Stray dogs have a rich history in Russia. Literary references to Moscow’s mongrels date back to the 19th century, and St. Petersburg’s Stray Dog Café was a popular hangout for cast-aside novelists and poets in the early part of the 20th. The first living creature to orbit the Earth, in fact, was a 3-year-old female Moscow stray named Laika, who was shot into space aboard Sputnik 2 on Nov. 3, 1957. Today, an estimated 35,000 mutts roam Moscow alone; a group of so-called “metro dogs” are even sophisticated enough to have become regular users of the subway system. The practice of spaying and neutering is almost nonexistent in Russia—according to the Humane Society International, most vets don’t even offer the service. “The strays serve an important sanitary function in our cities,” says Andrei Neuronov, a Russian specialist in animal behavior and psychology who has worked with Putin’s own female black Labrador retriever, Connie. “We would not be able to manage the rat population without them.”
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