In three trips to Mongolia I’ve seen exactly….three cats, literally one per trip. In general it appears that Mongolians don’t much like cats. There are a number of beliefs about them, none particularly positive. I was told that the appearance of a cat meant that there would be a death. Two women that I’ve spoken with both said that they didn’t even like the idea of touching a cat, but one allowed as how her attitude was probably based on things older people had said when she was much younger.
On the other hand, when we stopped at a ger in the Gobi, I watched a woman shoo this cat into the ger while the dogs were clearly meant to stay outside. I remember thinking “It figures.”
They do seem to be kept around by some families for the age-old purpose of rodent control. This little cat was at the ger camp at Ikh Nart. She was fussed over by the cook, who I was told loves animals. She was very friendly, so David and I were able to get an unexpected “cat fix”. It was apparently impossible to keep her out of the staff ger because she would climb up to the top and come in through the center opening. One night she dropped down onto our guide’s bed, one of the women who was adamant about not liking cats, and proceeded to try to snuggle up near her head. I remember thinking “It figures.”
I suspect that Mongols have had dogs for as long as they have had horses and the other “Snouts”. The traditional greeting upon approaching a herder ger is “Hold the dogs!” and they aren’t kidding. The traditional herder’s dog is a Tibetan mastiff, which can take its guard duties very seriously. I was told on this last trip, however, that many herders do keep a dog as a “pet” along with the ones for guarding. I hope to learn more about all this on the next trip.
One consistant piece of advice that one runs across when looking into travel to Mongolia is do not, DO NOT, pet, pat, scritch, scratch or otherwise touch any dog. They have not been vaccinated for rabies and getting saliva on your skin, much less a bite, means air evacuation to a hospital for the (painful) series of shots. Foreigners who are working in the countryside get the rabies vaccine, but since nothing is 100%, it’s smart for them not to have contact either.
That said, I have found that most of the dogs I’ve seen don’t exhibit vicious behavior and a lot of them seem to be longing for contact with people. I finally relented once at Arburd Sands when this dog approached me while I was sketching and leaned into me. I decided that it was unlikely that the camp owners would have a dog around that was at all likely to bite the guests. I stayed alert while I gently petted his back and didn’t let his mouth near my hand. He seemed to really like it, but it was still a risk.
I hadn’t seen brindle dogs like this before this trip. Not sure where that coloration came from, but he has the mastiff head and body type.
I feel like I’m seeing fewer of the pure mastiffs since my first trip. When the Russians pulled out in 1991, I was told that they left their guard dogs, mostly German Shepherds, behind. And I remember seeing a couple of what looked like purebred Shepherds between the airport and UB in 2006. There has obviously been a lot of uncontrolled interbreeding. It looks to me like the dogs are gradually reverting to the basic dog form that travellers see all over the world in the streets, the countryside, at dumps, etc.
And, for something completely different, at Red Rock Ger Camp, there was this chow chow, the only one I’ve seen in Mongolia. Never found out who he belongs to, but a fairly wide area around the camp seemed to belong to him, judging by his thorough and conscientious marking routine.
From The Global Village Dept.- twice when I’ve been in the State Department Store, I’ve seen young girls with tiny “fashion accessory” dogs tucked in their arms, a la Paris Hilton. Sigh.
And finally, many of you know that I have a rough collie, named Niki, the same breed as Lassie. Imagine my surprise when I happened upon this banner in Ulaanbaatar:
3 thoughts on “Mongolia Monday- Cats and Dogs”
If you didn’t see the blog post at http://peacecorpsmongolia.wordpress.com/2008/10/20/kick-a-dog-throw-a-rock-at-a-cat%E2%80%A6-the-treatment-of-mongolian-%E2%80%9Cpets%E2%80%9D/ regarding cats and dogs in Mongolia, you should check it out. Disturbing stuff, and it might shine more light on some of your observations.
I did see it when I googled for info on cats and I just went back and read it through. Obviously someone who lives there is going see more than someone like myself who has been there touring for no more than about 3 weeks at a time. It is disturbing stuff. Distressing, too.
As someone who is involved in dog and cat rescue here at home, I realized very quickly when I got to Mongolia that I was going to have to leave my ideas, opinions and attitudes about how animals should be treated at the arrivals gate.
I didn’t intend to gloss over the issue, but, in this case, the purpose of this blog entry, and Mongolia Monday in general, is to give non-Mongolians a look at a country that they probably don’t know much about other than Chinggis Khan, and that I have grown to like very much.
That said, it is clear that domestic dogs and cats are treated very differently than is considered acceptable in most of the USA. I would expect that there are a variety of historical and cultural reasons for this, along with poverty. I haven’t witnessed any actual cruel behavior, but more a utilitarian neutrality. In the countryside, it’s clearly a matter of the survival of the fittest, both for people and animals, given the lack of availability of both human or animal medical care.
And from what I’ve heard, it’s equally true for the poorest Mongolians living in or near Ulaanbaatar.
The daughter of a country woman I know almost lost her leg last month from an infected boil. If there hadn’t been a vet nearby who was working with a scientific research team and who was willing to do emergency surgery on her, she might have died. It was still nip and tuck for the leg for awhile. She is the mother of a four month old son, so using antibiotics was tricky.
I don’t recount this to excuse the treatment of animals, but to illustrate the challenges that Mongolians face in taking care of their children and themselves. Americans (and their pets) are very fortunate by comparison.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and post the link.
I was recently in Ulaan Bataar and the country surrounding the city and never saw one cat, either. I had never been to Mongolia before (or overseas) and it greatly bothered me because I was wondering what exactly I was eating. However, a biologist friend informed me that if I had, it would be long and stringy. That happened one time when I when I thought I was eating chicken, so I stopped.
I found some type of paw laying outside a Korean restaurant in downtown UB, it looked like a raccoon type paw-I have NO idea what that was. There was also a puppy about 8 weeks old wandering the streets-I wonder how long he lasted. He was a cute little thing, but as the law goes, don’t touch it and as much as I wanted to, what would I have done with it?
My son and his family are there for 4 years, I found it very interesting and was sad to leave. The language & traffic is something else! I wouldn’t want to be there w/o a driver, guide or interpreter. His kids, 5, 4 & almost 2, are already speaking Mongolian fluently-he and his wife are struggling along with it and teaching English.
Great site you have & info, as well. Thanks for answering my questions regarding cats. I thought for sure they were either revered or cuisine.