Debate Magazine

The Subway Dogs of Moscow

By Eowyn @DrEowyn

This true account will break your heart, but you’ll also marvel at the adaptability and ingenuity of Moscow’s subway dogs.

Moscow, the capital of Russia, has 35,000 stray dogs. The élite of those homeless dogs are about 500 who live in the Moscow subway or Metro, for whom, the Moscow Metro is their home.

Among those subway dogs are an ingenious 50 who have learned to ride the trains, commuting every day from quiet stations in the suburbs of Moscow where they spend the night to downtown where it’s easier to get some food.

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Each morning, like clockwork, they board the subway, off to begin their daily routine amidst the hustle and bustle of the city in search of food scraps.

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Then after a hard day scavenging and begging on the streets, they hop back on the train and return to the suburbs where they spend the night.

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Living in the subway is a survival tactic the Moscow stray dogs adopted. Experts who have studied them say the dogs have figured out how to use the city’s huge and complicated subway system, getting on and off at the stops they need. They recognize the desired station by smell, the train announcer’s voice, and by learning to judge the length of time on the train before their desired station with their innate biological clocks. The dogs even work together to make sure they get off at the right stop.

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Usually they ride in the first or last car because those carriages are the quietest, to avoid being crushed by the crowd of humans.

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In Soviet times, stray dogs were barred from the subway.

Nowadays, Moscow Metro’s passengers are so accustomed to dogs on the subway — sleeping on empty seats and hanging around stations — that they do not pay any attention to the canines.

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When the train arrives at their desired station, the dogs go into the city to find food. They have very good instincts about people, happily greeting kind passengers and avoiding contacts with the intolerant. And they always find somebody who will share food with them.

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With children, the dogs “play cute” by putting their heads on the youngsters’ knees and staring pleadingly into their eyes to win sympathy — and food scraps.

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The subway dogs are opportunistic and intelligent, and when they figured out they were no longer chased away from the subway stations, they began hopping trains for a lift into the city. The Moscow subway system is a maze that can be confusing for people, but the dogs appear to have learned the system.

A dog travels in comfort on a seat, seemingly ownerless, aboard a subway train in Moscow, Wednesday, Nov., 18, 2009.  Stray dogs in Moscow  are often seen using public transportation, and is largely tolerated  by Moscow commuters. (AP Photo/Anna Shevelyova)

A dog travels in comfort on a seat, seemingly ownerless, aboard a subway train in Moscow, Wednesday, Nov., 18, 2009. Stray dogs in Moscow are often seen using public transportation, and is largely tolerated by Moscow commuters. (AP Photo/Anna Shevelyova)

Once in the city, the dogs have their own special ways of getting food. Some position themselves outside butcher shops and wait for dog lovers coming out of the shop to toss them a bone. Others have refined a technique of sneaking up behind people who are eating food and surprising them with a loud bark that (hopefully) startles the person into dropping whatever they’re eating. The dog then grabs the food and runs.

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Packs of stray dogs are led not by the strongest, but by the most intelligent dog in the pack. The dogs understand that living among humans in a large city requires brains and not muscle to survive. Researchers have observed dog packs selecting pack members who are smaller and cuter than others to be sent out to beg for food.

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The dogs also don’t leave their waste products lying around where someone can step in them. Instead, they relieve themselves in out-of- the-way spots away from the main traffic areas.

Bereft of human owners and companions, the subway dogs of Moscow nevertheless have learned how to interact with and move among people them in order to survive.

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Source: An email forwarded by FOTM’s maziel. I’ve edited the text in the email.

~Éowyn


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