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Heart of a dog
May 29, 2008 11:15 AM   Subscribe

As Moscow changes, so does its population of stray dogs. During Soviet times, Moscow's stray dogs foraged for food and avoided humans, since there wasn't much to be gained from begging. As the city became increasingly affluent, the dogs' behavior changed radically. Some recent adaptations include passive subway begging, observing stoplights, and a food scam called the "come-from-behind ambush." The stray dogs, whose population is estimated at 26,000, have even ceased some of their interpack warfare. Observe the Moscow subway dog here.

Thank you, Kottke.
posted by Afroblanco (26 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have no witty comments to make, so I'll just say thanks!
posted by bitteroldman at 11:28 AM on May 29, 2008


From each according to his ability, to each according to his breed (Or lack thereof).
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:35 AM on May 29, 2008


There are a number of websites and blogs about street dogs around the world. Here is one about Bangkok street dogs, for example.

Street dogs are ok in places where they are fearful of people, but when you have an aggressive pack they can be really terrifying.
posted by Forktine at 11:38 AM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


When a disturbed fashion model several years ago stabbed to death a gentle stray that lived at the Mendeleyevskaya metro station, horrified celebrities and ordinary city residents raised money and erected a bronze statue of the dog, Malchik.
posted by jamjam at 11:40 AM on May 29, 2008


God, I am so tired of waiting for dogs to learn to talk.
posted by jamjam at 11:43 AM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Eugh, I'm with those calling for a return to culling. Can't imagine how people can put up with tens of thousands of dogs roaming their city, shocking people into giving them food. You'd think one case of a pack killing someone would be enough to have them dealt with.
posted by jack_mo at 11:47 AM on May 29, 2008


i have a hard time believing that a city the size of moscow only has 26,000 strays.

thanks for the post, afroblanco.
posted by CitizenD at 11:49 AM on May 29, 2008


I'm a stray dog myself but I got myself a city job. Now I'm doing fine, thank you.
posted by doctorschlock at 11:57 AM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nice post.
posted by OmieWise at 11:59 AM on May 29, 2008


Great post, great title!
posted by languagehat at 12:09 PM on May 29, 2008


i have a hard time believing that a city the size of moscow only has 26,000 strays.

In post-soviet Russia, stray dog feeds people!
posted by bunnytricks at 12:19 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


The vast majority of homeless dogs go out of their way to avoid antagonizing people, says Mr. Vereshchagin.

I don't doubt it. This has been my experience in places with large populations of strays, for the most part, although I did receive a superficial bite from a street dog in India over a decade ago. The dogs in the article, and from the blog Forktine linked to, look surprisingly healthy to me.
Thanks for the post. It's really interesting to read about how the dogs are self-domesticating-- becoming more friendly to humans and even fighting less amongst themselves in times of plenty.

You can read some more "dog stories" at the website for the Samui Dog Rescue Center in Thailand.
posted by apis mellifera at 12:29 PM on May 29, 2008


I see something like this and my first thought is, 'Wow, it's fascinating to see the dogs changing their own tactics in a way to improve their chances of being fed. I'd bet a sizable amount of research can be accomplished by closely monitoring these behavioral shifts.'

My second thought is, 'Man, I bet the cats in Moscow have a whole underground railroad thing happening to get around those 26k strays'

The last thought is usually something like 'Oooh, Puppies!!'
posted by quin at 1:00 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


My last thought is "Man, Moscow must be full of dog shit".
posted by anthill at 1:01 PM on May 29, 2008


Was your first thought, "I'd love to eat some dog shit?"
posted by Peter H at 1:10 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post.

I've always wanted to do a study on squirrel behavior in urban vs non urban settings. Given their relatively fast generational turnover coupled with the huge impact of cars on their survivability, I always figured that we'd see the rise of car savvy squirrels in more urban areas. Considering how quickly those suckers learn to get around bird feeders, you think they'd be able to cross the street a little better.

I don't want to conflate learned behavior with genetic evolution, but you'd think that the stresses on urban animals are much different than their rural counterparts. I wouldn't be surprised if in a few more decades we see Squirrel populations that are genetically distinct depending on which city they're from. Maybe this is already the case. Dogs are smart enough to get by with new learned behaviors. Squirrels seem to rely more on instinct. That being said, I've definitely seen Squirrels beg for food.

