20 March 2007

Metro Dogs

I've always been amused by the fact that stray dogs ride the metro in Moscow. I've never seen this in other cities, but then again I haven't spent enough time in other metro-wielding metropolises to say definitively whether this sort of thing occurs. For all I know, there are canine urbanites cruising below the streets of London and New York even as I'm writing this.

In Moscow, it's not all that uncommon to see these dogs going about their business (by which I mean traveling somewhere, not going about their "business" on the floor) while you're going about yours (again, traveling somewhere) on the metro. [Note: I have no doubt that on occasion both stray dogs and stray drunks do in fact do their "busines" on the metro, though I've been fortunate enough not to have witnessed either group seeking sweet relief.]

The first time I saw a metro dog was 7 years ago. I was particularly amused to seem him when I boarded the train, as he had spread himself out on the wagon floor with a look on his face that suggested he had found his little slice of personal (I mean canine) heaven. This being my first metro dog encounter, I assumed that he belonged to the passenger seated near him (on the seat, not the floor). The dog layed there quietly as we passed stop after stop, hardly reacting to the tides of passengers that flooded into and out of the wagon at each stop.

Eventually the train came to a halt and the familiar announcement rang out:

Станциа Библиотека им. Ленина. Уважаемые пассажиры! При выходе из поездя, не забываете свои вещи. [Trans: Lenin Library Station. Respected passengers! When exiting the train, do not forget your belongings.]

Apparently the metro dog understands Russia (after all, he's a Russian dog), as he seemed to recognize that this was his stop. Much to my surprise, he jumped to his feet, bolted through the doors just before they closed, and disappeared into the crowd. It was somewhat akin to the actions of the 50-something woman who hasn't been paying attention to the stations and performs a similar jump & bolt maneuver upon realizing that she's about to miss her stop.

As nobody followed the dog or seemed distressed by its abrupt exit, it was then that I realized he belonged to nobody. The city, however, belonged to him, as any dog savvy enough to get around town like that has some smarts. Of course, I was left to contemplate how metro dog knew it was his stop, or why he decided at that very moment that it was time to get off the train. Perhaps he had some reading to do at the Lenin Library, or perhaps, having behaved himself on the train, he simply wanted to relieve himself on the giant statue of Dostoevsky that sits outside the library. I can't blame him, as I'm not particularly fond of the statue, though I've as of yet resisted any urges to express my dissatisfaction in public...

I came across another metro dog about a week ago. This one followed me into the metro station, and I, recalling Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog tried to be polite and made sure the door didn't catch his tail as it swung shut. The dog, clearly no stranger to Moscow's subterranean transportation network, trotted down the stairs and along the corridor leading to the turnstiles. Wisely, he chose the turnstile farthest away from the attendant, who didn't notice him slip through. In fact, I watched the dog deliberately change his course to steer clear of the solidly built woman, likely do to unpleasant memories involving a shoe in rear end. After all, the metro attendants are not exactly the warmest people in Moscow, and that's saying something.

In Moscow, most metro turnstiles are open, tempting passengers to walk straight through unhindered. Woe unto any passenger who does so without swiping his ticket, though, because a set of light-sensors detects the offender, triggering a set of barriers that protrude from the sides to bock passage. [In fact, and entire essay on metro barriers is in the works and will hopefully be appearing soon].

As my furry sputnik [for our non-Russian speaking readers, "sputnik" means "fellow traveler," hence the name for the satellite] was too short to reach the light sensors, he passed through without a problem and without paying. Clever indeed! He trotted down the steps (the station does not have escalators, though I'm sure he loves those) and waited on the platform for a train heading into the center of the city.

Again, I was intrigued by the choices made by metro dogs: how did he decide that he wanted to go into the city rather than to the suburbs? In all reality, he probably just liked the smell of the inbound side of the platform bettern than the outbound side. But I like to think that since this train terminates near the Lenin Library, he too was going to relieve himself on Fyodor Mikhailovich. [I should probably interject here that I have nothing against Dostoevsky - he is one of my favorite Russian writers. It's the statue they put up in front of the library that I'm not fond of, as it seems awkwardly out of place and Fyodor looks like he's about to fall off his very uncomfortable bench. I suppose there's also a part of me that thinks that if it's called the "Lenin Library," there should at least be a statue of Lenin outside. But I guess I'm a bit of a traditionalist. In any case, there are many such post-Soviet landmarks in the "new Moscow" that are worthy of being relieived upon by the city's resident strays and drunks. Perhaps a list will be compiled].

Eventually a train arrived, and I followed metro dog onto the car. I plopped down in an open seat, but the dog was much more particular than I. After carefully inspecting a a couple of different sections of the wagon floor (I can only imagine with horror the odors his little nose was processing!), he selected one, circled it, and flopped down on the floor, stretching out as easily and comfortably as if he were on a well-worn rug in front of a crackling fire. Ah, a dog's life!

This scene was too good to pass up, so I deliberately skipped my stop to see what metro dog's next move would be. Would he get off the train when it reached the end of the line at Aleksandrovskiy Sad and everyone empties from the wagons, or would he stay in his comfortable spot as the train filled up with a fresh load of passengers waiting to head home to the suburbs? In other words, was he on his way somewhere, or just there for a pleasant ride?

I realize now that it was a stupid question. After all, he had gotten on the inbound train. Why would he go into the city if he were just going to head back out again on the same train? Of course he was going somewhere. As if on cue, the train pulled into the terminal station, the dog stood up, waiting for the doors to open, and trotted out into the crowd with a determined purpose in his step. I thought about following him to see if he was really on his way to pay Dostoevsky a visit, but he slipped deftly between the legs of Moscow's commuters, disappearing into the vast crowd. Realizing that following him further was impossible, I turned around and got back on the train I had just exiting, waiting for it to fill up with outbound passengers so that I could get back to the station I had intentionally missed.

Maybe the metro dog was too smart to ride the train back and forth, but I, it seems, am not....


Sean Guillory said...

Wait until you see a dog perekhod! I love that about Moscow. Especially the fact that no one kicks them out of the metro. I couldn't even bring my dog into an outdoor farmers' market in LA! If you really want to see the hub of strays in the metro, check out Ploshad Ilicha. I used to go to that station to go to the Moscow City Archive. I began calling it sobachii pereulok.

Irishman said...

Thats a marvellous piece on metro dogs, really witty and well observed!) Well done! Actually I am very tempted to try to rub them but everyone warns me against it -seemingly they'd take your arm off! I saw many years ago at home on Sky News a piece on strays in Moscow - it said that the city government do not destroy them because they keep the rat population down and that injured dogs are taken in, fixed up by vets before being let out again! Can anyone confirm this?

Has anyone noticed this other form of Moscow fauna, the Market Cats? I saw them before at the big market outside Universitet metro station. Big, fluffy, cute looking furballs, the locals say there's hordes of them all over Moscow's markets. Petting is again not recommended!

Sean, sounds very fishy that you were at Ploschad Illicha)! Sure you werent visiting anyone in Lefortovo?) Just joking! I must take a look there someday, I often head out to a mate in Novogireevo which is on the end of the yellow line.

izambard said...

enjoyed your account very much but.....
what's so specifically relevant about the way a 50 something woman dashes off the metro train as opposed to any other aged human being???

Rubashov said...

Oh, no particular relevance. I seem to recall that shortly before I wrote this entry I saw someone pull that particular maneuver and it happened to be a 50-something woman...