“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” -John Grogan
Óga Ita, Paraguay
One of the very first things that Peace Corps Paraguay volunteers notice about the difference in between Paraguayans and Americans is the way they treat animals. As opposed to the way we dote on and treat our pets as if they were members of the family, here Paraguayans instead focus on the animal’s function as a part of the property. Dogs are for protection, though if barking really loudly at all hours of the day is “protection”, they’re doing it wrong. Cats are to catch mice and rats. Sometimes you’ll catch a Paraguayan giving their pets a tiny bit of affection, but everytime I’ve witnessed this, they’ve promptly hit them and told them to go away. I don’t want to generalize, there is a minority of people who treat pets the way we do in the US, but the majority could be considered borderline abusive by American standards. The dogs at my house get hit daily and I’ve never seen my family go out of their way to feed our cat or dogs, they mainly just get scraps whenever they can.
Now, imagine a group of young Americans coming to a country with this kind of behavior. A lot of volunteers get pets, mainly because we live alone and it’s a good companion, but part of me believes that we’re trying to subconsciously “save” a poor animal. Generally, it’s great for the animals. I’ve seen a cat that’s been passed down between volunteers since 22 groups of volunteers ago, and he’s twice the size of a normal Paraguayan cat and, god forbid, you can’t see his ribs!
Now we come to the part where Chance fulfills the stereotype.
When I first arrived in site, I noticed that my family has this beautiful calico cat named Michi (almost all Paraguayan cats have this name, it means “small”). She’s tiny and skittish and would barely let me look at her, but I noticed she was slightly fat, but you could see her ribs still. Sure enough, my mom told me that she’s pregnant and when she gives birth, we’re going to go drown them in the river. This, as a matter of fact, is a typical response to the birth of puppies and kittens. The wheels in my head started turning extremely fast. Rats. My new house has rats. What eats rats? Cats. “No! I need a cat!” Since this moment, I’ve been feeding Michi under the table at every meal and I’ve even gotten her to start crawling up into my lap. My family thinks I’m crazy. For that, and I talk to the dogs in a baby voice.
This morning, Michi gave birth to two little nuggets in a cardboard box in my room. Sebastian, my three year old nephew who I’ve seen smack the shit out of the dogs is not allowed in my room. There is a little orange kitten that I’ve declared as mine. I asked my training community what I should name it and the overwhelming response, started by Chara, is Amandau, which technically means “hail”, but more importantly, it’s the name of our favorite ice cream shop in Paraguay. We’ll go with Mani for short, which means “peanut”, which also happens to be the main ingredient in Amandau’s signature flavor. Usually I’m a dog person, but now I have a cat, who is named after Paraguay’s largest ice cream chain.
So here’s to one less cat getting drowned in the river and let’s all hope I don’t have to pull a heroic stunt to save the other kitten too. And to all of you back in the states, give your pets a nice big hug for all of us here in Paraguay.