Here's a neat TED talk on a guy who taught crows to use a special vending machine. There's footage of crow using cross walks and spontaneously creating tools.
posted by Telf at 1:10 PM on May 29, 2008


I've always wanted to do a study on squirrel behavior in urban vs non urban settings. Given their relatively fast generational turnover coupled with the huge impact of cars on their survivability, I always figured that we'd see the rise of car savvy squirrels in more urban areas. Considering how quickly those suckers learn to get around bird feeders, you think they'd be able to cross the street a little better.

I'm not a hunter, but a friend invited me to go squirrel hunting on his land in the Appalachians, and I went. I figured it was going to be a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, since I'm a city boy. We were out for four hours, quietly walking trails and sitting absolutely still for 30 minutes here and there. In that time we saw one squirrel, who miraculously managed to keep a fallen tree between us and it the whole time we sat silently staring at it.
posted by OmieWise at 1:15 PM on May 29, 2008


God I love the social mechanics of street dogs. Thanks, and thanks to Forktine for that link as well.

A colleague of mine has a hobby of taking pictures of the street dogs we run across and interact with in India (unfortunately I can't find the link to his street dog only gallery, but some good pictures nonetheless). In Leh, some of the dogs who apparently weren't a part of the pack had a habit of sticking close to us when we were walking. It was a little scary at first, being followed by a pack of dogs who looked none too friendly and one slinking around your ankles, but they were always well behaved when people were around and nothing bad ever came of it. I named my particular street dog Jessa. I'm hoping I get to see her again this summer.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 1:37 PM on May 29, 2008


puppies!
posted by rmd1023 at 1:40 PM on May 29, 2008


Little known dog facts about Southern California's deserts, mountains and brushland.

As is well known, Southern California is the land of sprawl and suburb. New divisions go up almost over night. People move into them from locations inside and out of the state bringing with them the family pet.

Often this is a small and annoyingly yappy little fluff of a dog. If the new homeowners are experienced California residents - they keep the dog indoors, and it lives. If the new homeowners are from out of the state, or are otherwise morons - they put the dog outside and it gets eaten by coyotes or mountain lions.

This is so predictable that experienced Californians generally won't even bother to complain about the annoying yappy dog barking away a few yards down, because they know that the more noisy and annoying the dog is, the sooner it will be eaten.


On the flipside of this we have the canine survivors. There are in the deserts of Southern California roaming packs of feral, ex-domesticated dogs. Some of them are escapees, but most others are victims of being abandoned in the desert by heartless people. Having lived in the deep desert, I've actually seen family cars pull over and dump little Fido or Fifi off on the side of some quiet road and just drive away. No water, no food, just the open desert and a domesticated dog wondering what the fuck is going on.

The rare survivors form packs of "wild" domesticated dogs. Some of them even interbreed with the coyotes, so you have these weird coyote-labrador mixes running around.

Now, I've literally slept with a pack of coyotes, so don't assume at all that I'm afraid of dogs, or wilderness or both at once.

But there is little more terrifying than seeing a pack of 40-50 very hungry, unpredictable and pissed off domesticated dogs maurading across the desert. Toy scotties, pomeranians, pitbulls, retrievers all mixed up together, all hungry, and every last one of them a hardcore, battle-hardened survivor. I would much rather tangle with a pack of coyotes.
posted by loquacious at 1:57 PM on May 29, 2008 [13 favorites]


I hope the dogs win.
posted by tkchrist at 2:26 PM on May 29, 2008


Hardly a day goes by that I don't wish we had mountain lions or coyotes that would eat the damn dog across the way.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:45 PM on May 29, 2008


Telf, the squirrels at the University of Minnesota definitely beg all the time, and are notoriously unafraid of humans.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:44 PM on May 29, 2008


Having scrolled to the bottom of the "Observe the Moscow subway dog here" link, and not being able to read a lick of Russian, and lastly not being able to view the bottom-most video, I'm left with no option but to conclude that there is a subway-ridding cow somewhere in Moscow.
posted by CKmtl at 5:05 PM on May 29, 2008


While living in Moscow, I was struck by the way the street dogs look when they sleep. Here's a picture.
posted by fake at 5:32 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post. Many creatures are as human as us.
posted by humannaire at 7:11 PM on May 29, 2008


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