Thursday, August 11, 2011

THE STRAY DOGS OF MOSCOW

In Moscow there are tons of stray dogs, and they are all very smart, which is how they stay alive.  Some of these dogs are so smart that they have even learned how to ride the subway!  All together, there are probably about 35,000 stray dogs in Moscow, which is 84 dogs per square mile.  Five hundred of these live in subway stations, and maybe 20 of them ride on the trains.

The dogs that get on the subways beg for food or else take a nap until their stop comes, and then they get off.  You might wonder how they know which stop is the right one, and here are some ways that they might be able to do this:
1.  They can tell by how long they are on the train that it is time to get off.
2.  They recognize the name of the station when the recorded voice announces it.
3.  They know how the station smells.
4.  They use several of these methods together.

The subway dogs like to use the cars at the ends of the trains because those are the cars that are less crowded.  Also another thing that stray dogs have learned is to cross busy streets when there is a green light.  The people who have studied these dogs think they know when to cross because of the little walking-man light, and not because of the color of the traffic light.

Some of the dogs have figured out a very clever way to get food from people.  What they do is they wait until somebody buys food from a kiosk on the street, and then they sneak up behind the person and suddenly bark very loudly.  If the person is startled enough, they will drop their food, and the dog will gobble it up.  One type of food the dogs especially like to get this way is shawarma, which is a popular kind of Eastern food eaten in Moscow.

The Moscow dogs all look pretty similar to each other, except for being all different colors.  They are medium-sized, and they have thick fur, wedge-shaped heads, and almond eyes.  A biologist named Andrei Poyarkov, who used to study wolves, is now studying the stray dogs in Moscow.  The number of wolves in all of Russia is between 50,000 and 60,000, and the number of stray dogs in just the city of Moscow is about 35,000.  So this means the dogs live close together and are always meeting up with each other.  But because of this, they are much less aggressive towards each other than wolves are.  The leader of a dog pack is not the strongest and most dominant, like the leader is in a wolf pack.  Instead, it's the smartest dog.  That's because the other dogs know their leader has to be smart so that the pack can survive.

Mr. Poyarkov says that the stray dogs of Moscow are in the process of evolving back from being domesticated toward being wild again, like wolves.  He has divided the dogs into four types, and the way he did this was by looking at how the dogs got their food and how socialized they were with people.

He calls the first group "guard dogs" because they usually hang out with a security guard at someplace like a warehouse, garage, or hospital.  They think of this place as their territory, so they help guard it, and in return they get fed regularly.

Dogs in the second group are okay being around people in general, but are not bonded with any one person.  These dogs can figure out who is likely to give them food, and so they will go up to this person and act all friendly and wag their tails, and sure enough, the person will give them some food.  Mr. Poyarkov calls these dogs the beggars.  They live in small packs with a very clever alpha dog.  Younger dogs and those with low positions in the pack learn to beg by watching other pack members.

The third group of dogs is sort of okay with people being around, but they don't go right up to them.  Mostly they get their food from trash bins and by finding scraps in the street.  Their interaction is with other stray dogs and not really with people.

The truly wild dogs are in the fourth group.  They are scared of people and avoid them.  These dogs get their food by hunting it and killing it, so they eat mice, rats, and maybe a cat sometimes.  They live in wooded park areas or near industrial complexes.  They like to come out at night when there aren't so many scary people on the streets.

Some people think that Moscow should try to get rid of all the stray dogs, but other people like to have them around.  A few months ago there was a plan to round up all the dogs and send them to a place about 150 miles away from the city.  But animal rights people said this would be like sending the dogs to a concentration camp.  They got 2,000 signatures of famous artists and musicians who thought the plan was bad, and now the city has decided not to do it.

There have been other plans that involved shelters and spaying and neutering the dogs, but these programs might not make much difference in the dog population.  Mr. Poyarkov says that the amount of food available will keep the number of dogs about the same.  Also, most pups born don't survive to be adults, and if they do, they are basically taking the place of an adult that has died.  The length of a Moscow dog's life is about 10 years.  You can't adopt these dogs as pets, either, because they were born feral and grew up that way, and most of them can't even stand being kept indoors.



So that's the story of Moscow's stray dogs.  I don't want to go to Moscow, personally, because I don't want to have to beg for my food.  I would rather just have it handed to me in a bowl twice a day!  Also it gets way too cold in Moscow in the winter, and I don't like to wear sweaters or coats.  Plus people in Moscow speak Russian all the time, so I would never know what the heck they were saying to me.

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