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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Energy firm in pet kidnap threat
Russian pet owners were shocked
If you live in Russia's Far East and don't pay your electricity bills on time, you would be well advised to keep a close eye on your pets.

The local electricity company is threatening to take them hostage in order to force consumers to pay up.

Cash-strapped utility companies in the former Soviet Union have tried numerous desperate tactics - from naming-and-shaming non-payers to pulling the plug on entire tower blocks - but most did not work.

Utility managers say Russians simply don't treat their electricity or water bills as a spending priority.

We will take their nearest and dearest - their pets
Nikolai Tkachev, Dalenergo chief
Even the better-off sometimes just can't be bothered to queue up to pay the bill.

This is exactly the category that the local electricity company in Vladivostok, on Russia's Pacific coast, wants to hit hard, Russian TV reports.

Not illegal

"We will take their nearest and dearest - their pets," says Dalenergo chief Nikolai Tkachev, whose company is owed $10m.

Some pets are too large to confiscate easily, let alone house
"And let a dad explain to his daughter why their beloved moggie was taken away."

The company would then hold the pets in detention until their owners stump up.

If they don't, it will sell them to the highest bidder.

Many locals are outraged.

"A dog or a cat are not a thing - they are like children to us," says one Russian woman, patting a donkey. "How can you take away children?"

But according to the authorities, and there is nothing illegal about seizing pets.

"Technically, a dog is a thing, a property," says Dmitry Kuznetsov, a chief bailiff.

"It can be bought, sold or given away. So theoretically the scheme can work."

Plan disowned

Mr Kuznetsov, however, concedes that some pets would fight tooth and claw for their freedom.

"You can of course seize a little dog," he says. "But how do you propose to take away someone's huge wolfhound?"

Dalenergo will not take away Vladivostok residents' four-footed friends
Unified Energy Systems
Then there is the problem of housing - Vladivostok simply doesn't have the facilities to keep the animals until they are returned to their owners.

Another local, who makes a living selling kittens and puppies at a pet market, says few people would want to buy someone else's pet.

"Everyone who wants a cat or a dog has already got one. It's hard enough just to find a new home for a puppy these days, and get more than a token sum of money for it."

Vladivostok pets have been spared for the time being as Dalenergo's parent company, Unified Energy Systems, quickly intervened to disown the pet-snatching plan.

"Dalenergo will not take away Vladivostok residents' four-footed friends," it said in a statement.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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