Mongolia Monday- Cats and Dogs

Cat seen from train, 2004
Cat seen from train, 2004

CATS

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.”

Cat at ger near Bayanzag in the Gobi
Cat at ger near Bayanzag in the Gobi

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.”

Young cat at Red Rock Ger Camp, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Young cat at Red Rock Ger Camp, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve

DOGS

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.

Tibetan Mastiff-type dog
Tibetan Mastiff-type dog
Mastiff puppies near Hustai National Park
Mastiff puppies near Hustai National Park

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.

Friendly dog at Arburd Sands
Friendly dog at Arburd Sands

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.

Dog seen by side of the road near Gorkhi-Terelj
Dog seen by side of the road near Gorkhi-Terelj

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.

Chow chow at Red Rock Ger Camp
Chow chow at Red Rock Ger Camp

RANDOM NOTES

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:

Pet shop banner, Ulaanbaatar
Pet shop banner, Ulaanbaatar