A stray dog sits near Olympic volunteers in Sochi on Thursday.

Dog lovers and rescue groups are doing everything they can to come to the rescue of thousands of stray dogs being culled and killed in Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Olympic Games in Russia.

Oleg V. Deripaska, a powerful Russian billionaire who is a major investor in the Sochi Games, is among those pushing for a more humane approach to the stray problem: He’s financing a dog shelter and rescue effort.

Deripaska donated $15,000 to start a shelter called PovoDog and has promised to give $50,000 annually to fund its operational costs, reports The New York Times.  

Volunteers from the group are combing the city streets with a golf cart, picking up strays and delivering them to the shelter. They’re hoping some of the athletes and fans visiting Sochi might consider adopting some of the dogs.

Residents Step Up to Help

Distraught Sochi residents are stepping in to help the homeless animals too.

“I felt like I had to do something,’’ Vlada Provotorova, a local dentist and dog lover, told The Boston Globe. She and a group of about 30 volunteers have saved close to 100 dogs. They’ve been collecting the dogs and placing them in makeshift shelters until they can find suitable homes for them.

Another local resident, Tatiana Zarutsjaya, told CBS News that she’s brought 17 stray puppies home with her. "In order to keep those street dogs alive, I'd rather take them into my home than let them be killed," she said.

But animal activists have only been able to save a fraction of the dogs being culled by pest control companies hired by local authorities.

Provotorova estimates that 5,000 to 7,000 dogs have been killed in the current cull. While officials wouldn’t confirm or deny the numbers to the paper, it’s in line with what other witnesses have told the media.

Causing Controversy

Authorities for the Games, which open Friday, have said the dogs’ presence would be an embarrassment. But the international outrage over their treatment has now cast a pall over the official start of the event.

Animal rights activists say the dogs — who have reportedly wandered into hotels, athletes’ residences and even into the sports arenas — were abandoned by residents whose property was demolished to make way for Olympic venues, reports The Times.

Sochi residents have reported seeing strays shot with poison darts, and then taken away in trucks. The Globe attained a copy of a contract with pest control company Basya Service, which was hired to take care of the “catching and disposal” of city dogs.

Aleksei Sorokin, director of Basya, has defended the move to catch and kill the dogs, saying they’re dangerous. He told the Associated Press that the dogs are “biting children” and that one walked into a rehearsal for the opening ceremony.

“God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony,” Sorokin told the AP. “This will be a disgrace for the whole country.”

But the reaction to the culling seems far more intense than the presence of a stray at one of the events.

“Killing street dogs, whether through poisoning, shooting or other means, is not only inhumane, but ineffective,” said Andrew Rowan, chief executive officer of Humane Society International. The group supports mass sterilization and community education. “While Russia has the world’s attention with the Olympics around the corner, the current dog-killing program will only rouse an international outcry and taint the image of the country.”