I have taken it upon myself to feed the puppies and cats who hang out in the sun outside of my apartment building at lunch time. The courtyard in front of my building is always rather awash with animals. I live close to a trash dump where many a critter can find snacks. Primarily cows and dogs, but also with the occasional trash donkey or cat there is no shortage of furry friends. Most of the dogs are bigger, full grown animals used to fighting for survival in brutal conditions.
One day at noon, I was walking home from work for lunch and discovered from afar a little puppy whimpering next to my apartment door. As I neared, a group of boys picked it up and started shaking it and pretending to throw it at each other, laughing the puppies distressed yelps. I yelled at them to stop when I reached the pack of cackling preteens and they ambled off, disgruntled that I'd ruined their fun. I stood and looked down at the dusty, forlorn furball. I wanted to feed it but I don't ever have meat. There is enough meat in the Mongolian diet that I don't feel the need to go anywhere near the stuff when I'm not visiting houses or local restaurants. Making up my mind to nourish it somehow, I willed the puppy to stay where it was and dashed inside. Rummaging around in my fridge I found some leftover quinoa. Knowing that it's actually the only grain that is a complete source of protein, I figured a meal like that would be good for a puppy. I dissolved some beef bullion into the bowl of Whole Foods-bought goodness and gingerly presented it to my new friend. The animal lapped it up ravenously until the broth froze, making the whole thing inedible. He lolled happily against my knee, probably the most fed and watered he'd been in his life, as I gave him a healthy scratching behind his ears. However I only get an hour for lunch. Children need educating and I had to eat still, too. So off I went to hurry through the rest of my day. But sure enough, the next day the puppy was there for lunch, his tail wagging as he devoured my makeshift puppy feast. And again the next day he appeared. I kept fixing him the same bowl, adding hot water and scraps to the frozen puppy food from the day before and we carried on this way for a couple of weeks. Once Suzanne came home with me for lunch and I proudly showed her my growing friend, the survivor puppy who had outlasted the hard winter. She said we should name him because he was sure to live. We settled on Bear because he looks like one with his rolls of baby fat that makes his fur stick out and his little pointy ears. Bear seemed to like his new name. But the next day he wasn't there for lunch. And the next day he was absent again. I worried for weeks, always thoroughly scanning the courtyard every time I came or went from home. There was a serious chance that something had happened to him. The weather isn't yet warm enough for an animal not to freeze to death like so many do every winter. What if another dog had brutalized him and he'd died from battle wounds? That is also very common among the dogs here, both homeless and hashaa bound. But yesterday, as I padded back from my local store in slippers, I caught a glance of him. Bear! He'd grown. Bigger but still rather rolly-polly, happy and alive. I grabbed the bowl of scraps I had been saving for him since the quinoa was long gone. I had bought him proper dog food or at least meat this time and rushed out to him. When I bent down to pet him he winced as if terrified of getting hit. Though didn't seem to remember me, he pranced over happily when I gently set the bowl down in front of him. He lapped up the meal with gusto and passersbys remarked about how cute he was. Part of me hopes that locals see me treating a street puppy with love and rethink the way they abuse animals so freely. After he'd finished eating we frolicked in the dust a little until he wandered off to sniff some teenage boys. He returned to me for another ear scratching and without so much as a sniff goodbye he ran off down the street, his chubby body wiggling through the dust.
Watching him go, I marveled at how tiny he is. There is still a good chance he will die. I've seen many a full grown dog lifeless on the ground, their puppyhood long behind them but somehow Mongolia choked the life out of them anyway. There is no guarantee Bear will even live to see tomorrow. Sometimes I don't know why I bother rooting for life in a country in which so many animals are born to die. Tellingly, bones scatter the landscape no matter where you walk in Mongolia. Caring can get exhausting after seeing so many dead and dieing animals. But here and now the weather is warming and I have hope for this little one. Perhaps he was the crying puppy that got kicked out of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission I wrote about on November 14, 2010. I'm not sure. Regardless, I love the little Bear who lived and will give him affection and warm meals for as long as I can. Long live puppies!
|Bear gets his grub on.|
|Doin' a happy dance.|
|Soaking up the attention.|