activists say there is no evidence that a shelter has been built. But city hall said in a statement on its website that it had opened a dog shelter Monday for 100 dogs.
Shooting stray dogs has been common practice in many Russian regions despite activists' efforts to push for more humane ways to deal with the issue.
Nadine Kincaid, an Olympic volunteer from Portland, Oregon, was surprised by how many dogs are roaming around Sochi.
"There's a lot of dogs everywhere. Right behind where we're staying, there's a whole legion of dogs," she said. "I come from a town where there's leash laws and everyone has to pick up after their dogs, so that's unusual to me to see that."
Kincaid said she would be upset if the dogs were being poisoned.
"As an animal lover, for me that's sad. But if they're like stray cats, they can keep breeding and cause more problems. So I can see, maybe, why," she added. "It's sad, but what do you do if you can't control them?"
Associated Press writer Leonid Chizhov contributed to this report.
Also on HuffPost:
This image, shot by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows the iconic supernova remnant first observed by Chinese astronomers 960 years ago.
Sun's "Canyon Of Fire"
A 200,000-mile magnetic filament of solar material erupts on the sun. This event, which took place in September, ripped through the sun's atmosphere and left behind what looks like a "canyon of fire."
"Witch Head" Nebula
This nebula's name comes from its resemblance to a wicked witch screaming into space. Taken by NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, this photo captures the billowy clouds of the nebula, where baby stars are being made.
Star "Nursery" In Orion
This 10-minute exposure reveals nebula M-78, a set of more than 40 young, still-forming stars in the constellation of Orion.
The Hubble Space Telescope took this breathtaking shot of the iconic Horsehead Nebula.
Cloud Formations Over Indonesia
This view of Earth from space shows mushrooming clouds over the Indonesian island of Flores, as seen by NASA's Aqua Satellite.
Gas And Dust Clouds
This image, generated by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows dust and gas clouds surrounding the supermassive star Eta Carinae.
This is NGC 6946, a medium-sized spiral galaxy located 22 million light years from Earth. It got its nickname, "The Fireworks Galaxy," because eight supernovas have been observed exploding inside it.
Asteroids Dashing Past A Dying Star
NASA's WISE spacecraft took this striking shot of asteroids zooming past a dying star. As the heated gas and dust get sloughed away from the star, it creates the beautiful blue appearance.
A Generation Of Stars
The Spitzer Space Telescope captured this image of the star-forming region W5. There are generations of stars in this photo -- the oldest stars appear as blue dots, while the youngest stars outline the cavities where the old ones reside. The white areas are where young stars are forming.
Saturn's Moon Titan
The Cassini spacecraft captured this image of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, on July 14.
Comet ISON Heading Toward The Sun
On November 27, Comet ISON was imaged by the European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. In this coronagraph, the sun is blocked so you can see structures around it. The comet is at lower right. The billowy white streams coming from the sun are giant clouds of solar material.
Artificial Light Across The U.S.
This natural-light mosaic image was captured by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite on Oct. 1.
Spiral Galaxy 4921
The Hubble Space Telescope took this photo of Galaxy 4921, an anemic spiral galaxy about 320 million light years from Earth. It's been dubbed "anemic" because it has a low rate of star formation and low surface brightness. In this image, its bright nucleus can be seen in the center. Blue clusters of recently formed stars gather around it.
Nanosatellites Being Released From The Space Station
These nanosatellites, or cubesats, were deployed by the International Space Station's Small Satellite Orbital Deployer on November 19.
This image of the planet Mercury was taken on October 2.
The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of a star exploding in the spiral galaxy NGC 6984. The new supernova, SN 2013ek, is the bright star-like object just slightly above and to the right of the galaxy's center.
View Of Earth From Space
The photo shows the Upsala Glacier on the Argentine side of the North Patagonian Icefield as seen by an astronaut aboard the ISS.
Saturn's North Pole
This image, taken by the Cassini spacecraft over 10 hours on December 10, shows a vast hexagonal weather pattern capping Saturn's north pole.
The Ghost Of Jupiter Nebula
This image, taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope, shows the disembodied remnants of a dying star. The infrared view shows the cooler outer halo of the dying star in red.
Cygnus Spacecraft Being Released
On October 22, ISS astronauts released Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus spacecraft. It headed back to Earth on October 23 after delivering to the ISS 1,300 pounds of cargo -- including food, clothing and student experiments.
NASA's Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft captured this dazzling false-color image.
Large Magellanic Cloud
This sparkly satellite galaxy is about 163,000 light years from our own.
Northern Lights From Space
Mike Hopkins, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, took this picture.
Vesta, The Asteroid
NASA's Dawn spacecraft provided views of the massive asteroid Vesta. The mountain on the asteroid's south pole is more than twice the height of Mount Everest.
This image was captured by the Juno spacecraft on October 9. The craft used Earth's gravity to get a boost to reach its destination: Jupiter.
Spacecraft Approaching The ISS
This photo shows a Soyuz spacecraft as it approached the International Space Station on September 25.