Having a pet in the United States seems so trivial. You can go to the shelter or an animal store and come home with a dog, cat, guinea pig, fish, mouse, or squawking parrot that same day. Having a pet in a Third World Country is considered abnormal, unless it’s a cow and in that case, it’s not a pet, but a form of income. If Host Country Nationals do have cats or dogs, they’re for a purpose other than for company. Cats are to kill rats in the ceiling; dogs are for protection from potential night robbers and unwanted guests.
I have broken every possible stereotype when I adopted Parasy. She is allowed in the house. She is kept on a leash so she doesn’t venture out and get hit by a car on the highway. She gets quarterly shots to prevent her from becoming pregnant. She gets nutrient shots monthly to make sure she’s healthy. She has a specific food, just for her (dog food). She obeys commands. Sit. Stay. Come here. Quiet. Go to your bed. Where’s Dino (her dinosaur stuffed animal)? All in Malagasy of course. She has been vaccinated for Rabies. She is not allowed near trash pits. She is housetrained and trained to go to the restroom in a specific place so she doesn’t ruin crops. She is allowed to jump onto my lap. I pick her up. She gets bimonthly baths with special shampoo. She can give me kisses.
To my fellow villagers, I am an absolutely crazy person who should be medicated. Even though Parasy is extremely well behaved, people fear her. It’s like the parting of the Red Sea when I walk her down the road. Even on market day when thousands of people have converged on the small market next to my house. Parting of the Red Sea. At the sight of her, it’s a high pitched yell and lunge to the side, even though we are still 10 yards away.
They think a bark is a “you better run, I’m going to kill you” bark. Most of the time, Parasy’s barks are a “Oo. Oo. Oo. People. Play with me. Play with me.” The other times, yes they can be a “you better run, I’m going to kill you” bark. But then maybe you shouldn’t have thrown huge granite rocks at her and hit her in the head, or taken a stick and smacked her with it. How do I know? I pretended to go to work one day, but hid in my house and witnessed the entire thing through a hole in my window. So in that case, Parasy, you can scare them all you want. They deserve it.
I witnessed my landlord’s sons being absolutely cruel to Parasy one day when I was coming home from my class. After yelling at them, I confronted my landlord about it. It told her it was not okay and she needed to tell her children to stop it. She laughed and said it was just a stupid dog and I needed to stop being so emotional about it. I told her if I saw her sons do it again, I would do it right back to them and see how they liked it. I’m still not sure if she thought I was being serious or not. I was.
Before I arrived in Alakamisy, I’m not sure the villagers knew a lot about Americans. There were two volunteers before, but they exchanged culture regarding humans, and not to our second type of children, animals. There are days when I just sit in my favorite small café and just talk about the differences between Madagascar and America. I think I’ve done a fair job in teaching our culture in regards to pets. Certain villagers have been very receptive to the idea and now have pets themselves. If Parasy escapes (in part this is my fault, I thought it would be cute to show her how to open the gate, but in reality, not so cute when she opens it when I’m not there), villagers bring her back home, and put her on my porch with the chain leash I leave there because they know unless she’s with me, she’s not allowed to go anywhere. I even got a few of my favorite children that live near me to pet her. Yes, I may have bribed them with candy at first, but now they see she’s not so scary. After all, if you show animals love, they will love you unconditionally right back.