The Soul Survivors: Stray Dogs Of The Moscow SubwaySerge Bielanko
Most of us know our dogs to be pretty crafty creatures.
They know how to use a certain look to get you to give them a treat or a hug or a plate to lick. And sometimes, we see lightning bolts of amazing intelligence shoot out of them for a moment or two, in between all the eating and the sleeping and the snoring in our laps while we scratch behind their ears and watch another episode of House Hunters International.
They are our friends, our comrades: they’re our trusted shipmates on this voyage called life.
But they are ours.
We take care of them and they survive on our dime, by our hand. And without us, they’d be pretty lost.
My two guys, two labs with big big hearts and brains the size of a mosquito’s butt, they’d probably be okay on their own out in the world for maybe two hours or so. But then, like most dogs raised right alongside people who love them, they’d be back at the damn backdoor before long, their goofy tongues hanging out because they’re really hot and tired and thirsty from walking around the block two or three times.
So, this story of the stray dogs of Moscow, Russia resonates for anyone really, but especially for those of us who share our lives with a dog or two every single day. Because it’s a reminder that behind those big goofy dog-grins, there is something distantly wild and wildly brilliant, way back in.
Street Life 1 of 12Moscow is home to 12 million people and is the fifth largest city on Earth. Yet a lot of people don't know that it is also host to an incredible population of free-roaming homeless dogs. The exact numbers are debatable but most agree that there are somewhere between 40,000 up to a 100,000 independent dogs roaming the streets of the city today.
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Gimme Shelter 2 of 12There have been homeless dogs in Moscow for a long time. But some say things became quite different in the early 1990's when the old Soviet Union began to collapse. That's when capitalists, seeking to revitalize downtown Moscow, began tearing down the old industrial warehouses and factories that had once stood. The city's homeless dog population had been using those abandoned buildings as shelter for a long time. Now, they were forced out into the streets.
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New Riders 3 of 12Dogs are wildly intelligent animals, any dog owner will tell you that. But one look at how fast the homeless dogs of Moscow began to adapt to their new street life existence would blow anyone's mind. Within a few years after the total collapse of the Communist USSR, a select group of several hundred dogs were beginning to live down in the bowels of the city's sprawling metro system.
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We Are Here, Just Like You 4 of 12Now, the story becomes pretty darn astonishing. After a while, some of the dogs that were living down in the metro stations began to adapt to the serious competition for food down there. And so a select few began to wander onto the trains themselves. Nowadays, there are a number of homeless dogs who ride every single day from their home stations to areas of the city where they have a regular food hook-up...or at least a better chance at a dining score.
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You’ve Got a Friend In Me 5 of 12According to some observers, many of Moscow's metro-riding dogs have also exhibited an increasing wit and cunning. Some say that survival has shaped many of the dogs into somewhat ghostly figures, quietly boarding trains and minding their own business, rarely being either overly affectionate or stand-offish. And yet, some seem to know how to play certain types of human riders for food...nuzzling up to them and resting their heads on the person's lap until they get the snack they were after. Then: they are gone.
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In The Land Of The Wise Dogs 6 of 12"In Moscow there are all sorts of stray dogs, but... there are no stupid dogs." That's what Dr. Andrey Poyarkov, a researcher/biologist who has been studying Moscow stray for over three decades, told ABC News in a 2010 interview. Many strays have become adept at crossing the street only when the light changes (although fairly colorblind, they do this by looking at the changing shapes or pictures on the signal). And many of Moscow's subway strays have come to recognize when the conductor's voice names the stop they are seeking.
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The Bark And Grab 7 of 12It is said that some packs of city dogs recognize the advantage of having the smaller cuter dogs do the dirty work/ the begging. And there are widespread reports that many dogs utilize a complicated maneuver called 'The Bark And Grab' which entails one dog approaching someone in the subway, or on the street, carrying food. That dog will then bark loud or employ some other tactic that causes the human to drop the food, which is then seized by a number of other dogs lying in wait.
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Wild And Free 8 of 12Most of the subway dogs and street dogs in Moscow are not abandoned. Which means that they weren't born with and have never lived with humans. That's a pretty astounding fact. Researcher Andrei Poyarkov believes that less than 3% of the ones that were abandoned breed successfully once they are living on their own.
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Worlds Colliding 9 of 12Although the story of these street dogs is fascinating, they are highly debated among Moscow's citizens. Many point out that the animals have been increasingly aggressive towards humans over the last decade, as their numbers grow and each generation becomes more and more independent of domestication. Others though continue to feed, shelter, and generally assist the dogs in any way they can. The street and subway dogs are especially popular amongst the Russian babushkas (old women who love to feed and befriend the dogs).
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Back To Wolf Town 10 of 12Moscow stray researcher Andrei Poyarkov has made many remarkable observations about the dogs over the last three decades, but one especially stands out. Poyarkov has made careful note of the fact that many of Moscow's subway/street dogs have begun to lose spotted coats, have stopped wagging their tails, and have generally been stripped of their friendliness. And those are three of the major things that separate dogs from wolves. In other words, the strays are slowly reverting back to their wild ancestry.
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More And More 11 of 12Last year the city earmarked about 75 million dollars to sterilize some of the strays and to keep shelters open. Today there are currently about a dozen shelters that can house over 12, 000 stray dogs in Moscow. Every year the number of strays increases by upwards of 5,000. They have become part of the fabric of the city, a part of it's everyday ebb and flow, but how long that can last in it's current capacity is anybody's guess.
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For Malchik 12 of 12The strays have become such a fixture in the Moscow Metro that there is even a monument to one at the entrance to the Mendeleyevskaya station. It was there, in 2001, that a stray named Malchik, known to many as the keeper of the station because he always barked at drunks and other dogs, was stabbed and killed by a woman traveling with her terrier. The story was huge news all over the country and many many people were outraged. These days the Malchik monument stands as a memorial to him, and all of the other stray dogs of Moscow who somehow manage to survive on their own in one of the world's most chaotic and bustling metropolises.
Photo Credit: online.wsj.com Source: FT Magazine
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