Last week Tracy asked about the puppy we adopted when we lived in Niger.
Athena, who was five when we found the puppy four years ago, still draws pictures of our family with Tick in them.
When we went to her fourth grade conference, the teacher read us a story Athena wrote about finding Tick, caring for Tick, and losing Tick.
In Niger most people don’t like dogs. One afternoon we went to visit the compound of a Togolese friend who had a puppy. A Nigerien woman who lived in the same enclosure gave the sleeping puppy a hard kick as she passed. Her son added to the puppy’s pain by smacking it with a stick. My daughters, who were playing outside with some of the children in the compound, came running to find me with tears in their eyes.
“They kicked the puppy and really hurt it and it wasn’t doing anything to them!” my 7-year-old cried. “Why would anybody do that?”
Cars actually swerve to hit dogs. Children throw stones at them. Adults chase them away with sticks. Most of the dogs you see on the streets of Niamey, Niger’s capital city, are so thin their ribs show.
I’ve heard a lot of explanations for why Nigeriens don’t like dogs. Some neighbors of ours gave their dogs away when a Muslim priest told them the angel wouldn’t bring the blessings of Ramadan to a home with a dog, because in the Koran an angel is scared away by the bark of a dog.
Niger is a country of abject poverty where people, who often don’t have enough food for themselves, keep domestic animals to work: donkeys pull loaded carts, camels are like mini trucks, traveling long distances laden with cargo, chickens are kept for eggs and meat, goats and sheep are raised to sell or eat. Herds of milk cows share the roads with the cars, foraging in the garbage dumps.
But what can a dog do in a desert climate where there are no predators to scare away from crops, no waterfowl to retrieve from rivers, and no sleighs to mush through the snow?
Dogs aren’t seen as companions in Niger. Instead, a dog is another mouth to feed.
They are “useful” only to protect a compound by barking and snarling at strangers.
Having a dog is a luxury that most people in Niger can’t afford.
Incidentally, having a dog is a luxury that some people in America who are struggling financially are also realizing they can’t afford. Since the economic downturn in this country many dog owners have found they can’t keep their dogs, and I’ve read about how humane societies have become overrun with unwanted animals.
I haven’t answered Tracy’s request to tell the story of the orphaned puppy that we nursed back to health. I’ll write more about it in my next post. I’m hoping Mothering’s site glitch will be fixed this week, so that I can also post some photos. Come back soon to read more!
Have you lived in a developing country or anywhere overseas? What was the attitude towards dogs?