By Nick Butler at the Main Press Centre in Sochi

Dog shelters are being set up to protect stray dogs in Sochi after reports that they have been poisoned ©Getty ImagesFebruary 6 - A charity financed by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has reportedly been set up to save stray dogs here following claims many have been poisoned by Sochi 2014 organisers. 

Sightings of the animals wandering around Olympic venues and the streets of the city have been frequent in recent days and - although most seem relatively friendly and harmless - it is feared they will disrupt the flow of the Games as crowds continue to pour into the city,

It is also something of an embarrassment for the Organising Committee considering they had promised the problem would have been dealt with well before the Games began.

Instead, there have been reports throughout the week that pest control company Basya Services has been employed to exterminate the dogs - with various photos of supposedly dying animals being posted on the internet.

A stray dog even wandered into the rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony earlier this week ©Getty ImagesA stray dog even reportedly wandered into the rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony earlier this week ©Getty Images

Unsurprisingly this has provoked the ire of animal rights groups - with a letter to Russian President, and well known dog lover, Vladimir Putin one attempt to force a change.

But it is now understood that Oleg Deripaska, an aluminium oligarch who has also been heavily involved in Olympic construction projects, donated 523,000 RR ($15,000 £9,200/€11,000) to charity PovoDog to provide shelters for the animals.

Although the problem of stray dogs may be relatively minor compared with others which have clouded the build-up to tomorrow's Opening Ceremony, it still gives the wrong image of a country seeking to be seen as modern and progressive. 

Speaking earlier this week, Sochi 2014 spokesman Aleksandra Kosterina admitted pest controllers were dealing with stray dogs seen by visitors roaming around the city and the Olympic Park.

"There is a special service which catches the stray dogs and this is the responsibility of the city administration", she said before adding that, as far as she knows, "they have a special shelter and they catch them and do medical examinations as to whether they are ill or not".

But, despite insisting that it "would be absolutely wrong to say that any healthy dog will be destroyed", International Olympic Committee (IOC) communications director Mark Adams admitted some form of extermination had been employed.  

"If they are sick or dying then, as with the vast majority of countries in the world, they will eventually be put down," he said. 

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

elated stories
January 2013: IOC President Bach predicts "great Games" as arrives in Sochi