Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cambodians and dogs

Friday was a terrible day. A neighbour's dog has a litter of seven or eight puppies and one of them came into our garden and was attacked by our three smaller dogs. The 6 week old puppy was bitten on its back and its belly. Its owner came to take it back and when Alan handed it over to him, the owner said the puppy would not survive.

I refused to believe it and asked to take it to the vet. The Cambodian neighbour said, no need, Madam. He showed us its belly which had a puncture. He said there was water coming out of its stomach: he was trying to explain to us that the injury was internal.

I called a tuk tuk and jumped in with Ya, our new helper and the puppy which I had put on a towel in a basket. Unfortunately, our German vet Izzie had gone to Sihanoukville for a few days. Some people there had bought a horse and paid for her to go to teach them all about horses. The neighbour told us there was a vet about 2 km away. But it turned out that the shop, which had a sign with painted farm animals and a cross (the international symbol for "hospital") only sold animal feed. The cross stood for a human doctor, not a vet. But the lady in the shop told us where to find a vet. It is across the river from the Old Market and near a pagoda.

Ya explained to the Khmer vet, "ch'kai kam ch'kai" (literally "dog bite dog"). Without examining the puppy thoroughly, he opened his bag and stuck three syringes into three different bottles. He then proceeded to inject the puppy with the liquid, into its back (just behind its neck). I asked what the drugs were--antibiotics perhaps? And he said "vitamin". Only after he had injected the obligatory "vitamins" that he examined the dog. He said the dog may or may not live because of its stomach injury, but told me to come back for the next three days. That gave me some hope.

When I brought the dog back, I walked over to explain to the neighbour what the vet had said. Alan called out to me, "You're not giving it back to them, are you?". He was sure they would have just chucked it in one corner. I took the puppy indoors after telling our neighbour I would look after it.

The puppy was making small noises and moved out of the basket. I thought it was good it had the energy to move. Whenever I stroked it, it would make louder purring noises. I really thought it had a chance.

The puppy died an hour later. Alan had already suspected that it would not live because the puppy started giving out a strange smell. To me, it smelt a little metallic. It was a sign that the body is eating itself for energy. Ketosis is a process in which your body converts fats into energy. Ketones is a by-product of that conversion and has a sweet, fruity smell, like alcohol. But our puppy smelt more like ammonia, which meant the body had moved to breaking down protein, since there was hardly any fat--it was such a scrawny thing.

(It is interesting that with their keen sense of smell, dogs have been known to detect cancer from urine samples, as reported by CBS's 60 Minutes).

We wanted to bury it but Ya said the land in our house is too hard to dig since the puppy had to be buried deep enough so the dogs don't get to it. In the end, she suggested we give it back to the neighbour who would bury it. I was in no mood to speak with the neighbours so with one hand, Ya lifted the puppy up by its hind legs, just like you would a chicken or rabbit (as I've seen on telly). I had to tell her to use both hand and to hold its beneath its neck as well as legs.

I was very angry and upset. All the Khmers--the neighbour, Ya, the tuk tuk driver said "ot mian panyahar, ch'kai slup" ("no problem, dog die"). The tuk tuk driver was the worst, he started laughing and saying "broken tyre" when he saw the puppy's punctured stomach. He also in English: "This is street dog, no problem." As if there is a difference in the value of the life of a street dog, versus a "foreigner dog" ("ch'kai barang") which is what Cambodians call pedigree dogs.

I do understand that life is cheap here and people do not have the time or money to care about their animals. In fact, Ya told the vet that "M'jah rowool" ("owner busy") when he asked why the owner was not looking after the puppy.

I was angry because apparently this was not the first time one of their puppies wandered into our garden. It emerged that just the day before, while Alan and I were out, Ya saved another puppy from being attacked by our dogs. Not only did she not tell us, our neighbour too, did not tell us. If they had told us, we would have added fencing to the gate to block puppies from coming into our garden. We have a gate but obviously the gaps are big enough for puppies to wander in.

In fact, while I went to the vet, Alan started fencing up our gate. If our neighbour is not going to look after his pups, we would at least prevent this from happening again. If only someone had told us about this when it first happened, this small yellow puppy would not have died needlessly.

