When I found out I was invited into the PC I did what most future PCVs would do…research! When I say research I of course mean I read scholarly articles and published dissertations. NOT. Mostly I used Reddit and current or former PCVs’ blogs – especially those in Swaziland. Of course I researched and learned a ton of stuff about Swaziland and all things about being a PCV, but there were a few things that I researched more than others. For me the things I was most curious about were
- What will I pack?
2. Can a vegetarian survive?
3. Can I ride a bike?
4. Why do people terminate their service early?
5. Should I get a pet?
There are few things that make me happier than animals especially dogs. But having a dog – or any pet for that matter – in the PC is not an easy choice. About a month after I moved to my permanent homestead where I am living now, one of the dogs on my homestead had puppies. Only one survived. About two weeks after giving birth the mother dog was hit and killed on the road by a car leaving this puppy all by itself. My family had seen how much I liked dogs and they knew without me telling them that I simply couldn’t allow this puppy to starve. So, my babe suggested we feed this puppy goat milk and he taught me how to milk a goat that same day. By the way, if you haven’t realized it I have the greatest family ever. I milked one of our goats every morning for about a month and gave that milk to the puppy. As soon as I began feeding this puppy my family said I must name the puppy and referred to the puppy as being my puppy. I did name the puppy, Pogues (the English spelling of the Irish word “kiss” because Pogues loves giving puppy kisses). I was and still am reluctant and have to correct people at times when they say Pogues is my dog, I will explain why later.
I have had many wonderful experiences with Pogues and consider her my best friend but I have also had many heartaches because of having something I consider to be a pet. This blog post is to give people a sense of my experiences of having a pet these last six months. And to show you guys cute puppy pictures. So enjoy!
The Challenges of Having a Pet in the PC
Even in America, having a pet is not necessarily an easy decision. They require extra attention and responsibilities. Deciding on whether or not you should have a pet in the PC is 100x harder of a decision. Not only for the same reasons in America but for many other reasons. For starters, what are you going to do with the animal when you end your service and return to America? After everything is said and done, bringing a pet back with you to America can end up costing over $2,000. That is about how much it costs for TWO roundtrip tickets from the US to South Africa.
Another challenge with having a pet in the PC is what do you do if something bad happens to the pet? In my case in Swaziland, I live 2-hour bus ride away from the nearest veterinarian. But, you can’t take a dog on a bus or a khumbi. Most people don’t have their own car in my community either. Unfortunately, if a pet needs attention such as hypothetically if your dog runs in front of a wheelbarrow and you think you broke its leg you might now have any options but to let nature run its course and hope the dog’s leg recovers. Now imagine if something really serious happens. For Pogues, it has taken me almost 3 months to find a way to get her into the veterinarian to get spayed.
One of the other main things you must consider is the culture you stay in as a PCV, how do those in your community and family view and value animals as pets? People in Swaziland have watched TV, they see how Western culture views dogs as pets. They know that Americans love their pets and we even let them sleep inside. Most people respect that. But that doesn’t mean that is how they view dogs or cats. Superstition in Swaziland is still very real in Swaziland, especially in the rural areas where most PCVs live. This superstition strongly includes the belief in witchcraft. Traditionally, if someone were to bring a dog inside the house, it is assumed they are performing witchcraft. Thankfully no one – as far as I am aware – believes Americans possess the ability to perform witchcraft and therefor don’t think much if I allow a dog inside my hut. Furthermore, Swazis traditionally see dogs as serving a purpose…to protect. They are not here for companionship. In some cases, people don’t feed the dogs that live on a homestead, and that dog must find its own food. The last cultural difference I will mention is the fact that Swazis still beat the hyperactive child at school…do you think this doesn’t happen to the hyperactive dog? It does. If you assume the role of owning a pet in the PC you must be aware that even though that dog might be yours doesn’t mean it is exempt from cultural norms of your family and community.
