But according to a fascinating article in the Financial Times (brought to our attention last week by astute Dogster computermeister Paul Thrasher), these ubiquitous and resourceful dogs have each carved out their own niche within four main categories of dog jobs. We list them, with our own custom-made job titles, in order of descending social interaction with humans:
Security Guards Their territories include hospitals, garages, warehouses, and other fenced-in institutions. They develop bonds with security guards, who give them food, and appreciate their added protection. The dogs regard the guards as their masters.
Psychologists/Beggars These dogs can identify the most soft-hearted people, and they know how to work their charms on them. A psychologist/beggar dog may appear to be sleeping as throngs walk past, but when an easy target comes within range, hes suddenly alert and on the job.
The dog will come to a little old lady, start smiling and wagging his tail, and sure enough, hell get food, Andrei Poyarkov, a biologist who has studied Moscows strays extensively, tells the Financial Times. He states that these dogs not only smell who is carrying something tasty, but sense who will stop and feed them. The wily dogs learn by watching other dogs do their jobs. (Doggy internships?)
Sanitation Engineers These are urban scavengers who help keep the streets free from edible litter. They wolf down food scraps on sidewalks and streets. They forage through garbage for things to eat. During the Soviet period, the pickings were slim, but as Russia started prospering, their food sources increased, and so did their numbers.
Hunters They are the true wild children of the Moscow stray scene. They thrive near industrial complexes and wooded parks, according to the article. Hunters catch mice, rats, and occasional cats. They fear humans, and tend to be nocturnal.
Theres a subcategory of Psychologists/Beggars thats especially fascinating: Moscows metro dogs. According to animal behaviorist Andrei Neuronov, some 500 dogs live in Moscows train and subway stations. And incredibly, about 20 have actually learned how to take advantage of riding trains.
Why should they go by foot if they can get around by public transport? he tells the Financial Times.
“They orient themselves in a number of ways, he says. They figure out where they are by smell, by recognizing the name of the station from the recorded announcers voice and by time intervals. If, for example, you come every Monday and feed a dog, that dog will know when its Monday and the hour to expect you, based on their sense of time intervals from their biological clocks.
Wow! These dogs are better at navigating Moscows metro than some of my friends are at navigating San Franciscos Muni system!
The article also discusses what Moscow is doing to combat the anti-neutering/spaying attitude thats a huge contributor to the stray problem. In addition, its full of interesting nuggets about wild dogs, stray dogs, wolves, and the process of domestication and its reverse. Its a very worthwhile read, and if youve read all the way to the end of this article, you should go there now to read more.