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Friday, September 7, 2007

Vicious Beast or Docile Lab?

Pictures: This is Pepita. What's not to love? The other pictures are of our morning walk.

In a country where “hold the dogs!” is a common countryside greeting, you can only imagine the relationships that Mongolians have with dogs. I was watching my new friends’ dog, Pepita, so I was given the opportunity to walk Pepita through the mean streets of Ulaanbaatar. Pepita is a 2 year old lab. She’s super sweet and playful. Look at the picture…who could be afraid of her? Answer: Mongolians. My friend had remarked that he often feels like he’s walking a Bengali tiger down the street as people literally jump away or panic when they see the dog. For your edification, Mongolians don’t usually keep dogs as house pets. There are many, mean, mangy looking mutts that roam the street here that are quite scary lookin, so people generally have reason to be afraid. Additionally, in the countryside, dogs are often kept outside to guard the ger, the animals, and the family. Hence, before getting out of a car to approach a ger in the countryside, you yell “hold the dogs!”
Walking around with Pepita was a funny experience for me. Walking a dog in this city is anything but typical.

First off, there are no parks, so you have to dodge cars and open manholes, and you really have to pay attention to what the dog is chewing on. In Mongolia, if a mutt dies on the street, the carcass is left there to rot and other animals come and scavenge off that. Also, most people slaughter animals on their balconies and when they are done with the bones, they just launch em out the window. There were a few times where I had to pull a rib or some other animal part out of Pepita’s mouth. I was not about to be responsible for her choking on it. The Mongolians were really surprised when I was playing with her and letting her lick me. This concept was really foreign. I like to think I was a bit of a dog ambassador. Because I can communicate I was telling people about the dog and informing them that she was nice. I'm sure they thought I was insane.
My roommate informed me that Mongolia has a national dog. I couldn’t find any direct link to that, but I did find an article that takes a historical look at dogs in Mongolia


Meg said...

Annie: my vote is for "docile lab!" But, I understand the reluctance / fear that folks have (particularly those unaccustomed to dogs). To be honest, Andrew and I encounter similar reactions in some parts of NYC (and you know how lickty-tail-waggingly-friendly Momo is!) Love, Meg

denise garro said...

annie that is awesome. afraid of a lab? Just puts a smile on my face. here you need a tough dog to protect you there a lab. who would of thought?

James said...

Annie, from what I know, the national dog is a "Four-eyed dog", and looks something like a stout mastiff with long hair, usually black with brown markings. Then again, I've heard them call any dark dog with brown eyebrow spots over the eyes "four-eyed dogs".

Christian said...

This is really morbid of me, but I've heard that another reason for use of "hold the dogs" as a greeting is to check whether the inhabitants of a given ger have come down with the plague.

Supposedly, the idea is if you yell that, and people come out to get the dogs, then everything is clear. If no one comes out however, that means they're either exhausted from disease or dead, and you should get back on your horse. At least, that's what Tim Severin says.