I fall in love every day.
Sometimes more than once.
It usually starts with a look, maybe a lingering glance.
I generally initiate conversation. They’re never big talkers, but sometimes they follow me for a few blocks afterward.
I wouldn’t say I have a type. They’re all shapes and sizes.
The ones who limp really get me.
I’ve been a dog lover since I first toddled after my first puppy love, a yellow lab named Amie, but in Macedonia, even the cats are starting to get to me. All of the stray animals here tug on my heartstrings.
I’ve probably mentioned before that two of my biggest weaknesses are dogs and old people. It’s no different in Macedonia. I love all the strays and all the babas.
(When I was still working at the newspaper, people would periodically wander into the lobby with a story to tell and ask to see a reporter. All of the reporters tried to be busy when this happened, and that was true for me too, unless it was one of our older readers. Then I volunteered. Unfortunately fewer dogs wandered into the lobby to tell us about the injustice in the world.)
I’ve never lived in a city or town in the U.S. with so many stray animals, so that was an adjustment from day one. It was also a little difficult to adjust to the idea of pets here. They’re rare, and even when people do keep animals, they’re infrequently indoor pets.
One night during training, I walked home from the bakery with my two host sisters and a few street cats followed us, probably hoping we dropped one of the fresh loaves of bread we were carrying. (I probably don’t need to mention they smelled incredible.) I didn’t pay the cats any mind, until my youngest sister turned, yelled and kicked at them.
I chided her and told both sisters the cats weren’t bothering us, but they looked over their shoulders until the clowder stopped following. (Google just told me that clowder is the official term for group of cats. That, or glaring, but I think the second may only apply to Julie and her friends.)
I’ve seen other people kick different street animals, seen the aftermath of animals being hit by cars, and watched my students chase and yell at animals.
Some Macedonian friends have told me that when the stray population is too large, municipalities have been known to poison them to get the numbers down. Another volunteer adopted a cat here, but it wasn’t until the neutering procedure was underway that she realized they had used ketamine to paralyze the cat, without anesthesia. She said she could hear her cat’s cries several rooms away.
Cue Sarah McLachlan.
I met this perfect, beautiful pup during pre-service training, during a break from language classes. I spent the entire 30 minutes trying to sweet talk him and coax him to let me pet him, bribing him with all the food I brought that day. I had to essentially sit on the ground and toss pieces, leading him closer. Anytime I moved, he cowered backwards, like he was afraid to get too close.
I brought food to class for him every day for the rest of PST, but I never saw him again.
One of our volunteers in another training community fell in love with one sweet pooch who she called Puppy. She had a dog house built for her. I met her Puppy once and she was the sweetest little, wiggly dog you can imagine. When we found out that Puppy had been hit by a car, I think our entire Peace Corps group collectively hurt. We all left for our sites a few days later and I know it was hard for my friend to leave her furry pal behind. (Happy ending: She has since heard that Puppy seems to be doing well and has been seen running around.)
As with all the new experiences here, I’m learning to adjust my attitude and understand that there is a different perception of pets here. I also can’t generalize. My host cousins have the cutest dog I’ve seen in this country who lives inside and eats shoes. Another volunteer, who lives with an Albanian host family, just adopted a street cat and had him neutered. She just blogged about the experience, including her family’s confusion about why she would neuter a male cat. (They asked if she realized that the boy cats can’t get pregnant.)
Oh, Bob Barker. We need you.
I know there are programs that tag strays and provide some vaccinations/shots in the bigger cities, like Skopje. (I’ve read blog accounts about street smart strays that wait for the walk signal when crossing the street too.)
I don’t have an answer to the stray problem and I’m sure wiser than me have tried to address it.
While I’m here though, I hope I can at least show the strays of my village a little love.
(Except Julie, because I think we all know that ship has sailed.)