Monday, August 10, 2015

Dog Days

In honor of my pup's second year with us, I wanted to write a blog about having a dog in the Peace Corps. Before I came to Africa my dad told me a story about a volunteer he knew who had two pet mongeese that he brought back to America with him. After hearing that story along with numerous others about finding snakes in your house/bath/bed/shoes, I decided that my first order of business as a volunteer would be to find and train a mongoose to keep the snakes at bay. Instead I ended up with a dog who can't fetch, thinks the couch is hers and hers alone, and will come running from miles away if she hears a package of crackers opening. Despite her quirks though, she is a good dog. So here's an ode to Lua.

Lua is an approximately-two-year-old African mutt which I would describe as a mixture of whippet and jackal. My only basis for that assumption are her funky ears and how quick she is while chasing chickens. She will actually lap them when she catches up just so she can continue chasing after them. One thing about having a dog in Africa is the danger that someone will decide to poison, kill, or eat them. Yes, that's right…eat them. Dogs are generally mistreated and feared around here, and if one were to kill or injure your neighbor's livestock you can bet they'll be around for vengeance. Kids throw rocks at puppies and beat them with sticks, and adults are quick to toss boiling water at a dog sniffing around their yard for scraps. They are valued as guard animals, but even kept as such they can also be mistreated and poorly trained, making them mean and keeping up their stigma of being terrifying creatures. There are exceptions to this, though. Not all Mozambicans are afraid of dogs and we have been very lucky as everyone in our neighborhood loves Lua. They leave their leftover meat out for her so much that she often snubs her dinner at our house in preference for the neighborhood buffet.

(Grudgingly) Feeding her puppies...
Lua is very well trained, which helps with her reputation. She was originally another volunteer's dog, but  when her owner changed sites to a city far away we adopted her. When she came to live with us she already knew how to sit, stay and heel, and we've been working on some new tricks since then (fetch being the most difficult for some reason). She also waits for the "eat" command, so she won't steal food out of your hand or off your table, and will stand over her food looking back at you if you forget to say it at mealtime. She understands most of her commands in Portuguese, but I've noticed she's also bilingual and will occasionally follow a command given in English. She also loves to play with kids. Every Saturday we wait for the inevitable chorus of children singing  "Luuuuuuuaaaaaaaaa" to try and coerce her out of the house to come play. I actually think she's more integrated than we are here, because when I take her on walks people I have never met before come out and greet her before they even say hello to me.

There are challenges to keeping a dog, or any pet, as a Peace Corps volunteer. The most obvious is that there are going to be some extra expenses on your already ridiculously meek stipend. Also there aren't a lot of quality vets nearby, and hitchhiking or riding a bus with a dog isn't the most logistically sound travel option. Lucky for us Lua came complete with a collar, leash, and deworming pills from her previous owner, and I received a two-year supply of Advantix treatments from a lovely USAID worker and former PCV whom I met in the capitol. We feed Lua a mixture of dried shrimp and xima (course corn flour…sort of like grits) and everyone in the market thinks it's hilarious that we feed her shrimp. She even has a good friend in the market who lets her sit under the shrimp table and eat the bits that fall down underneath.

...And hiding from them in the planter.

Lua hates her dog pants.
The most difficult challenge of having a pet here is that, if it's a girl, it's going to get pregnant. There's no great option for spaying that won't either be logistically or fiscally impossible, so when Lua is in heat the only option is extreme vigilance. I say this because we have already been through one pregnancy and while you may think puppies are cute and cuddly, I know that they are actually loud and annoying and disgusting. Also a hormonal momma dog is just the worst. She would actually hide in our planters just so the puppies couldn't reach her to nurse. Jerk. Fortunately heat only happens twice a year, and while we failed miserably at keeping her chaste last time, this time we've got the jump on her. First order is complete lockdown and constant supervision: when she's not locked in the house she has to stay on her chain, and only when one or both of us is around to fend off potential suitors by pelting them with rocks (yes, I realize I condemned this very practice in the beginning of this post, but they deserve it). We also keep a doggy diaper/chastity belt on her that we fashioned out of capulana, and cover it for good measure with an old pair of underpants with a hole we cut for her tail. Lua hates the dog-pants with a fiery passion and will often dramatically shake while we put them on her as if she's about to encounter the devil himself. It has been particularly successful though, and it's hilarious to watch dogs try to mount her and then whine in confusion as they sniff around the contraption. Our neighbors find it equally hilarious, although they are extremely unhelpful in fending off the puppy-daddies and even complain that we're being mean in forbidding her to have sex when she so clearly wants to. The whole thing makes me feel like the strict parent of a teenager. One of our neighbors did commend her on her responsible practice of family planning, though.

All the negatives aside, I wouldn't trade Lua for the world. It gets lonely here sometimes, and she's the best companion I could ask for. She's not the greatest at keeping critters out of our house; in fact she usually makes a swift exit or hides under the couch at the site of any large insects, and she recently let a chicken walk into my room and refused to chase it out. She is a great running partner, though, and I'll be amazed if I ever find a person that's as happy to see me as she is after I've been away. Upon my most recent return home, I had been on the verge of bursting my bladder for about two hours and I ran straight off of the chapa into the bathroom. I heard a strange galloping noise coming towards me and knew that Lua had seen me arrive. She doesn't usually go into the latrine but will sit outside in anticipation to accost you as soon as you come out. This time, though, I guess she just missed me too much. Next thing I knew Lua had burst through the door at full speed to jump on me in the potty. She nearly caused me to pee all over myself but I could hardly be mad at her, because that's the kind of love you just don't find in another human being.


  1. loved this post.

    love that you love her so much.


  2. Good morning, how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because through them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately, it is impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are very small countries with very few population, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this, I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Mozambique? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Mozambique in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Calle Valencia, 39
    28903 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally, I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez