Growing up, I always wanted a dog. Yet, possessing a pup was one of the few life experiences withheld from me – that is until I moved to Yap. Here on the island, dogs are a dime a dozen. Heck, I could walk onto my back porch right now and two dogs would come running.
One of the first instructions I received upon arrival in Yap was not to get attached to the dogs. Canines are a strange blend here, with a blurred line between street, yard, and house dogs. They roam the street, live on your porch, and if you let them, they will even venture into your home. However, unlike American dogs, these Yapese pups are rarely vaccinated, have a high likelihood of flees, and in general, you don’t really want them in your home. Yet the neighboring kids ride around on the backs of the dogs as if they were horses, and no one really seems to care much about it. 'To have a dog' here, simply means you are responsible for feeding it, and it may follow you around. There are two dogs associated with my house in Nimar, Fiona and Dusty. Fiona was raised by last year’s volunteers, while dusty was recently abandoned by the neighbors… I guess they are now a packaged deal of an inheritance, and to be honest, they are an absolute nuisance.
The general attitude of the locals towards the dogs appears to be live and let live- to an extent. For example, when another volunteer, Natalie, was explaining to her class how Americans treat dogs back home the local kids were flabbergasted at the idea of a house dog. They broke out in a chorus of laughter when they heard we let dogs sleep in our beds. The thought of it! It was the perfect example of the simple things which are so common to us, yet are so foreign to others. I walk our friends dog (the most Americanized one on the island) and all the kids walking by giggle at the sight. One of her owners is even occasionally referred to as ‘the man who walks the dog on a string’.
The majority of the canines are ambivalent to you. It is not uncommon to drive down the road and have a group of dogs sleeping in the middle of the pavement. In fact, it is so common that my coworker’s son came into the office singing his new favorite song: ‘Suicidal Dog’ – a little diddly the two of them made up as they waited for the dogs to get out of the street. Walking down the street you can often catch a glimpse of the more reclusive mongrels sleeping in the shade of vehicular undercarriages. One of these old geezers, with bloodshot eyes and a permanent droop to his face, seems to live under the pickup truck at the fish market. He stares at me, I stare at him, but beyond that, neither of us give much bother to the other. This is how it seems to go with most of the dogs on the island.
There is also a brutal side to these hounds. Unlike our beloved American pets, these pooches are still very much wild animals. They often fight each other and it can turn nasty quickly. On our second or third day here, we were driving down the road and a dog came running past with its stomach ripped open, the skin flapping around and dragging on the ground behind it. Thus far that instance has proven to be an exception rather than the rule. Yet, I do wonder if it really is an exception; as ‘my’ dog Fiona refuses to go past the spot where we crossed paths with that poor pooch. Who knows? Maybe that is the turf of a particularly brutal hound gang.
So you are on Yap and meet some dogs… here is some useful information for you:
In the event that you come across a pestering pup, local recommendations dictate that you should pretend to pick up a rock. If this is insufficient, you are to actually pick up a rock, and if that still doesn’t work, you should throw the rock at the scoundrel. However, only take that advice in Yap. Apparently in Palau the dogs will chase you if you throw a rock at them… a priest I know learned that the hard way.
If you do become attached to your dog, you need to keep it on a short leash. As I said, they are a dime a dozen. Thus if your dog kills the wrong person’s chicken, you may wake up to your dog laying dead in your yard. The most grotesque method I have heard tossed around thus far was feeding a dog a mixture of meat and broken glass to shred its esophagus on the way down. Rat poison or other similar methods have also been mentioned in passing. The idea is horrific, and definitely not PETA approved, but it seems like no one would blink an eye at it here.
We occasionally contemplate the future of our bequeathed puppy Dusty. His owners moved out last week and just left him behind. He wreaks mass mayhem wherever he goes and none of the neighbors appear to like him. Dusty regularly follows me on runs around the lagoon, and even walked with me to the door of the bar, despite yelling ‘go home’ at him the entire way. Supposedly there is a colony of happily abandoned animals out at the dump. And it is not uncommon for us to joke (semi-half-heartedly) about dropping him off there. Yet we don’t want to risk having his flees in our vehicle. Plus, who is to grantee he won’t make his way back home in a few days… so for now we just put up with yelling at him. At the very least, it gives us three volunteers something we can always agree on… Dusty is the worst.