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In a clinic in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, two vets lean over a sleeping puppy and deftly remove its ovaries and uterus.

After a storm sparked by the Euro 2012 co-host's alleged cull of the stray dogs that plague the country's streets, animal rights campaigners have stepped in to try to control the errant canines by sterilising them.

At the helm is Austrian organisation Vier Pfoten (Four Paws), which is launching a programme notably in the four cities hosting matches in Euro 2012: Kiev, plus Lviv in the west and Donetsk and Kharkiv in the east.

Mindful of the expected influx of hundreds of thousands of fans, plus a global television audience of millions, ex-Soviet Ukraine has been working to spruce up its cities and burnish its image.

Tackling the growing numbers of strays that roam their streets has been part of those moves, also driven by serious concerns about feral dog attacks -- which reportedly hit 2,800 in Kiev alone in 2010.

Last year, according to critics, Ukrainian authorities decided to take radical steps to wipe out as many of the animals as possible before the tournament, which kicks off on June 8 in co-host Poland and ends in Kiev on July 1.

Animal rights campaigners around the world condemned what they said was the extermination of thousands of dogs, claiming some were poisoned or burned alive.

In the face of the protests, the authorities ordered a halt to the killings at the end of 2011.

Vier Pfoten decided to come up with an alternative and in February signed a deal with Ukraine.

"The idea here is to use the atmosphere, the world's focus and the European championship to develop something very, very long term," said Four Paws representative Nicolas Entrup. 

"Once the final is played, the football atmosphere will be gone, but we will stay in Ukraine and work with Ukrainians to help animals," he added.

Working out of mobile clinics, some 520 people are being mustered for the programme, including 60 vets from Ukraine and beyond.

"Our ambition is here to provide a positive solution, a positive programme where people work together with animal welfare, activists as well as veterinary experts," said Entrup.

"It's a positive programme to stop the killing of stray dogs, to decline their population, so the relation between people and animals can flourish and be positive," he underlined.

The programme was launched in Kiev several weeks ago and is ongoing in a dusty city district where old houses stand alongside Soviet-era towerblocks.

Guided by local residents, a handful of Vier Pfoten experts, including a vet and a dog catcher, come across a pack of six dogs.

Vet Cornel Stoenescu, from Romania, fires a tranquiliser dart and hits a black dog in the haunch.

The animal begins to limp and then lies down, before the team cages it and drive to a veterinary school.

An elderly woman asks what's going on.

"We're going to sterilise it, vaccinate it and bring it back here," explains a young volunteer named Daria.



"That's good, because there are people who poison them," the woman says. "That's happen several times here. It's horrible, they suffer so much."

Natasha, a 13-year-old who knows and loves all the district's strays, waylays the team, concerned about a pregnant bitch.

Unswayed by Daria's explanation that sterilisation doesn't hamper an ongoing pregnancy, the teenager responds: "But it's cruel!"

Most locals are happy about the programme, saying they worry about dog attacks.

"I worry for the kids. Everyone is afraid," said young mother Olga Gapich, watching the operation with her three-year-old daughter, adding that she opposes culls.

But some are unsure about simple sterilisation.

"Sterilisation is all well and good, but dogs don't use their genitals to bite you," said Katya Gorchinska, a journalist who was bitten in Kiev city centre.

AFO, photo- cariaso