Are there really dogs commuting on Moscow's metro system?

A dog clutches his season ticket. Image: Adam Baker via Wikimedia Commons.

Run your eye down the Wikipedia entry for “Moscow Street Dogs” (bear with us here), and you’ll come across an entire section devoted to the city’s “Metro dogs”.

It starts by explaining that 500-odd homeless dogs live in the city’s stations: that's perhaps unsurprising, given that Moscow temperatures regularly drop below -5° C. 

But then things get a little weird:

Of these dogs, about 20 are believed to have learned how to use the system as a means of commuting. The strays move to the city centre during the day in search of food and return to the suburbs at night.

Which is bollocks, right? The output of a bored North Carolina teen or civil servant with nothing better to do than make fallacious Wikipedia edits. Surely. 

Except that these claims are sourced, to a Dr Andrey Poyarkov. Poyarkov is a highly regarded Russian biologist who has studied Moscow’s stray dogs for around 30 years. He told ABC News back in 2010 that many street dogs take to the metro to keep warm – but a small fraction of these have actually figured out how to navigate the system. 

So how do they do it? Andrei Neuronov, another animal behavioural expert, told the New Yorker that dogs have learned to recognise station names, much as many dogs can recognise short commands and their own names. But this ability is used to different ends by different metro dog tribes: 

"There are three models of metro dogs,” he explained: dogs who live in the subway but do not travel, dogs who use the subway to travel short distances instead of walking, and entrepreneurial dogs who spend the day riding back and forth, busking. This last type of dog takes long trips, working the crowd for treats and emotional contact.

Sadly (or luckily, depending on your point of view), Neuronov also told the publication that the new director of the metro system has "no patience for dogs", and station guards have been instructed to wave them away. At the very least, it seems like they should be charged for tickets. 


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