Sunday, January 24, 2010

Here's one from the "you learn something new" department

I found this article on Moscow's stray dogs over at Financial Times (h/t naked capitalism) to be quite fascinating. First, I didn't realize that Moscow was home to 30,000 to 35,000 stray dogs. But what's really a trip is how biologist Andrei Poyarkov has attempted to understand these dogs and classify them. Also you should read the bit about the "metro dogs" that Andrei Neuronov has been studying:
Neuronov says there are some 500 strays that live in the metro stations, especially during the colder months, but only about 20 have learned how to ride the trains. This happened gradually, first as a way to broaden their territory. Later, it became a way of life. “Why should they go by foot if they can move around by public transport?” he asks.

“They orient themselves in a number of ways,” Neuronov adds. “They figure out where they are by smell, by recognising the name of the station from the recorded announcer’s voice and by time intervals. If, for example, you come every Monday and feed a dog, that dog will know when it’s Monday and the hour to expect you, based on their sense of time intervals from their ­biological clocks.”

The metro dog also has uncannily good instincts about people, happily greeting kindly passers by, but slinking down the furthest escalator to avoid the intolerant older women who oversee the metro’s electronic turnstiles. “Right outside this metro,” says Neuronov, gesturing toward Frunzenskaya station, a short distance from the park where we were speaking, “a black dog sleeps on a mat. He’s called Malish. And this is what I saw one day: a bowl of freshly ground beef set before him, and slowly, and ever so lazily, he scooped it up with his tongue while lying down.”
There's a great deal of debate apparently as to what to do about all these strays. Some argue that the population is pretty self-sustaining, posing minimal public health risk, and probably keeping the city from being beset by pests that could pose genuinely nasty health problems. Their lives, as it is, are pretty harsh. Certainly makes me appreciate the dogs we have living with us considerably more.

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