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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Furry Way To Meet The Neighbors

A reporter for this newspaper wrote last week that Russians have gone wild over dogs in recent years. He's absolutely right: Moscow's parks are filled with canines -- and no ordinary mutts at that. The Russian version of dog mania means scores of English bulldogs and rottweilers with names like Bill or Jerry, dozens of earnest dog lovers' clubs, and Pedigree Pal for sale on every corner. Personally, I would never name a dog Bill or Jerry (try Sasha or Vanya instead), but I still found myself being drawn into this world a couple of years back.


Let me say first of all that I am basically a cat person. I grew up with cats, I know cats, and what I like about them is that you can cohabitate without getting in each other's faces. Dogs, on the other hand, are something to contend with. I recognized all this when my husband, tired of cat antics, announced that he was planning to match my feline with a dog. But there was little I could do.


Before I knew it, I found myself in a one-room apartment in the Moscow suburb of Podolsk, making small talk with some members of a labrador club who were keeping seven puppies in a dark corner of their tiny room.


I thought we could just pick up the puppy and leave. No such luck. First the advice, and then we had to drink to the puppy's new home.


This was no ordinary dog, naturally. Our puppy was the offspring of two champion black labs, Natalya Teslenko, the head of the Moscow Dog Lovers' Club, told us as she deftly examined the little canine's teeth, eyes and ears. Taking his measurements, she assured us that he was one of the best of the club's 200 labs, and that he would grow up big and strong.


"You'll like him," my husband had assured me. "He'll protect you." Protect me? Exactly one month old, he was about half the size of my cat and his little eyes were barely open. I tried to guess how long it would be before he was protecting me. As soon as he saw us, he waddled right over, turned his half-open eyes in our direction and relieved himself right there on the floor.


"Don't let him outside at all while he's still small," Teslenko said. "Don't pet the top of his head, because you'll squash his ears down. Don't touch him while he's sleeping, either, because puppies grow in their sleep. By the way, until he gets a little older, you'll just have to let him go to the bathroom wherever he wants."


My head started to swim as she and the owners of Bella -- our puppy's big, scary looking mother -- gave one piece of advice after another. I'll never figure this out, I thought, as I asked them to write some things down. This had been my husband's idea, but for some reason I was the one being given all the directions.


"Feed him six times a day," Lena Beznyukova, Bella's owner, said. "Milk, tvorog, and a little meat at night."


Six times a day?


"My wife had to quit her job," Sergei, her husband, pitched in unhelpfully as he downed a glass of vodka. "What can you do? A dog is a full time job."


Well, I never did quit my job, and Champ, as we named him rather unpretentiously, is now a grown dog. Thanks to our walks with him, we've met lots of neighbors. He's still no cat. But even if we don't have a BMW or kottedzh in the country, we at least have one way now of keeping up with Moscow's new Russians.