Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why You Should Definitely Get a Pet When You Join the Peace Corps

Being an animal lover and lifetime pet owner, it took me a grand total of 2 hours between first arriving in my Peace Corps site and selecting what would become my most inseparable friend for the next two years. 

Sure, there are a handful of arguments against adopting a pet while serving in the Peace Corps, but in my opinion, all of those pale against the many positives that will come along with your new best friend(s). 

Before I go any further, let me just put to rest the argument that volunteers don’t make enough money to cover a pet. Both my dog and “my” cat are well fed, vaccinated, and plenty spoiled, but I’m still almost positive that I spend more money a month on ducles than on pet expenses.  If not, it’s close. 
Side note- I’m working on a post about money and expenses as a PCV, so look for that soon!

Just in case you haven’t been following my blog or haven’t seen the hundreds of pictures that are likely on my Facebook, we’ll start from the beginning of my Peace Corps pets story:  My host family’s dog, Gringa (“gringa” is also slang for “white girl,” but dog Gringa was named for her green eyes well before human gringa showed up), had a litter of puppies just two days before I arrived in town.  Kids being kids, my new host brothers couldn’t wait to show the newborns to me, and me being me, I couldn’t wait to pick one out for myself.  So I did.  Long story short, Massy and I became fast friends and I’ve been convinced of the many pet-provided benefits ever since. 

Benefit #1: Pets give a good end to a bad day.

No matter how positive you are, how hard you work, or how much you smile in the face of challenges, you WILL have days as a Peace Corps volunteer when you return to your house at night and do everything you can not to cry or dwell on all of the awful, sad, and potentially gross things that happened to you.  Though, thankfully, those days will be the minority, having a warm, cuddly friend willing to listen to your complaints without saying anything but “I love you.  Let’s have a snack.” with those sweet eyes of his (or hers) will give a better ending to any day- good or bad.

Benefit #2: It will never again be this easy to adopt and care for a pet.

No pet adoption agencies, no fees, and no expensive veterinary certifications (though you should still get shots done.  Here they're $2-4 per injection).  Plus, since you will likely live in very simple housing with little to no expensive possessions, there's almost no chance of your new dog or cat ruining something! 

Benefit #3: You never have to go anywhere alone!

Since my community is quite spread out, I spend several hours each week hiking through the monte to visit families or work on farms.  I used to get a little worried about getting lost, and even now I still get a little bored and/or lonely when I’ve been walking awhile.  Other days, I’m stuck in my house all day long waiting out one of our familiar Bocas rainstorms.  Either way, there’s the common theme of being alone and lonely.  Thanks to Massy, though, I never have to deal with that!  My sweet little jungle dog follows me wherever I go- if that means spending all day in our hut, he’ll be snuggled at my feet (as he is at this moment) and if that means going on a 9 hour hiking trip, than he’ll be leading the charge. 

Benefit #4: The people will love your new friend.

True story:  One day, early on in my service, Massy and I were hiking in the neighboring area.  We came across a family I hadn’t met yet and they asked me, “¿Cómo se llama?”  When I responded with my name, they replied, “No, not you.  That pretty dog.”  This has repeated itself many times, in many forms.  Everyone within a 3 hour walking radius of my town knows Massy’s name even though I’m not completely sure the same could be said for mine.  Despite the fact that many dogs here are underfed and neglected and NO dogs here receive the type of affection I give Massy, the people are enamored with him and frequently treat him quite differently than their own dogs.  In fact, many families are often quite excited to tell me that they’ve been sharing their people food with Massy and I can’t even begin to count the number of times people have begged for him when I finish my service. 
Though I like to think that Massy is special, it doesn’t seem like this phenomenon is unique to us.  If you check out the Peace Corps Pets photo album on Facebook, many owners mention the locals’ unique fascination with volunteers’ furry friends.

Benefit #5: Your house will be well guarded.

Though Massy knows and loves everyone in town, that doesn’t stop him from loudly alerting me to any and every approaching visitor.  Whether it’s a machete-welding man or a shy four-year-old girl, Massy is my little alarm system.  Funny enough- though Massy has never once bitten anyone or showed any type of human aggression, this simple act of barking at visitors has convinced the people that anyone who tried to break into my house or harm me would first have to face the wrath of my sweet little jungle dog.  They’re probably right. 

Benefit #6: Your pet can bring a little bit of Peace Corps home to the United States.

Sometimes when Massy and I lay sprawled out on my wooden floor, sweating from the humid Panama heat, I dream about what it will be like to take him running in a dog park in the beautiful, cool East Tennessee fall.  It certainly seems like bliss, especially in that overheated moment.  Before making the decision to adopt a pet as a Peace Corps volunteer, I did my research and was happy to learn that while still present, the costs of bringing my future dog home from Panama would not be too great.  Though I’m not sure exactly what my plan is yet or where I’ll be living, Massy has already got someone (other than me) quite important wrapped around his little paw- my farm owning dad.  So, while my first choice would obviously be to have my little buddy with me wherever I go, I know that he has somewhere to live that’s big and open with plenty of mud.  Taking Massy home will be like taking a little bit of my Peace Corps service home, and I can’t wait to see that little bit of my two worlds together. 

For those of you that have asked: Massy is named after my pre-Peace Corps dog, Sammy, who died just a few weeks after I arrived in Panama (switch the S and the M and Sammy becomes Massy). Like Sammy (Sam), Massy also frequently goes by a shortened version of his name (Mas).

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