Adaptability is amazing. “Life finds a way” as Jeff Goldblum’s character said in Jurassic Park is a good way to sum up our instinctual push for survival. Garnering international attention and gaining fame are Moscow’s strays dogs.
These dogs have acquired new skills for survival as the city of Moscow drastically transformed in the last few decades. In the 1990s, in the collapse of communism, the face of Moscow changed with the relocation of industrial complexes from the city centre to outer suburban regions. The population of stray dogs who called these industrial complexes home also shifted.
The city centre still has about 35,000 stray dogs, a number some say is kept relatively constant by the harsh environment, a climate that abandoned pets rarely survive to breed. Even most pups of strays don’t reach adulthood. Survival has entailed new and entrepreneurial behaviour such as sending out the smaller and cuter pack member to beg, using psychology to choose favourable targets, and learning to recognize a green light (not by colour) to safely cross busy streets. So it really is the survival of the fittest…and the smartest.
And among the smartest or most enterprising has got to be the metro dogs.
Moscow’s metro dogs often make the train stations and underground passageways their home, but more amazingly these dogs have somehow figured out how to use the complex metro system to get around. About 500 strays live at the stations and a handful, about 20, are commuters. Yep, commuters! The metro has helped these dogs expand their territory and chances of being fed.
It’s not 100% clear how these dogs know where and when to get on and off the trains but some factors may be: the voice of the announcer, the time interval between stations, and the scent at a particular station.
The metro dogs take the escalators (sometimes walking down an up escalator), duck down to avoid the metro attendants, and prefer the front and last cars as they are less crowded. Pictures on the web show these stray dogs sleeping on the seats or on the floor, depending on availability. They are relaxed, comfortable with people walking and stepping around them. The human commuters seem to take it all in stride, sitting next to a sleeping dog. Check out www.metrodog.ru for photos uploaded by passengers.
The metro dogs’ behaviour shows amazing adaptability and demonstrate their uncanny instincts and senses. It also shows that humans and stray dogs can co-exist and culling is not always necessary. An existing and stable urban stray dog population also helps to prevent the influx of other dogs and animals into the city and to control rodent population. In Moscow, for example, these dogs are a factor in keeping out other dogs and wolves. A vacuum which is created by culling will be filled by other dog populations anyway and is one reason culling is not a long-term solution, never mind being completely inhumane.
True, Moscow’s environment and climate are a natural population balancing factor that may not exist in other cities. But it does show that co-habitation is possible. Keeping population in check in other places may require a more localized solution, most definitely from the human side. For example, we need to better regulate the pet industry and the breeding, selling, and abandoning of animals. And as individuals, we really need to examine our need and ability to have a pet and our disposable and instant-gratification culture.
Just thinking about these metro dogs and the reality of what they are actually doing is simply astonishing, knowing how many pet dogs have issues with getting into cars, strange and new environments, loud noises, riding in elevators, etc. These stray dogs have much less neurosis living in the urban landscapes that cause so many of our canine friends such difficulty.
What did that first curious metro dog think when seeing the train? Did he accidentally just walk into an open car? Was he following a nice person with tasty-smelling food? Did he then tell all his friends?
Something has to be said for natural selection, rather than forced selection that is dog breeding and indiscriminate breeding that is the puppy mills.