updated 02/28/2014 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 02/28/2014 AT 3:45 PM ET
The Winter Olympics may be over and the crowds have packed up and left Sochi, but the stray dogs that captured the world’s attention are still there. And so is Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire who developed much of the area and is now determined to do what he can to shelter and find homes for the area’s estimated 4,000 dogs.
“It is a problem, a big problem,” says Deripaska in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, while flipping through countless photos of strays on his cellphone. “Here, look,” he tells his visitor a moment later, pointing to a picture of ten puppies in a cardboard box. “Somebody dropped these off at our shelter a few days ago.”
Every city on the planet grapples with the question of what to do with strays. But when spectators – and the world’s media – descended upon Sochi in early February and discovered scores of friendly dogs roaming the Olympic Village, the issue made headlines around the globe. The problem was further exacerbated when local officials hired an “exterminator,” who described the animals as “biological scum.”
Watching all this unfold was Deripaska, an unabashed 46-year-old dog lover (he’s got nine) and one of Russia’s richest men. Two years ago, he first noticed “puppies everywhere” while traveling around the many construction camps that sprang up to house his 50,000 workers who spent the past seven years building much of Sochi’s Olympic grounds.