Friday, August 12, 2011

stray animals and cultural differences

I spent yesterday and today doing very little of consequence, just resting up for the upcoming madness. I’ve done a good deal of wandering about, playing with the stray(ish) animals. I say stray(ish), because many seem to have their own territories staked out, and seem to do very well off scraps provided to them by their neighboring humans.

In Korea, keeping animals as pets is somewhat of a novelty, and really only done by those who purchase purebred animals from pet stores. The idea of taking an animal off the street (generally viewed as dirty, diseased, and dangerous) and bringing it into your home is just about unheard of. Granted, cat and dog cafes are becoming popular in Seoul, but they’re still quite a novelty. When I say that Charlie was once a street cat, most Koreans tend to recoil in horror. (“Why didn’t you buy a cat from a pet store?” is a common question.)

Stray animals in Korea are not treated well by the general populace (they’re viewed more like vermin than anything else), and as a result they tend to do everything they can to avoid contact with humans. The only interactions I’ve had with stray animals over the past year (prior to arriving in Ukraine) involved opening a can of tuna, setting it down, then watching as a stray cat warily snuck over to eat. Most strays don’t have an International Cat Lady around to put out tuna. However, as a result of the way garbage is collected in Korea, there are plenty of ‘trash heaps’ in every neighborhood, and that’s usually where stray cats and dogs eat. There are far more stray cats in Korea than stray dogs.

In Kiev, there are stray dogs and cats all over the place. The dogs aren’t small, either; most of them seem to be large-sized shepherd mixes. And, oddly enough, most seem fairly well fed. Few seem fat, but I’ve yet to see any that are skin-and-bones. I haven’t encountered any threatening stray dogs. Most are either friendly, or rapidly become uninterested as soon as they discover that you’re not bearing food.

My favorite Kiev dog is a female shepherd mix who lives in a park near Kontraktova Ploshcha. I’ve seen her there three times now. She is incredibly sweet and friendly, and is totally willing to play, whether or not you have snacks for her. I brought her a hotdog today, although as someone had recently given her the remains of a t-bone, she only ate part of it. (She did however drive away the few pigeons who sought to steal her hotdoggy prize, so I guess she’s saving it for later, when the steak wears off.)

The dog that lives near Kontraktova Ploshcha (in the park across from Пузата Хата)

Not only do I see stray dogs with their begging territories, I see stray cats with them, too. I saw quite a few kitties both times I walked the Andriyivsky Descent – and the second time I walked it, I noticed souvenir vendors sharing scraps with the cats. One had even brought some catfood! Meanwhile, here in “my” neighborhood, there is one particular cat who hangs out near a group of kiosks (one of which is a butcher’s). He’s incredibly friendly, and I’ve seen quite a few locals playing with him – and feeding him.

Me and Kiosk Cat in northern Kiev

Then there’s Rosya. He lives with my host family, and is seventeen years old. He’s quite a stately chap, and very demanding when he wants something. He frequently demands entrance into my room, simply so that he can sniff all of my bags for eau de Charlie. Apparently, in his younger and more athletic days, he used to sit on the floor beneath an open window, patiently waiting for a pigeon to land on the windowsill – and he was apparently quite good at catching them! (Keep in mind, he lives on the 13th floor!)



Then there’s the part of the US where my mom lives (and where – rather frighteningly – I’ll be in less than ten days). My mom is now up to NINE dogs, all of which had been abandoned, and most of which were starving when she found them. This is her latest acquisition, an incredibly friendly skin-n-bones hound that was dumped out on her land just a few weeks ago:


Having worked with animal control in that neck of the woods, I am most unfortunately aware that being a stray in that part of the US is much more similar to being a stray in Korea than in Kiev. People would call and demand immediate removal of a “dangerous animal” (which nine times out of ten would be something small and friendly) and threaten to shoot it if it wasn’t picked up within the hour. Christmas puppies would grow into summertime dogs and be left tied at the shelter’s gate – or dumped on my mom’s land. Animals would be hurled over the shelter’s fence in the dead of night, often resulting in injury or death. Idiots hurling a puppy or a cat over a 10 foot fence into a pen of adult, male dogs? Yes, that happened way too many times. Dog fighters who train with puppies and kittens? Sadly, I've seen then remains of that too many times, too.

While there are certainly people in the area other than my mother who have ridiculous numbers of animals (and who do so because no one else is willing to care for them), the vast majority of people in that area simply don’t care. I’ll be there soon, and I’m trying to prepare myself. (This might give you a clue as to what I mean when I talk about the ex-job, and you can probably understand why I get pretty worked up about it.)


Dana M said...

Is it weird that I am TOTALLY jealous that you get to go to Chernobyl? Something about that doesn't sound quite right, but I am!

Anonymity said...

I think that's a perfectly normal reaction! Actually, a friend of mine went to Chernobyl a few months ago, just days before the Ukrainian gov't closed the zone to tourists for an unspecified length of time. I was worried it wouldn't reopen in time for our trip, and VERY jealous of my friend... The zone has since reopened; fingers crossed that everything still goes as planned for next Friday!!