The cats are meant to go to the Ural Mountains
Russian animal lovers are bristling at a move by the authorities to evict pet cats from cells in Moscow remand prisons for reasons of hygiene.
A delegation from the Charitable Society for the Protection of Homeless Animals recently visited jails following an appeal by staff at one, Izvestia newspaper reports.
Sleek felines with names like Amnistia (Amnesty) were still scampering about Presnya remand prison when the team arrived. But the prison director said seven had already been removed and dispatched to a destination unknown.
Izvestia duly went and interviewed the man behind the anti-pet campaign and found that, while Major General Viktor Zlodeyev was not quite the tyrant initial reports painted him to be, there was evidence to suggest double standards.
There I saw an unsanitary sight: a woman inmate eating lunch with one cat lying on the table beside her and another five wandering about the cell
Major General Viktor Zlodeyev
"Do you think we are beasts?" the head of Moscow's Penal Department exclaimed indignantly when challenged about his order.
The good general - whose name translates literally into English as Victor Villain - explained that he had arranged for the cats to be sent by prison transport to Yekaterinburg - 1,419 kilometres (886 miles) to the east in the Urals.
But, he hastened to add, the order did not apply to the working cats guarding prison stores and canteens against rats and mice.
No, the order was only aimed at putting at end to scenarios such as the one Major General Zlodeyev witnessed himself on an inspection of Remand Prison Number Six for women:
"There I saw an unsanitary sight: a woman inmate eating lunch with one cat lying on the table beside her and another five wandering about the cell.
"Cats, you know, spread disease."
One of the seven cats removed from Presnya was apparently later found dead close to the prison fence, prison director Yevgeni Dmitriyev told Izvestia.
"What happened to those animals, I do not know," he said, adding that it had been a "hard" order to carry out.
Life in Russian jails is hard enough already, some might say
The paper's correspondent counted at least three cats in the prison's offices including Amnistia, who had just given birth to a litter of kittens in a cardboard box which had once contained tins of Moscow's famous Ostankinskaya condensed milk.
There were other cats, too, running in and out of the "forbidden zone".
One member of staff, Rimma Aristarkhova, remembered an anti-cat campaign from years before which had ended in a rodent invasion and the loss of much of the winter potato supply.
Little account appears to have been taken, either, of the value of pets in cells for reducing stress among the inmates.
Major General Zlodeyev says he is only following orders from the Justice Ministry, which forbids animals in cells.
"I like animals very much," he told Izvestia.
Indeed, he added, at home he lets the family dog sleep on his daughter's bed.
"Of course it's not ideal from the point of view of hygiene but my daughter likes it so much I do not object."