It’s tough for dog-loving people to understand why dogs are treated poorly in many parts of the world.
In the comforts of our homes, we treat our pets like family. We buy them food and toys, we let them climb onto our beds, we cuddle them, we take them to parks so they can play with other dogs, we take them to the vet when they get sick, and we protect them from diseases by giving them their shots. In fact, us dog-lovers treat our dogs like a son or a daughter, and mourn their death, in some cases, more than the death of a relative.
But now I live in a rural village in Lesotho, where people don’t have enough money to buy milk, eggs, and meat to feed their own children, so why should they be able to afford meat, milk and dog food, for their animals?
This post is not meant to make you feel heartbroken for Shaka—the dog that belongs to my Basotho host family–it’s to point out some major cultural differences.
In my rural village in Lesotho, dogs do not sleep in people’s homes; they are solely there to guard the property. I am often awakened by dog fights in the middle of the night, often ending with a dog yelping in pain.
That does not mean I don’t have a heart, and care for Shaka.
In the beginning, Shaka followed me on my early morning walks. She took on the role of protecting me from Bo-Ntate (men) clad in the Basotho blanket. When I passed them on the dirt path, Shaka would start growling at the Bo-Ntate. I knew that sooner or later, one of them would pick up a stone, and throw it at her. My walks became stressful and unpleasant, so I started leaving her home, chained up, which also bothered me.
Shaka recently had her first litter, and Mary, my host “mother” told me her son would take care of the puppies. I believed her, until I heard that he was looking for a job, and was no longer in my village.
Shaka’s first puppy was born when I unchained her so she could get some exercise. I hated seeing that heavy chain around her neck, but Mary warned me someone could steal her and I didn’t want to be responsible for that. So I asked permission to let her run for a while, and that was when she squatted and a puppy was born. Shaka left her newborn on the grass and ran away. She didn’t seem to know what had happened. I waited for her to come back and pick it up but she was hiding in her tiny brick shelter. I charged home, grabbed an old T-shirt, and carried her puppy over to nurse.
The following morning, I found seven puppies nursing. Shaka was starving, and needed protein and milk, but was only given a bowl of water and papa, (maize meal) the staple of Lesotho. There is very little nutrition in this starch, and the children at my school eat if every day. They also need protein to supplement their poor nutrition, just like Shaka.
Shaka stares at my front door with sad eyes, begging for something more substantial.
I cook some oatmeal and add long-life milk, which she gulps, but she’s still hungry.
I cook rice in chicken stock, and gave her the skin off a roast chicken I had bought in town.
I try to hide the food I give her, as I feel guilty that the children next door only get dry bread and papa to eat. They cannot afford butter or peanut butter. I often see the young seventeen-year-old mother, next door, picking green leaves (which look like weeds) and cooking them in her black, cast-iron pot over a fire made from twigs.
The people in my village are shocked that I care so much about Shaka and her puppies.
It’s a difficult situation, and when I explain how we treat dogs in America, no one understands that we allow them to sleep in our house, and care for them as part of our family.