I was also wracked with guilt. Is it because we do not socialise our dogs enough? But this is normal pack behaviour--the dogs attacked something that was not of their pack. I was thinking this would not happen in Singapore. But of course it does. Bigger dogs sometimes attack a smaller dog even as the dog is on a leash, being walked by its owner.

The problem is worse when you have five dogs--they are more likely to behave as a pack. If you have one or two dogs and you introduce a new one, I think the new addition would be better accepted.

I could have killed our dogs for being so vicious, but I know it is not their fault. It is also not our fault that the puppy came into our garden. I did what I could by taking it to the vet and trying to nurse it. No, it is the fault of our neighbour--for not looking after their dogs and for not telling us when the first puppy was attacked. It was also Ya's fault for not telling us. It must be such an unimportant thing that they don't even think to tell us.

Yet, I was the only one who apologised--to the owner and to the puppy. I had already determined I would keep it if it survived.

Friday was just one of those days when I just want to give up living in Cambodia.


Anonymous said...

I understand that you are a dog lover and how badly you wished you could have saved the poor dog. However, to my point of view, putting the blame on your neighbor isn't quite right. Having spent years in Cambodia, you should have realized the cultural differences and may be try to think from your neighbor's perspective. They probably had their reasons for not telling you about the dog. Put it simply. They probably didn't want to cause a rift with you. Having a quarrel or bad feeling with a neighbor is the last thing Cambodians would want.

I hope you revisit your reaction and avoid using solely a Singaporean judgment in your intercultural interaction. Just my two cents.

Diana Saw said...

I knew when I was writing this there would be a Cambodian who would say exactly what you said. I say clearly there are 2 reasons for blaming the neighbour. Apart from not telling me because he is afraid of "causing a rift", the primary reason I blame him is for not looking after his dogs.

As for my "Singaporean judgement", it is a bit of an ad hominem, don't you think? What about my husband's "Scottish judgement" and "German judgement" of the vet?

All I hear from Khmers are "This is my culture, you cannot judge". Bullshit. Do you not judge a culture that practises cannibalism? There are right and wrong things in every culture, and it is glib to just say, "you have different culture."

But you know what? The puppy is better off dead that to live with a family like that.

Anonymous said...

I shall say that you are overreacting again.

By no means am I being defensive of Cambodian culture, and never have I said that the culture is perfect. Each of us are born into different cultures and conditions, with different values and priorities.
The reason many Cambodians care less about their pets does not at all mean they hate them. I've seen many Cambodians who really take a good care of them. I am not sure about how wealthy your neighbor is, but if he isn't quite well off, it should be understandable enough. The fact that the majority of the population live on a very minimal income leaves them with not many options but to care more about themselves and their own survival.

Of course. I wouldn't dare to compare how well you guys treat your dogs in Singapore, but again what is your level of development and what is ours?

Again, you might consider my comment another piece of Cambodian bullshit that you've been complaining about, yet I hope you'll go back to your previous comments and think about what I said, and KEEP COOL.

Diana Saw said...

And I shall say again you don't get the point. The point is not about you saying your culture is perfect. No, the point is about taking responsibility for one's actions, regardless of how poor you are, doing what you can to prevent harm, when you can do so.

I have thought about what you said, indeed, even before you said it--as I noted, I was already certain a Cambodian would say exactly what you said. Clearly, I have lived here long enough to predict the typical Cambodian response.

The point is that you just saying something does not make it true, and me just reflecting on what you say does not make it true. If you have an argument, let's hear it. And as far as I can see, it is about excusing the neighbour's behaviour because of his poverty. Well, to repeat, poverty does not absolve a person of his or her responsibility, especially when he or she has caused harm.

Someone like my neighbour will never learn if you say to him, "I understand, you are poor, so that is why your dog died in this case." No, he has to learn that this incident could have been prevented and indeed, must be prevented again. It will be unforgiveable if our neighbour allows this to happen again.

In addition, it is insightful what you said about the potential "rift". This thinking is predicated on the assumption that I would be angry at him not taking care of his own property (dog). So he does acknowledge, tacitly, that he should accept some blame for letting his dog run into our garden. He *knows* he did something wrong.

I write about assigning blame and responsibility because I would like for him, and others like him, to take action to prevent this from happening again, and not just admit to themselves that they did indeed, do something wrong.


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