As I have said many times, my family is incredible. Even so, I have had challenges in terms of figuring out how to handle situations that have come up with Pogues. I have lost many hours of sleep because of concern for certain situations with Pogues. I’ll tell you the most memorable one. I was gone for a week in December at a training. My family fed Pogues as they do but she apparently was still hungry…or she was being a puppy who has a natural instinct of going after chickens. Can you guess where this is going? I came back from this week long training greeted by Pogues and my family and all was good. But then I found out that over the course of the week, Pogues had killed and eaten 13 of our chicks. In Swazi culture, if a dog kills a chicken or injures it the owner has to pay for the damage caused by the dog. A chicken goes for about 50 emilangeni (about $4). This might not sound like a whole lot to you but when you are living on a PCV living allowance of about 2,000 emilangeni per month…there goes 1/3 of the money you get that month. When my Make said that I must pay for the damage caused by my dog this caused a lot of stress for me. Thankfully, my family rocks. Make was only joking and I failed to catch her humor. They said this has happened with one of the other overly playful and ornery dogs on our homestead, Khwelakuye (literally means “on top of you” because he was so hyper). Apparently as a puppy he had also had eaten a number of chicks on the homestead as a pup. Another concern this created and continues to this day is the fact that I fear this might happen again but with a less sympathetic homestead. PCVs in my group have experienced having their family dog being lynched on a tree and left there for weeks because that dog has killed chickens. My fear for Pogues keeping out of trouble is something that causes extra stress for me.
The Positives of Having a Pet in the PC
While culturally there are a lot of factors to consider, having a pet in a different culture can be a wonderful experience and opportunity to show your family and community how you treat pets. My family and anyone who comes onto the homestead knows that I do not support beating a person or animal. They try their best to respect this which isn’t always easy and I love them for their effort. I have experienced people coming onto our homestead and Pogues will bark at them because they are strangers to the homestead and the person will strike Pogues with a stick (older Americans probably would refer to them as a switch). I would hear the siSwati conversation my Make or Babe would have with the person saying “Ndoda doesn’t like people beating his dog and he will be very mad with you.” I have been able to show off how smart dogs are to my family and friends by showing them that Pogues knows how to sit, stay, come, and leave food on command. Pogues is viewed by my family in such a different light than simply a homestead dog that just is there to warn you of strangers. They see her as having a personality and are able to see how happy she makes me.
As a PCV, there are lots of days that just don’t go as you wish they would. Some days just frankly suck. Pogues has been able to be the man’s best friend on these days. She loves to spend time with me no matter what I’m doing. She is my escort to the latrine every morning and will sit patiently outside…she knows breakfast comes next. If I go for a walk she stays by my side the entire time, entertainingly trying to pounce on grasshoppers. When I am working in the field weeding with a hoe, she is there with me “helping” by smacking the hoe. When I come home, I can call her name and she will come charging at me to greet me. When I throw a ball she retrieves it (my family goes crazy when they see this). When I sit down on the porch or the ground, she finds my lap before the ants do. When my pants look too clean she has no problem getting a paw print on them.
This blog post came up because I realized this week how big of an impact having a dog has had on my eight months of being in Swaziland, for better or worse she has had a huge impact on me. This week I finally found transportation to take Pogues into town to get spayed…one puppy is enough. It was a HUGE day for Pogues. It was her first for many things. It was the first time she ever left the homestead beyond just going for walks through the fields with me. It was the first time she ever wore a leash…she hated it; you can’t expect a dog that has known only freedom all her life to suddenly not be allowed to go where she wants and expect her to enjoy it. It was the first time she was ever in a car.
On our way to the veterinarian we stopped at a primary school (elementary school). The school is a great school that really goes against the grain of traditional Swazi schools in many ways, it is clear that the parents and teachers of the school believe in what it values as it is hard to get admitted into the school. One of the things the school does is tries to make children recognize the value of cats and dogs and how they can be companions for people. The school has a cat in the office and every student who comes into the office greets and pets the cat even though these same students would have been terrified of the cat when it first came to the school.