Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Street Dogs of Russia

My new book, The Dogs of Winter, is the story of, among other things, the amazing intelligence, adaptability, and compassion of dogs.

Moscow street dogs in ally
When the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990's, anything that had to be fed and required money was tossed out onto the streets. This included children and dogs. Within a few years, the number of homeless dogs (and probably cats too) exploded into the tens of thousands.

These dogs learned many ways to adapt in order to survive. I have lots scenes in my book that some readers may find hard to believe--scenes where the dogs trick people into dropping their food, scenes where the dogs observe traffic signals, and most particularly, the scenes in the book showing the dogs using the metro system to navigate Moscow. I can just hear readers saying, "Oh come on. No dog is that smart!" But these dogs are. Below are excerpts from an article that appeared on ABC News in March of 2010 titled "Stray Dogs Master Complex Moscow Subway System." Read on and be amazed!

Riding the subways in Moscow
"Some of Moscow's stray dogs have figured out how to use the city's immense and complex subway system, getting on and off at their regular stops. The human commuters around them are so accustomed to it that they rarely seem to notice. As many as 35,000 stray dogs live in Russia's capital city. They can be found everywhere, from markets to construction sites to underground passageways, scrounging for food and trying to survive. Taking the subway is just one of many tactics the strays have come up with for surviving in the manmade wilderness around them.

Moscow's strays have also been observed obeying traffic lights, says Vereshchagin. He and Poyarkov report the strays have developed a variety of techniques for hunting food in the wild metropolis.

One of many feral packs

Sometimes a pack will send out a smaller, cuter member apparently realizing it will be more successful at begging than its bigger, less attractive counterparts.

Another trick the researchers report seeing is the bark-and-grab: a dog will suddenly jump up behind a person in the street who is holding some snack, enough of a surprise that the food gets dropped for the grabbing.

"In Moscow there are all sorts of stray dogs, but... there are no stupid dogs," Dr. Andrey Poyarkov, a biologist who has studied Moscow's strays for 30 years, told ABC News."