Meet Rusik: The Caviar-Smelling Police Cat


Rusik was the name of a Russian police cat in Stavropol on the Caspian Sea. In brief, he started out as a stray who may or may not have been abandoned by his owners on the streets before being adopted by the customs guards operating a security checkpoint in the aforementioned city. There, he turned out to have an excellent nose for contraband caviar, so much so that he ended up replacing the police dogs that had been responsible for such tasks before his arrival.

Unfortunately, Rusik was killed in 2003, which may or may not have been the result of a deliberate attempt to do so. This is supported by how the car that struck him had been busted by him for transporting contraband caviar earlier in the same day, which makes for rather suspicious timing. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that a second police cat was killed after eating a poisoned mouse, which makes the incident that much more suspicious in hindsight. Whatever the case, it is clear that Rusik did his job well, so much so that the suspicions of a deliberate attempt to kill him seem all too plausible rather than too ridiculous to be believed.

Why Was Rusik So Important? 

In brief, Rusik was important because caviar is seen as a food for the rich and powerful, so much so that contraband caviar can command enormous sums of money when sold through less than legitimate channels. This is rather ironic because the product was once seen as commonplace but attained its current socioeconomic status through a series of socioeconomic shenanigans.

We know that caviar was known to a wide range of peoples from different times and different cultures, as shown by how the ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians prepared it with salt and vinegar while the ancient Greeks ate it off of flower-garnished platters. However, the product became known to modern Europeans through the Russians, who came to like it because fish and fish products could be eaten on days when meat was forbidden to Orthodox Christians.

Regardless, it seems to have been the Industrial Revolution that caused the popularity of caviar to skyrocket for a number of reasons. First, said event created an entire class of people in search of status symbols to affirm their newfound wealth, with caviar being but one example of said status symbols. In part, this was because Russian monarchs had been known to serve the product to foreign diplomats from time to time, which resulted in its perception as a special food in the eyes of people who were not particularly familiar with Russian food of the time.

However, it should also be noted that some early efforts were made to introduce caviar to the elite of western Europe, which resulted in sky-high prices because of the logistical challenges involved in transporting the products over such long distances in barrels packed with ice, thus strengthening that perception. Second, the Industrial Revolution resulted in new technologies that made long-distance travel easier than ever, which in turn, meant that the main source of caviar in Russia was now more accessible than ever before. Combined, these two factors transformed something commonplace into something meant for the rich and powerful, though the real blows would not come until the fall of Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union still produced caviar, but its production was sustainable because it maintained tight control over sturgeon populations in the relevant bodies of water. However, its controls fell when it fell, meaning that the resulting free-for-all caused the sturgeon populations to plummet, so much so that Russia had to institute bans to save them from extinction. Unfortunately, this has not stopped the smuggling of contraband caviar from the region, which is now something that takes place in countries situated all around the world because the beluga sturgeon of the Caspian Sea is the source of the highest grade of caviar but no more than that. As a result, other sturgeon species are now under threat as well, though efforts are being made to combat such problems.

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