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Must be my stop … Moscow’s subway dogs

Commuters in Moscow share the subway with stray dogs — and that’s just one of the ways dogs (and people) have adapted to the changing city.

Dogs were barred from Moscow’s metro in Soviet times, but now they are a common sight, curling up on empty seats, lounging in stations and — like the one in the video above — hopping on and off subway cars at their leisure.

The Wall Street Journal had an excellent story on the phenomenon about a year ago. There’s also a website about the subway dogs — www.metrodog.ru.

“The behavior of stray dogs is like theater,” says Alexei Vereshchagin, one of several zoologists studying Moscow’s strays.

With more and faster cars in Moscow, strays have learned to cross the street with pedestrians. Though they can’t distinguish colors, they might be recognizing the walking man signal, researchers theorize.

Foraging dogs have long been part of Moscow’s landscape, but they stayed mostly in the city’s industrial zones and lived a semiferal existence. They mainly relied on discarded food, rather than handouts, so they kept their distance from humans.

With old factories being transformed into shopping centers and apartments, strays have become more skillful beggars. A 2006 census estimated the population of stray dogs in the city at about 26,000.

One of their tactics is to lie in a busy subway passage, where thousands of people pass by, and wait for someone to toss them something. Even then, many dogs ignore some handouts, waiting for something better to come along. The abundance of handouts, Poyarkov said, has led to fewer interpack wars.

There are still occasional attacks on human beings, like one in April of last year in which a 55-year-old man was killed by a pack of strays in an overgrown park. The city has allocated the equivalent of $63 million to build animal shelters and carry out related programs, but the death led some to call for a return to the Soviet practice of culling strays.

Still, many Muscovites appear to enjoy, or at least tolerate, the dog population. Most of the dogs go out of their way to avoid antagonizing people. Even pooping in the metro is rare, researchers say.

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