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PERESTROIKA PETS. At Moscow's open-air `bird market,' it's raining cats and dogs

By Sophie Quinn-JudgeSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 31, 1987



Moscow

ON Moscow's eastern side, beyond Taganka Square, is the Kalitnikovsky Market, better known as just ``the bird market.'' Doves, pigeons, parakeets, and roosters can all be purchased here, as can kittens, dogs, fish, and rabbits. On Sunday mornings it's a jam-packed island of capitalism that draws the curious, families in search of pets, and a large number of sellers. Old and young women with kittens peeking out from their coats line the sidewalks leading to the market's gates. One with a part-Siamese in her string bag gets a scolding from her neighbor for letting her kitten get cold. The latter then shows her how to button it up close to her chest. Another woman is hawking a puppy with suspiciously big paws, with the claim that, ``he won't get too big, he's short-haired - there won't be any mess.''

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In one corner, near the Kalitnikovsky Cemetery, the first-class dog sellers gather. They have pure-bred terriers and borzois, photos of collie puppies with ``good bloodlines,'' and monstrous, sad-eyed creatures that look like Saint Bernards. The saleslady says they're ``Moscow Guard Dogs.'' Pointing to the monster on her leash, she says reassuringly, ``He only needs three liters of food a day, 400 grams of meat, and therest kasha [gruel].''

A month-old parakeet is going for 30 rubles, a homemade cage with a slide-out bottom for 25. ``They'll be talking in a month or so,'' says the salesman. ``Just put on a recording for an hour everyday.''

Another salesman with brilliantly colored parrots has put a sign up: ``They will talk.'' Yet another man has found away to make a few rubles. He is selling mimeographed instructions on the care of songbirds, including speech lessons.

An elegant woman with two tiny Royal Siamese kittens is reluctant to be photographed. So is the rabbit salesman across the street, who has a row of cardboard boxes filled with different breeds and colors.

``No pictures,'' he jokes. ``This is a military installation.'' A post-graduate student, he says in English that rabbit-breeding is his hobby. He admits to making 200 rubles a month, just over the average monthly wage, from this pastime, however. His rabbits are fat and healthy-looking. In the city, you can keep them on your balcony, he says - they won't freeze.

Inside its gates, the market has a semblance of order: fish-sellers on one side, with a special row reserved for members of the Moscow Aquarium Club. On the other side are the dove and pigeon traders. There seem to be hundreds of them, and by midday the crowds get so dense that one can hardly move.

In the late November cold, the aquarium owners keep tubs of hot water at hand, which they ladle onto their tropical fish to keep them from freezing. Among the crowd are men with trays of maggots and other larvae. As purveyors of fresh fish food, they appear to have a secure niche in the market.

Dove and pigeon breeding seem to be popular hobbies. A man from Podolsk sells his pure white doves for five rubles apiece. He keeps them for pleasure, he says, just to see them flying through the forest. Among the golubyatniki (dove breeders) are Muscovites who keep their birds in dove-cotes outside their apartment buildings.

One young man wants me to buy a dove for my daughter to release, as a dove of peace. This offer echoes an old custom, the releasing of caged birds for religious merit, a ritual some Russians still carry out at the graves of their relatives. The profit motive comes into play here, too: The birds are trained to return to their masters for another sale.