Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dog Walking in Iraq

Some friends of mine are leaving Iraq for two and a half weeks and they want me to look after their dog. She's a small, shaggy dog of a certain breed I don't recall the name of. At first I was reluctant (you see I'm more of a cat person ... cats are just so much less effort than dogs), but I decided to go for it. My office environment is loose enough that I can take her in with me and having a dog will get me out walking more.

Of course, I warned my friend that they may want to think twice about leaving the dog in my hands. I've nearly killed my dream dog ... and I've done in two dream horses and countless dream cats. I dreamed about my dream dog last night. He's a german shepard half starved for food and attention, living in a dirty pen. It's one of those stupid anxiety dreams I have at times, particularly when someone asks me to watch their pet. I start dreaming of all the ways I could fuck it up - forgetting to feed or care for their animal, losing them, letting them waste away. Mind you, I would never do such things in real life, only in my dreams am I that irresponsible. I only take care of my dream dog when I remember to dream about him.

Last night, I woke up after having dreamed of him and said, "Man, every now and then I dream about this damn dog that I'm supposed to take care of. Why don't I just let him out of the pen so he can atleast fend for himself when I'm not around to dream about him!" So I promised him from then on, you are free to come and go anytime you want ... no pens, no leash, dream or no dream. Hopefully he's a happy dog now. I named him Max.

But taking care of a dog in Iraq should be interesting. Dogs are considered dirty in Islam and most people don't have dogs (or cats for that matter). Occasionally you see pet dogs and there are working shepard dogs, but the rest are usually feral dogs that hide out on the edges of town and in parks and come out only a night. I remember a fellow peace activist telling me a story about being in Baghdad before the war in 2003. He got up very early one day to go from one hotel to another on Abu Nuwas Street (a road along the Tigris River with a wide green ribbon of park between). People weren't up in the second hotel and the door was locked, so he waited outside for them to open up. While he waited, he could see dogs coming out from the river parkway to check him out. They looked tough and just a little to interested in him.

But during the day you never see dogs around and when you walk a dog here, people generally give you a wide berth. I remember I was going to take my friend's dog down the lift in their apartment building one day and when the door opened there was a young boy inside, he took one look at the dog and jumped to the back of the elevator with an expression of sheer terror on his face, eyes riveted on the dog. It was like I was walking some kind of monster, which is funny, because the dog is (despite a few territorial displays around food), pretty damn innocuous most of the time. Needless to say, I stepped back and waited for the next elevator.

Another friend here told me the story of how he'd found an injured dog and took it to a succession of veterinarians who reacted in much the same way. Even they were afraid to touch it despite their profession. It's a tough life to be a dog in the Middle East. Max is probably lucky that atleast he has me.


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