Subway Strays: The Dogs of Moscow’s Metro
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the stray dogs in Moscow have a surprisingly well-documented history which animal behaviorists have been paying close attention to for several decades. During the Soviet period in Russia the packs of wild (or stray) dogs in were regulated. Only the clever canines who learned to stay in isolation were able to survive. Usually, these dogs would remain on the outskirts of the city hunting in wild packs, as the living in the city was dangerous and food scarce. After the fall of the Soviet Union quality of life in Russia began to slowly improve and with it more street vendors and food collecting in busy neighborhoods. This began to bring some the stray dogs out of the suburbs into the city.
Today, there are nearly 35,000 stray dogs that call Moscow home. Out of these 35,000 stray dogs there are about 500 that have taken to living underground. Out of these dogs, there are a few that have started thinking outside the box and inside the boxcar. They have begun the slow move underground to stay out of the cold (Russian winters reach an average of -5 degrees every day). Many of the Russian commuters embraced the dog’s underground migration by petting them or giving them food.
As the dogs became accustomed to the comings and goings of the subway trains they began to follow people onto them, learning that not only could they stay warm but they could also receive emotional validation by getting attention from some of the dog-loving passengers. Over time, these witty tail-waggers learned to navigate the subways and get off and on at particular stops.
Though these claims may seem like the made up type of internet misinformation that we have learned to be skeptical of these days, it is actually sourced to a Russian biologist by the name of Dr. Andrey Poyarkov, a highly regarded scientist in his field of study. As it turns out Poyarkov has been studying these dogs for the last thirty years and told news sources back in 2010 that he suspected a small fraction of these underground dogs had actually learned to use the subway in order to beg for food in bustling urban areas where food is more plentiful.
Andrei Neuronov, an animal behaviorist, says much like you train your dogs at home to respond to verbal commands like “sit” or “stay,” the Moscow metro dogs are using audio cues from the subway stops they have learned. The dogs memorize the names of the stops to navigate the subway systems in order to take them to heavily populated places during the day and get food. Then, they return to their more secluded corners of the suburbs at night where they are less likely to be bothered by people. Here is a story ABC did back in 2011, talking about this very thing.
The future of these strays is uncertain, as the metro employees are being instructed to drive the dogs out of the tunnels. One thing we can be certain of, however, is that if anyone can find a way through Russia’s harsh winters, these adaptable dogs can.
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Featured Image Credit: Andrey (modified)