Dogs on the Steppe

Get it?
Get it?

It was 2:30AM. I awoke from a strange dream thinking I was somewhere other than Mongolia. Once I finally got out of that soporific state, I heard the whelps of a young dog. I thought it to be outside, but the more I listened, the more I was surprised by how loud the little fellow was.

“Wow, you can really hear everything in the dead silence of night,” I thought to myself.

Turns out, after another 20 minutes of whimpering, that I deduced that the dog in question was in my stairwell. I put on a coat, slipped on some shoes, and went out. I saw him immediately on the stairs, and it approached me, tail wagging.

Mongolians have a complicated relationship with dogs, it seems. On the streets, they’ll yell jok (жог) to scare them away, or reach down and throw rocks. Most dogs are inadvertently trained to flee whenever they see someone so much as squat down because of this. Chinggis Khaan was supposedly terrified of dogs, so he would not allow them in his camps. I remember telling this fact to my extended family, thinking there would not be many dogs in the country. How wrong I was.

Many just run the streets of the city, sometimes swarming in packs of a dozen or more. Pet ownerships seems to be catching on in the more conventional sense, but most owners strap on a collar and let the dogs wander all day. They’re not alone, as there are numerous strays going about the city. On any given day, you’ll see dogs scavenging in trash bins, trotting along, sleeping in the sun, and so forth.

The dog in the stairwell came over to me and whimpered more quietly, having found his prize. I was agitated and sleepy, and wanted the little guy to be quiet, but not to freeze to death. I had thought about picking him up and placing him outside; he’d have a better chance of being safe outside and his escort wouldn’t grab him by the scruff of his neck and fling him out the entranceway door. I tried to nudge him with my boot, but he wouldn’t budge. Unsure of what to do, I went back inside. At least he stopped whimpering, right? He then proceeded to whimper and scratch at my door for another 30 minutes.

Mid-morning snooze.
Mid-morning snooze.

Countryside dogs are kept in the yards chained up. Some have small huts where they can seek shelter in snow and rain, others don’t. They are looked at not as companions, but as workers or tools there to complete a job. They are alarm systems and deterrents for thieves, drunks, and what-have-you. They also tend to be more aggressive than city dogs. I can’t quantify that; just a casual observation.

In the countryside, and some cities, in order to control the dog populations, the local municipalities will hire posses to go out and shoot stray dogs. This happens mostly in the springtime. You always hear the stories: They have to keep the populations in check. It is considered a very undesirable job, but a necessary one in the eyes of the populace. One volunteer wrote a snippet about his first witnessing of such an event. Another volunteer, shortly before her departure from country, had her dog, which she rescued as a pup during training, killed by such a posse (it had escaped her yard). Spaying and neutering is a service that seems to only be available in Ulaan Baatar right now. While I have seen a new pet store pop up in my city, veterinarian services, it would seem, are still mostly limited to livestock.

I awoke the next morning and cautiously opened my door, afraid that I would be tackled by a small puppy. Instead, there was nothing outside. The dog had left, possibly removed by a Mongolian on their way out. He was the first, but I’m sure he won’t be the last.

Previous Posts

Late Laundry (Poetry)

The Temple With The Difficult Name (Prose)

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