Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America.
Moscow's canine commuters have worked out a clever system to use the city's subway for their benefit.
The dog days are every day on the Moscow Metro. In fact, it turns out that some of the most interesting – and, in some ways, surprisingly sophisticated – passengers on the city’s rail transit system are canine. This comes by way of Dan Lewis’s always-interesting Now I Know website, which imparts information on seemingly random subjects daily:
There are about 35,000 homeless dogs in Russia’s capital... Most of them are feral and eschew contact with people. But about 500 or so have done what many homeless people have done, and become semi-permanent denizens of the subways — in this case, the Moscow Metro. The advantages are more than just a roof and associated shelter from the weather. The dogs can cozy up to riders in hopes of getting food tossed their way, or, if opportunity knocks, scare an unsuspecting train-goer into dropping his or her snack. Either way, this newfound meal is critical to the hungry subway-living dog.
For about two dozen or so dogs, though, the bark-and-eat gambit is merely a start. These advanced dogs have taken the subway game to the next level: they have become commuters. Areas with office buildings are crowded during the day but sparsely populated during the mornings and evenings; meanwhile, the opposite pattern is seen in residential neighborhoods. And therefore, it behooves a panhandler, canine and human alike, to be near the offices at lunch time and near people’s homes at night. So, some Metro pups do exactly that — as reported by both ABC News and the Sun, the dogs have figured out how to navigate the train network in hopes of optimizing their locations throughout the day.
Alex Marquardt reports in the ABC News article that the cleverness of Moscow’s strays is not limited to commuting. Indeed, they have been spotted obeying traffic signals (which is more than you can say for the average human pedestrian in New York or Washington) and sometimes sending out “a smaller, cuter member” from a pack, “apparently realizing it will be more successful at begging than its bigger, less attractive counterparts.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Wheeler writes in The Sun that British dogs, too, are savvy commuters:
The Moscow mutts are not the first animals to use public transport. In 2006 a Jack Russell in Dunnington, North Yorks, began taking the bus to his local pub in search of sausages.
And two years ago passengers in Wolverhampton were stunned when a cat called Macavity started catching the 331 bus to a fish and chip shop.
Beyond strays and feral dogs, one can make a pretty good case – and urban planner Andrew Zitofsky has – that neighborhoods that are hospitable to dog-walking are also hospitable to people-walking. That said, dog parks – in theory a good place for neighbors, humans and canines alike, to get to know each other and indirectly build community – have actually become a racially divisive issue in some places.
Today we refer to the "dog days" of summer as the typical hot stretch during July and August in the northern hemisphere. The Romans are credited with coining the phrase, associating it with the period when Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and part of the constellation Canis Major (“big dog”), rose in the sky just before sunrise. (Apparently it no longer does so at this time of the year because of astronomical changes over time.)
Various historical references place the exact dates of the dog days differently, starting as early as July 3 and ending as late as September 5 (see this Wikipedia entry). Merriam-Webster defines dog days as “the pe
riod between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere,” or “a period of stagnation or inactivity.”
For those of you who are music fans, check out “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine. Not sure how I feel about the video, but I like the song, whose dark lyrics are juxtaposed against a catchy, upbeat arrangement:
This post originally appeared on the National Resources Defense Council Staff Blog, an Atlantic partner site.