The uncanny evolution of Moscow’s stray dogs

Paul Raven @ 20-01-2010

Staying in the Russian capital for another post, here’s a fascinating article at the Financial Times about Moscow’s legendary population of stray dogs, and about the man who has been studying them [via MetaFilter; image by Adam Baker].

Muscovites have a close relationship with dogs, and the city is home to thousands of strays – more than eighty per square mile. And they’re not strays in the sense that we tend to think of them, namely abandoned pets; Moscow’s urban ecosystem has had a thriving population of dogs for long enough that a fully-domesticated animal released into the scrum of the streets would be unlikely to last more than a few days.

Furthermore, the population is big enough that it can be used to observe evolution in action; Andrei Poyarkov, a biologist specialising in wolves, has been studying Moscow’s canine tribes and learning about their gradual shift back toward a wilder nature, and about how the urban environment provides pressures that select for intelligence over aggression – to the extent that some of the dogs have actually learned to ride the subway system in search of reliable human benefactors to scrounge from:

“The second difference between stray dogs and wolves is that the dogs, on average, are much less aggressive and a good deal more tolerant of one another,” says Poyarkov. Wolves stay strictly within their own pack, even if they share a territory with another. A pack of dogs, however, can hold a dominant position over other packs and their leader will often “patrol” the other packs by moving in and out of them. His observations have led Poyarkov to conclude that this leader is not necessarily the strongest or most dominant dog, but the most intelligent – and is acknowledged as such. The pack depends on him for its survival.

Amazing how life finds ways of colonising and thriving in the interstitial spaces of the human world, isn’t it?


Why Nancy Kress has gone to the Dogs

Paul Raven @ 03-07-2008

Nancy Kress - DogsWhile probably best known for her seminal sf story “Beggars In Spain” and the novel it grew into, Nancy Kress has authored twenty-three books (including thirteen sf novels), and won at least one of every short fiction award worth having in the science fiction field.

Her newest novel – a technothriller entitled Dogs – is about to hit bookstores everywhere in the middle of this month. Futurismic was proud to be offered the chance to ask Nancy some questions about Dogs, her writing in general, and – as it’s a subject that plays a strong part in much of her fictional output – genetic engineering and biotechnology.

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PGR: You’ve been writing about genetic engineering and its consequences in your novels for quite some time now. What was it about the field that initially sparked your interest?

Nancy Kress: What interests me is that this – unlike, say, FTL – is the future happening right now. Food crops are already being massively engineered (despite all the political problems with this); so are animals. Even humans have taken the first step by genescanning in vitro embryos in fertility clinics and choosing among them for implantation in the womb. Continue reading “Why Nancy Kress has gone to the Dogs”


Sending puppies to prison: rehabilitation through cute

Paul Raven @ 08-11-2007

Puppy in a cage Well, I’ve had a click around, and this seems to be genuine. Forget high-tech panopticons and increasingly arcane psychological regimes – the way to reform career criminals is to let them raise a dog in prison. The PuppiesBehindBars program does exactly that, giving inmates the chance to train and care for canines that go on to become guide dogs or bomb detectors. The heads-up post at Metafilter has a number of links to articles that suggest the scheme is incredibly effective, for both dogs and convicts alike. [Image by ngader]

[tags]prison, dogs, rehabilitation[/tags]