Leaving Mieko

Mongolia breeds dogs.  It’s something that happens when stray dogs roam the dirt walkways — I’d call them streets, but that seems a bit of a misnomer here — with no one to ‘fix’ them.  Hence, every other season or so, puppies start to join the veteran roamers, sniffing through trash piles to find scraps worth salvaging as food.  Families occasionally snag one of these scrap-sniffers to tie up in their yard as their new guard dog, but many are left to the elements.  This is how we found Mieko.

It was the middle of the day, but he wasn’t roaming.  He was curled up next to an apartment building, protecting himself from the wind and from the cold, a fluffy ball of fur that barely moved when we approached it.  We weren’t looking for a dog; in fact, we had just given up on a different puppy on the other side of town who consistently ignored us whenever we tried getting his attention.  We called his name (Yoda, in case you were wondering– one of us is on a Star Wars kick); threw bits of cookie at him; would have tried picking him up if he hadn’t’ve run away every time we got close; and even chased away the bully dogs who picked on him.  And still.  Nothing.  Not even a curious sniff.  So we decided against taking this scrawny, dirty, white-furred runt of a dog because our attempt at saving him may actually do more harm than the methods of surviving he had found for himself.  Maybe– by some strange irony– what we took for denseness may actually be resilience, a coping mechanism he needed to find food in that trash heap amongst the other foragers.  Thus, with heaviness of heart, we bade farewell to this creature who never even knew we had said hello.

Then we found Mieko.  I guess we were both still in puppy-mode because it didn’t take much discussing to decide to pick him up.  [The little discussion we did have was about his name: I thought a French- or Italian-inspired name would suit him well, something along the lines of Francesco, or Alfonso, or Nico.  I even suggested Kanye, after a recent hip hop kick we both went through.  But because one of us was against my suggestions, and because Nico was misheard as a Japanese-inspired name, we settled on Mieko.]  At least he noticed when we were around; this was a step up from the last one we abandoned.  And he was just so cute, all fur and little ears and a tail that curled just so.  We lured him back to the apartment with chicken bits, just arrived in a care package from the States.  Like the good pet-owners we quickly became, we bathed him, set up a doggy bed area (really, we just put cardboard on the floor), and designated two bowls for food and water.  And then we let him sleep.  In fact, that’s all he did.  He just slept.  He did pee a few times, pooped once (no worms!), but then he went back to sleeping.   But we couldn’t help but watch him, partly out of concern for potential health issues and partly out of infatuation.   He was so small and adorable, another living being in our living space, and dormant feelings of being needed and maternalism and nurturing and all that crept up so that we couldn’t keep our eyes off him.

And yet.  Morning came, and we thought it best to get him started on a routine early on: let him roam during the day (during school hours was our logic), and bring him in to the warmth of the apartment during the night.  Out he goes, and immediately we feel bad.  What if he freezes?  What if he doesn’t eat?  What if we ruined him by cleaning him and showing him good food and warmth so that now he can’t survive because he lost all instincts for survival, and it’s all our fault because we were greedy and selfish?  We didn’t have to speak these thoughts.  The mutual unease was enough to convey them.

Carrying our guilt, we searched for him that afternoon.  We found him right where we picked him up the day before, only this time he was scurrying around, perky-tailed and alert.  He even ran to us when we called!  We just wanted to make sure he was doing ok… because we wouldn’t be taking him back.  Perhaps it would be better if we left him, we thought.  We can get him next week, when our own schedules are back to normal.   

This was hard.  I wanted to say one last goodbye, so the next day, I made sure we found him again.  Bigger dogs were hanging around, along with the tiniest puppy and the weakest rat-faced dog.  Mieko was bouncy and chipper, playing with the bigguns and the wee ones.  He remembered us, and his spirit lifted mine.   I could leave him now because he would be all right.

…but is it really all right?  Was it right for us to want to ‘save’ or even to ‘help’ one of these animals in the first place?  Isn’t that the very language I hate when people talk about my service in the Peace Corps or international aid in general, ‘saving’ and ‘helping’ the people of other countries?  Is it really better to bring one of them (an animal, that is) into a warm apartment and to clean it up, to give it gourmet food, than to leave it outside, where it has what it needs to make it through the winter into spring?  Which would be better?  Is it out of selfishness that I long to take one in?  Or is it out of selfishness that I leave them all outside, out of my space and therefore  my realm of responsibility?  Where does that realm even end, and why do these questions resemble the questions I find myself asking about my time here in this country?  Is my experience with Mieko a metaphor for my experience in the Peace Corps?  I came here with ideas and a different way of living and some cool things, but the only change is that now I’m recognized whenever I approach.   Is that sustainability?

