Adrianna Neuenschwander, 126
Stephen Henry, YD 126, was in for a surprise one morning when he got to his office. There, on his desk, was a tiny, fluffy puppy.
“You told us you were lonely,” his counterpart said. “So we got you a puppy!”
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant when I had told them I was lonely.” Henry said. “I just meant I wanted to go on more bpaitiows with them.”
Still, the puppy was cute, and Henry lives alone, so he thought having a furry companion might be nice.
The volunteer handbook does not forbid volunteers from owning a pet, but it does make clear that responsibility and care of the pet rests solely on the volunteer. Pets are not allowed on the Peace Corps compound, nor are they allowed with a volunteer during an emergency consolidation or evacuation. (Page 58, Thailand Volunteer Handbook.)
Country Director Kevin Quigley does not encourage pet ownership and states that most country directors feel the same way.
“It’s not that we are against pets, but we are concerned about what happens to your pet after the PCV has bonded with the pet and then returns home without the pet.”
Quigley states that taking a pet home can be a very expensive and time-consuming process, which also can preclude post-PCV travel.
Despite these concerns, some volunteers still choose to adopt.
“I never planned to get a pet during my Peace Corps service.” Jes Milberg-Haydu, TCCS 125, said. “But when I rescued a puppy from the big dogs bullying her out of the Wat next to my school, there was no going back. I was immediately in love.”
Milberg-Haydu has experienced challenges in taking care of her dog, Namtan.
“The first time I had to leave site, I left her with my host family only to discover upon my return that they’d left her tied up for 3 days. It took a lot of patience to explain to my Thai friends and family what caring for my pet means to me.”
According to Milberg-Haydu, she has to rely on friends and neighbors to take her to the vet, a 30 minute drive away, which can be difficult in a health crisis. She also can’t go for long walks with her dog, due to the territorial dogs in her neighborhood.
Despite these frustrations, Milberg-Haydu finds pet ownership enriching, and she has no regrets for adopting Namtan.
“I’m grateful that my Thais at site have grown to understand my love for Namtan and my way of caring for her. Seeing how I take care of her has even prompted some people in my village to take their animals for shots and neutering/spaying.”
Namtan’s company during rough days helped Milberg-Haydu get through them, and taking care of the dog gave her a sense of purpose when she questioned her work and role as a volunteer.
“She providesinstant bonding with Thais when language fails, gives kids an extra incentive to come to my house to play, and most importantlyshe’s a nonjudgmental best buddy who greets me with loves and kisses after good days and bad.”
After service, Namtan will be a New York pup. Milberg-Haydu worked with the International Resource Center of the US Embassy and AppianBKK, a live animal shipping agent, to help her smooth the preparation for the journey.
Brandon Rodgers Julian, YinD 125, also “has” a dog.
“When I moved out of my homestay at site, she was living on the land before I arrived. She sat outside my house for three days barking before she realized I wasn’t going anywhere.” Julian said. “It took a while, but after a few weeks I had her eating out of my hands, figuratively and literally.”
Because his dog, Tiger, was wild before they met, Julian is not worried about her when he travels out of site.
“She is quite resourceful. I imagine she hunts for birds, bugs and frogs. Every now and then she shows up completely soaked on a sunny day. I imagine her standing at the edge of a fish pond near my house, waiting to snag an unsuspecting tilapia.”
The hardest part about having a dog during service, according to Julian, is the puppies. Tiger has had 3 litters since Julian has been at site, each litter has had 9 puppies each.
“Sure they’re cute, but it’s too much for anyone person to deal with; 10 puppies consume a lot of rice and have a lot of fleas.” Julian said. “If you end up with a dog, do your research and get it fixed!”
Julian is leaving his dog at site when he has completed his Peace Corps service.
“I know she will be okay. I have to remember that if I had never come here, she would still be here, a wild dog gallivanting through the country side. I’ll miss her, but I will always appreciate the happiness she brought me throughout my service.”
Not all experiences with pets in the Peace Corps have been positive.
“I do not encourage pet ownership.” Molly Cook,TCCS 125, said. “I found my first pet, a kitten, dead one morning from an untreatable disease. My dog of 8 months got hit by a car. I started taking care of my school dog and then she got pregnant. She had 9 puppies and 3 of them were just stolen.”
Although Cook says owning a pet is rewarding and fulfilling, she also has found it expensive and time consuming.
Cook advises volunteers who want a pet to take care of a local cat or dog by feeding it, and getting it vaccinated and neutered.
“Because loss of pets has been so abundant during my service, I maintain less of an “it’s my dog” attitude towards the school dog that I take care of and more of an “I love this dog and care for it.”
In the end, Henry decided not to keep the puppy his counterpart brought to him.
“I don’t really have anyone at my site who I would feel okay pawning the dog off to when I travel.” Henry says. “And also I am not entirely sure dogs would prefer the domestic life over the life of a soi dog where they get to run around all day and do whatever they want.”