Friday, January 29, 2010

The Stray Dogs of Moscow, Russia

Waiting for the 8:10 To Tverskaya Maxim Marmur, Photo courtesy: The Financial Times

There are approximately 35,000 stray dogs in Moscow, Russia averaging one stray per every 300 Muscovites; or, to put it another way – approximately 84 dogs per square mile.

These stray dogs can be seen everywhere in Moscow – lying in apartment courtyards, roaming the streets, riding the Metro.

Andrei Poyarkov, 56, is a biologist working at the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in south-west Moscow. Poyarkov specializes in wolves and has dedicated himself to studying the stray dogs of Moscow. His work began about 30 years ago; and, he has discovered some very interesting things.

He maintains that their appearance and behaviour has changed even over the relatively short time he’s been studying them. The stray dogs of Moscow have been around for as long as the city of Moscow Poyarkov claims; and, Vladimir Gilyarovsky, the writer and journalist, reports on them in the last half of the 19th century. Since that time to the present day, the dogs have evolved or de-evolved into a group of animals that all look similar to one another and appear to be somewhere between dogs and wolves. They are all medium-sized with thick fur, wedge-shaped heads, almond eyes, long tails and erect ears.

An interesting observation is that nearly all of the city’s strays are born into the packs. A household pet that is dumped onto the street to fend for itself will almost certainly die. Poyarkov estimates that few than 3% of these pets are accepted by the groups.

Poyarkov has found four specific designations within the stray dog packs. He identifies guard dogs, scavenger, wild dogs and beggars.

The guard dogs attach themselves to personnel, such as guards at secured worksites; and, act as their unofficial assistants. The dogs look upon the personnel as their masters and will perform jobs for them such as accompanying them on their rounds. In exchange, they are rewarded with food and, with any luck, a warm bed for the night.

The scavengers specialize in roaming the streets and eating garbage where ever they may find it. Most Muscovites realize the role these dogs play in keeping the rodent population down by eating the edible scraps on the streets and in the garbages.

The wild dogs most resemble their distant relatives the wolf. These are the ones that hunt mice, rats, and cats when the sun goes down. Again Muscovites realize the role these dogs play in keeping the rodent populations under control.

The beggar dogs; however, are the ones with the most specialized behaviours. Not only have they learned to recognize people who are carrying food; but, they can determine which ones are most likely to share that food with them. A very specialized group of beggars have even learned to ride the subway allowing them to expand their begging territories. (It is important to mention that the residents view these dogs fondly; and, there is even a website dedicated to the subway dogs: This is the group that appreciates intelligence the most. It is only through cunning and an understanding of people that they manage to remain alive.

It will be interesting to see what other revelations come to light as Vladimir Gilyarovsky continues his studies.

Via popular science and Financial Times

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