I don’t know what to do with these questions; I have no answers for them.  After years of being known for anything but for a love of animals, I found myself almost crying over a puppy — a once-dirty mutt found in the streets (dirt walkways) of Mongolia, no less! — because I wouldn’t get to pet him anymore.  I have no excuse, for these questions go much deeper than simple pet ownership.  I am left confused.  Confused, and longing, and sad.

All for leaving a little dog named Mieko.


8 thoughts on “Leaving Mieko

  1. Short term, only you and Mieko get to vote. Mieko still likes you, is obviously better off, is not marked by the alley dog death squad. You liked helping him/her, have a bit of a new pal (for the moment anyway). Seems pretty obvious.
    If you adopted Mieko for your stay there, the dog would probably benefit from regular feeding and attention — almost everything does. You would get a devoted pal in exchange for a bit of effort and material support, a nice solid little addition to your life. Probably not a shameful exchange, probably mutually beneficial.
    Because of who you are, you knew a couple years ago that one needed to be mindful about certain thngs in different cultures, milieu, etc. You’ve spent more than a little time, thought and energy really trying to understand how that works, and how you might work within it. You’re clearly staying with that project. So you recognize that at the end of your stay Mieko will probably go back into the “hu tung” (alley street), perhaps disarmed from surviving. You also know that the pup Mieko might well not survive this winter. Even a person such as yourself, god-like and mindful, might not divine the “right” way here. In and of itself, it’s probably a bit of a coin toss.
    You might consider this: if you live up in Lincoln or South Hills, take your yappy fluff-dog to be groomed once a month, you might fit in, though curmudgeonly old men might growl at you. Take Fluffy out to prance and shit around the Pov, you might raise a few eyebrows, or hackles.
    You get my point. You can be the nice young round-eye woman who tries, and works hard (she can’t dance! but SHE TRIED it!), is really interesting and makes people’s days a bit better, and who has a bit of an idiosyncracy about stray pups. But if you’re the only one in your neighborhood who keeps a house pet… you might be thinkin’ you need to be making a really good point before you continue. Might that be a little hard on Mieko, not to mention leaving his little spot in your home vacant? Yeah. Karma, neh?

  2. He’s adorable. Bad I’m glad your actually loving a dog that is more yours then the one you lived with for 10 years or so, it’s a nice feeling isn’t it?

  3. Alyse, Good story.  An introspective viewpoint for sure.  Whenever we let someone or something close to us, and/or create an attachment, it changes us in some way.  Whether it is emotional or an otherwise perspective viewpoint, it makes a difference.  Some good, some bad but change occurs.   Well enough philosophical stuff for now.  My license has expired anyway.   Dad “Ph.D.” On another note: I was watching the History channel the other day and they said that the Duke of Wellington had invented the “Wellies” boots.  It made me think of you, Caitlin and Ireland.

    I love you very much. Dad


    • Your license expired? haha. Thanks for the philosophical comment. It’s very true, being changed by others. And also very interesting about the Duke of Wellington. I definitely didn’t know that! But I do miss my Wellies…

      Love you, Alyse

  4. Alyse, I think about the animals here a lot as well. We also have the mobs of dogs and cats running around and during the winter Moldovans tell us without feeling, because, this is life, that they will all freeze. I could be known as the opposite of you, an animal lover from the very beginning, and I have struggled with these little creatures – whether or not to take them in and “save” them – I hadn’t thought as deeply as you on this and its relationship to our services. Thank you, as always, to inspiring my own introspection. As a side note, this past summer I did acquire a little mutt who followed me home, Pepa, she was to stay with my host family after I left for my permanent site. I had lunch with my first host mom a few weeks ago and she told me that as soon as I had left Pepa had too but that little stray who found a domesticated life is now running free with a pack of her own species on the other side of town and, according to my host mom, “doing very well and looking fat”. Maybe this was just something she told me to ease my own guilt but I do know that for those few months Pepa experienced love, caring and support; sometimes I think that is the greatest, and possibly only, thing I can offer the people in Moldova.

    • Pepa is an adorable name– does it mean something in Moldovan? I hope what your host mother says is true about her, that she’s doing well and looking fat. And I suppose that even if the only thing we do in our times here is support these people and care for them in the ways we know how, then our time won’t be wasted. I just hope I’m doing that…

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