In the third or fourth grade, a friend of mine gave me a magnet that still sits on my refrigerator at home. It was a picture of a Labrador and it said, “May I always be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.”
The contrast to how Americans and Ethiopians view dogs could not be more different. In America, dogs are part of the family. They are our friends and companions. We can tell them secrets and they develop distinct personalities. They begin to understand us, and know when we are sad or happy. We spoil them rotten, and in turn they give us unconditional love.
In Ethiopia, Dogs get in the way. They serve little purpose, outside of securing a home and are often killed in the hundreds by way of poisoned meat. Anyone who is thinking of Joining the Peace Corps and loves animals should be prepared to see some tough things.
I was prepared, I thought.
My compound family is a rare family that treats dogs with respect. We have had a total of 7 dogs throughout my time here. Upon my arrival, I fell for one of them.
Her name was Jibby (Translation: My Hyena) and she was beautiful. She would respond to my whistle by running as fast as she could until she crashed into my legs. She learned shake and sit down in an afternoon and had a terrific disposition. She was certainly mischievous but loved to love. We were smitten.
What does a mischeivous nature and a love of love lead to? She got pregnant. A few months after I arrived she gave birth to nine (NINE) puppies.
She was a great mother and super protective. She cried really hard the day we gave the puppies away.
She was such a good mother, she decided she wanted to give it a second try! A year into my service, my puppy had given birth to 16 dogs. Sorry Bob Barker.
Carly was here with me and we had an amazing time watching the little things grow up. One day, Jibby was relaxing when we played a clip of one of her puppies crying. She panicked, and went to the puppy house, grabbed one in her mouth and brought it back to where she was previously resting. Then we played the clip again. She ran to get another puppy. We kept the whimpering sound going and she kept retrieving her pups one by one. Carly and I marveled at how hilarious it was, and how endearing. She was a great Mom. Eventually, I felt bad and brought the other pups to her.
One night, Jibby went crazy. She started to act really aloof. We wondered if it was Rabies, but she seemed to snap out of it. At night, she was back to her role as mother, selflessly giving up her milk.
Carly opened the window the next morning to a truly depressing sight. It will probably live with us forever. Our landlords nephew was killing Jibby, slowly, with a large stick. She was crying.
Jibby had bitten three people, and instead of tying her up to see if it was Rabies, they decided to kill her. I told Carly to stay as I checked on the pups. They had all been killed by their mother, save for two. It’s hard in times like this not to blame yourself. I wish I had done something.
The two three-week old survivors were shaking in a corner, surrounded by their dead brothers and sisters. It was very painful for a dog lover to go through. I thought about not sharing this story, but it would be like telling a lie. The Peace Corps experience is full of tough lessons, and sad realities.
In the coming weeks, we have been taking care of the survivors who neither developed rabies nor seemed too shaken by their rough beginnings. They are just normal puppies who love exploring, drinking powdered milk, and reciprocating our love. They are a good lesson in how life goes on, even after tragedy.
The joy of dog ownership comes at a cost that almost negates years of happinesss. For those of us who love dogs, their deaths are tragic. Dogs are pure and innocent; their sole job is doling out affection. So losing a dog is like losing a perfect friend. If there is solace in this pain, it is in the realization that we gave them a good life. It is a reminder to love others as much as we loved them and to be the kind of people our dogs think we are.