Russia, Where the Stray Dogs Ride the Subway

01.25.10 Cajun Boy


Wow. The Financial Times has a ridiculously interesting article in today’s edition about the stray dog epidemic in Russia. Did you know that an estimated 35,000 strays roam the streets of Moscow? Yeah, neither did I! But wait, that’s not the interesting part. These strays are actually pretty damn smart and revered by locals. Hell, they even wander around in the city’s subway system.

Now, I’ve never been to Russia and was completely unaware of this phenom, so pardon me if this is old news, but c’mon, this is just sort of crazy, no?

I moved to Moscow with my family last year and was startled to see so many stray dogs. Watching them over time, I realised that, despite some variation in colour – some were black, others yellowish white or russet – they all shared a certain look. They were medium-sized with thick fur, wedge-shaped heads and almond eyes. Their tails were long and their ears erect.

They also acted differently. Every so often, you would see one waiting on a metro platform. When the train pulled up, the dog would step in, scramble up to lie on a seat or sit on the floor if the carriage was crowded, and then exit a few stops later. There is even a website dedicated to the metro stray (www.metrodog.ru) on which passengers post photos and video clips taken with their mobile phones, documenting the ­savviest of the pack using the public transport system like any other Muscovite.

What’s really interesting in this is how savvy and, ugh, street-smart these dogs are, and have to be, in order to survive. They actually sound no different from homeless humans.

“These are the beggars and they are excellent psychologists.” He gives as an example a dog that appears to be dozing as throngs of people walk past, but who rears his head when an easy target comes into view: “The dog will come to a little old lady, start smiling and wagging his tail, and sure enough, he’ll get food.” These dogs not only smell who is carrying something tasty, but sense who will stop and feed them.

The beggars live in relatively small packs and are subordinate to leaders. If a dog is intelligent but occupies a low rank and does not get enough to eat, he will separate from the pack frequently to look for food. If he sees other dogs begging, he will watch and learn.

The whole piece is nothing short of fascinating. Go read it.