One of the most difficult things for me to adjust to so far has been the treatment of animals that we Americans usually regard as pets (particularly dogs). Now, I do realize that the whole notion of keeping domesticated animals as companions rather than for specific work-related tasks is a very Western thing and that most cultures do not think of animals this way. I also realize that plenty of other cultures regularly eat animals that we would consider pets (I’ve eaten guinea pig in Peru, and I’m pretty sure I saw cat and dog on a restaurant menu in China). I totally understand all this and do not hold anything against people who do not share my views on pets. I am simply acknowledging that this has been a difficult thing for me to get used to.
Anyway, dogs here in Mongolia are generally one of two types: “work” dogs that serve some non-companion purpose for their owners (such as shepherding dogs and guard dogs) and strays. There are a lot of stray dogs here mostly because spaying and neutering is not really a thing. These stray dogs are considered a nuisance, are seen as dirty, and I’ve been told by several different sources that twice a year people will go around the town and shoot all the stray dogs they find. Many (particularly the puppies) do not survive the frigid winter, hence the awful term “pupsicle.”
Even the dogs that do belong to people are not seen as pets in any sense. For example, my family has two guard dogs in our hashaa that generally stay chained up during the day and are let loose at night. They are fed whatever scraps are left over from our meals, are given absolutely no affection by the family, and are seen as dirty (one time my host sister’s son was trying to pet one of the dogs, and I heard my sister yell at him what can be translated as “dirty dog!” and yank him away, even though this kid touches plenty of dirtier things throughout the day than a dog). When I first moved in with my host family, they warned me that the dogs were dangerous and told me to wake one of them up if I needed to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night, when the dogs are off their chains. But the dogs quickly got used to me, and after I fed them a couple times, they even let me pet them. Now they love me! One of them will sometimes follow me around the hashaa and rub up against me until I pet him. My host family thinks it’s the weirdest thing that I’m petting and playing with the dogs, but they really are so sweet if you show them even the tiniest bit of affection.
And then there are the strays. For the first couple of weeks there was a trio of puppies that hung out around our school, and we would pet them and feed them snacks, even though Mongolians passing by would look at us like we were insane and tell us not to touch the dogs.
Then one week they kind of vanished. We’ve seen at least one of them hanging around the clinic nearby, but the others may have been picked up by someone to raise as guard dogs, or something worse…
Then about a week later another (older) puppy started hanging around the school, and she is the sweetest thing ever! She is literally there every day and she follows us around town. When one of the other PCTs and I were walking back to our homes after Mid-Center Days, this dog came out of nowhere and followed us literally halfway home, until she realized that she was in some other dog’s turf and finally turned around. Even when we don’t have food to give her, she is so happy, wagging her tail like crazy, just to have us give her some kind of positive attention.
We once saw a Dalmatian while walking home, and it was seriously the skinniest living thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how it was alive, but it could barely walk, and it looked just like a dog skeleton with a Dalmatian pelt stretched over it. I don’t even know where the heck it came from, considering most of the strays I’ve seen look like some kind of shepherd mix. It was pretty much the saddest thing I’ve seen here so far, and I’m sure it died shortly after.
I know that we just have to accept that that’s how things are here, but it just sucks when I want to take them all home and love them forever and know I can’t.