As Muscovites scurry on and off trains each day, heading to and from work, they have some interesting travel companions – stray dogs.
In the mornings the dogs travel from the suburbs to the city center to earn their food, and return home each night. There are upwards of 30,000 stray dogs wandering the streets of Moscow, and after the Soviet collapse in the 1990s, many have been taking the train. Scientists believe as people moved industry out of the cities and into the suburbs, the dogs followed.
“These complexes were used by homeless dogs as shelters, so the dogs had to move together with their houses,” explained Dr. Andrei Poiarkov of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute. “Because the best scavenging for food is in the city center, the dogs had to learn how to travel on the subway — to get to the center in the morning, then back home in the evening, just like people.”
The shift in attitudinal change is about more than the economy; there is an improved outlook on the strays that help mold the city’s character. Many commuters do not seem to mind giving up a seat for a dog tired after a day’s travels. (Not bad for a critter that was completely banned from trains only a short time ago, but perhaps their acceptance is partly due to the fact that there are unexpectedly few ‘accidents’ on the trains.) Citizens build simple shelters to help them survive bitter cold winters. Furthermore, animal rights lobbies are seeing that municipal funds set aside to create dog shelters for the strays are actually spent as planned, and not pocketed by greedy contractors who would rather “cull” the dogs than help them.
With capitalism taking root, lots of restaurants opened up in downtown Moscow, affording dogs opportunities to easily scavenge leftovers. Even with more dogs than ever roaming the streets, most do not go without, and are well-fed by kind strangers. Much of the time they do not even have to beg – they just have to look endearing.
Dr. Poiarkov says dogs are “surprisingly good psychologists.” They know how to trick people into giving them their food. They’ll creep behind someone about to take a big ol’ bite of shawarma, and then bark loud enough to frighten an unsuspecting diner into dropping their lunch. They play up they big puppy dog eyes for kids, and gently rest their heads upon the children’s knees.
Though they cannot see all colors clearly, many of the furry travelers have mastered the art of crossing busy intersections on their search for provisions. And many that travel on the subways work together and get off at the correct stops, after they’ve judged and remembered about how long a train ride is.
But more than just finding food, Dr. Poiarkov says these dogs seem to ride the subway for fun, too.
“They jump on the train seconds before the doors shut, risking their tails getting jammed. They do it for fun. And sometimes they fall asleep and get off at the wrong stop.”