Friday, March 1, 2013


                 I should be asleep, resting for the next day, but I can’t sleep.  There is a dog howling  somewhere on the ground ,14 floors below our  hotel window. It is a mournful sound and repeated every few seconds as if controlled by a timer. I picture the dog’s head  thrown  back and its mouth forming a string of o’s …….just as depicted in a favorite Far Side cartoon I saved for years. But in that cartoon, someone was there to respond.  This dog howling on the streets of Yerevan is most likely a stray with no home, no owner hence, no responder.  The howling eventually ceases. Is that because someone threw the dog a bone or because it just gave up and quit????    Even with the silence of night returning, I cannot sleep.  Now I’m thinking of other such dogs we’ve seen in Armenia and it keeps me awake.
           I can see in my mind’s eye, the pathetic mother dog we encountered on the street yesterday.                                          

Though not frail or emaciated looking , she had probably  whelped her puppies recently.  Her breasts were swollen and red and she was scrounging for food along the gutters of the street. Where were her newborn pups? I’m certain they were not waiting for her in a warm basket or in a box with a blanket, prepared especially for their coming. Most likely they were nearby in one of the old concrete buildings,  huddling underneath debris of some sort , where the mother dog was trying to shelter them from the cold February winds of Armenia.  How could she or any other mother dog feed herself and nurture her pups as a stray on the street?
                    I then visualized  the dogs in our town that are routinely tied up to trees  or stakes, trapped at the end of meter-length chains where they spend their days “protecting” the dismal property of their owners by barking ferociously at each passer-by. Being a watch dog is a job.  One dog in particular emerges from his cold, metal 50- gallon- oil- drum- home each morning as we walk to work.  He appears to be strong and ferocious with a daunting bark and demeanor,  but what can he do with only a bit over 3 feet of freedom.   We occasionally witness his owner pouring some kind of gruel into his bowl, so at least he is fed. In the summer it is the same routine, but it is hot. That is no life for an animal. Another dog I see at the bus shelter near my college is a large, mixed-breed animal with a heavy fur coat. What attracts my attention is the way this dog sits majestically guarding its owner’s backyard, but rarely does it bark.  It sits erectly and quietly, all the while, appearing to observe those of us waiting for the local avtobus.  Though students are laughing, running around and talking, the dog does not seem to feel threatened and does not test the length of his restraining chain to bark and snarl at the activity nearby.
                    As alternative and more pleasant thoughts, I picture the cute little pug puppy I saw today in a nearby park. It had a collar and leash and was being hugged by its young female owner. Then there is the volunteer who is making arrangements to take her adopted dog from Armenia back to the U. S. Finally, I think of the beautiful blond cocker spaniel we see in the Green Bean coffee shop in Yerevan. This dog's owner rescued it when the dog's former owner could not continue to care for the animal.  It now visits the owner's restaurant is is obviously loved and well cared for in Yerevan, Armenia.       These dogs are exceptions and they are the lucky ones.   They have unknowingly encountered kind humans who care for them and treat them as something having value as living creatures in our world.
                  Unfortunately, there are so many more dogs in Armenia and around the world that merely survive, reproduce and continue the cycle of keeping their kind alive.
Stray dogs resting in intersection of streets in Yerevan,Armenia
   Then there are the "dump dogs"---born near the garbage dumps, fed by the garbage, and thrown there when they die.  There are the abandoned dogs who lose owners for various reasons just as in the U. S. They suffer from not being accustomed to life on the street. They are seen walking up to strangers, wagging their tails and appearing to be friendly as they beg for food.  Then the stranger kicks them or yells for them to “go away”.   Only once have I seen anyone respond positively to such an animal. It was at the bus stop and a child gave the dog his hunk of bread.  The adult accompanying the young child encouraged this action. It was literally the first act of kindness towards a stray animal that I’ve witnessed in Armenia, and it may be the only one.   
               A stray dog that received a hand-out from a kind child but  looks like it has already been abused.  Ears are totally gone, the probable result of unnecessary cropping done inhumanely. 

           As I lie awake thinking of all of this, my eyes begin to feel heavy and I know sleep will come in the wee hours of this morning. I also know I must write about these thoughts. As in other writings, it is more a compulsion to clear my head of such ramblings than to produce a solution to this troubling issue in my current world. I am not up to problem solving in this culture of poverty and neglect where people, too, have their stresses every day.

                 The next day, David and I again see the previously mentioned  mother dog looking for food near our hotel.  I buy her a small packet of dog food, return to where she is walking around and open the food for her.  Of course, she laps it up quickly and tries to eat the packaging before another stray dog comes to investigate. My impulsive act does not solve this dog’s problem, but it makes me feel better for the moment. I was pleased that the dog did not run away in fear or growl and bark at me. Maybe this is a sign that she is being fed by others who take pity on her plight.  Maybe there are more caring people than I’m aware of.  These thoughts provide comfort for the moment. Maybe I just have to live with that.

Mother dog scoffing up small package of dog food

  1. Note:The dog to the left is a beautiful cocker spaniel owned and cared for by the owner of the GREEN BEAN coffee shop in Yerevan.  This shop is one of the only smoke-free cafes, coffee shops or restaurants in Yerevan. It emphasizes natural ingredients in its foods, recycling and an over-all green focus. The owner is interested in helping stray dogs and actually rescued this blond cocker spaniel when its former owner was no longer able to keep it. The dog comes to work with its owner on some days and is treated royally.  There are some kind people in Armenia and, hopefully, their numbers will grow so that animals are better treated. With that thought in mind, I finally drift off to sleep...............................Judy 

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