Dalmation in Nepal.

Once again, I’m in mind of the podcast I listened to about the history of the domestication of the cat. Another fun fact discovered during that listen is that mixed breeds of cats are far more common as pets than are mutts - essentially, there is a higher percentage of dog owners with pure breeds.

This isn’t actually a surprise for me, as I’ve seen all kinds of dogs held in different environments for their designer qualities. For example, the stray dogs in Nepal were largely different than the dogs kept as pets - but being a pet didn’t necessarily guarantee a better life.

The German shepherd and Dalmatian at my home in Nepal were designer breeds, certainly, definitive status symbols, but they lived in a small uncleaned cage, sleeping in their own feces. Whenever they were let out, they rushed around the vicinity creating general chaos until the family couldn’t put up with it and returned them to their quarantine. Meanwhile, the dog up the hill had been taken from the streets and had of her house free reign and the furniture.

Huskies in the tropical climate of Cuba.

In Cuba, on the other hand, I met two huskies in a town where their thick fur was wildly inappropriate. They lived in a luxurious home with a wealthy family, and wanted nothing in terms of affection and food, but when the days reached over a hundred degrees, they could do nothing but lounge in the shade.

I’ve also already mentioned village life in Hungary, with the preferences of families there to arm their homes with pitbulls. The purpose there, of course, is more functional than decorative, but one breed has been singled out for certain qualities.

In both Cuba and Nepal, I saw exemplified the desire for designer - foreign - dogs; many stray dogs were native to the area, mutts, smaller and more narrowly built. I’ve wondered for some time about the nature of breeding in other countries, as in the United States, breeding dogs can be complicated, and often problematic.

That being said, it was also incredibly common for families to take dogs off the streets and integrate them into their households. Stray dogs might also adopt families, as while I was in Cuba, several stray dogs had homes they stayed close to, even if another dog was already in the home. In turn, they might be fed by the family and familiar faces in the neighborhood. This process was fascinating to me, as it meant attached stray dogs participated less - even intact males - in the ganglike behaviors of dogs on the streets.

Now that I’m in Peru, I’ve seen some of the designer dog desires (the occasional Saint Bernard happily lagging behind its owner, dachshunds in coats, and furless dogs with tufts of wiry hair on the tops of their heads), but I’ve also seen families with mutts from the streets - even the families that are better off. Peru has an interesting, somewhat contradictory, pet culture, but it’s also changing as the culture and economy develop.

Cora, one of Cecilia's family dogs, resting on her bed here in Portland.

And, of course, we know in the United States that it’s a mix. Purebreds and certain mixes (cough - labradoodle - cough) can be purchased at prices upwards of a thousand dollars. Breeds come with important behavioral and personality distinctions, and sometimes extreme genetic disorders; I’m thinking mainly of bulldogs, who I’ve heard require artificial insemination and C-sections to safely reproduce, and pugs, who can have a whole host of physical difficulties.

In contrast, I can think of few cats I know who are purebreds, though I know that designer cats do exist - siamese and hairless cats are two

examples. I have heard, though, that it’s and absolutely fascinating experience to watch a cat show and see what distinct breeds actually look like.

None of this is to pass judgement, but it is something I’ve kept in mind while travelling. Personally, I love most dogs that cross my path and one of my own dogs is this crazy-looking gremlin thing who used to meander the streets of Los Angeles. She was a bit more of a challenge because of her fear and mistrust of people, but she has been so worth it. All I will say is that I hope anyone looking into buying a new pet will do the proper research for whichever breed or background of animal they’re thinking of taking home. It makes things better in the long run.

What type of pet do you have? What’s its origin story?

In the U.S. we view these cute rodents as pets.

I’ve not yet had the opportunity to try guinea pig in Peru, though I’ve heard it’s quite a delicacy. My Peruvian friends tell me the meat is tender with fine bones embedded - eating cuy provides delight but requires a level of vigilance.

Americans often feel a little squeamish thinking about guinea pig as a meal, and I get it, but I also find it fascinating. This is mainly because I’m always a little enthralled by which animals are deemed a protected - or, at times, condemned -class. My go-to example is always going to be the cow in India and Nepal. Because cows are sacred in the Hindi-majority countries, it is illegal to kill them. My host family told me cows hold that sacred position due to their usefulness; not only do female cows provide milk, but families with large swaths of agricultural land utilize cows in farming.

There are a few things to note with this. The first is a warning: if you are a traveler to Nepal or India, avoid beef on any restaurant menu. It may be that whatever cow turned into that food was sick or dead for a few days before being sold to the restaurant. There’s also a possibility that the cow was killed outside country borders and then transported back - again bringing up issues of sanitation and bacterial stuff.

The inability to kill cows also caused another problem: stray cows, usually of the male variety. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you why this happens, but it does, and it means often teenaged cows wander the streets leading to Kathmandu, as well as around the city itself. I never saw them cause too much trouble aside from adding to the congestion and filth of the city.

So intentional cow deaths are a no go in India and Nepal, as are dog and guinea pig deaths in the United States. Conversely, cultures around the world and across time (stereotypically in China, but also in countries in Africa, pre-Americanized Hawaii, and South Korea) consume dogs. A quick look at the history of eating dogs indicates some fascinating facts, such as that some cultures domesticated the wolf for their meat, and thus some breeds of dogs were developed specifically for consumption. I’ve also learned some cultures killed and ate dogs for ritualistic and religious purposes; often these dogs experienced a higher standard of living than other animals used for consumption.

Overall, it seems which animals are consumed in whichever culture is often based in centuries of history and development. My opinion on it is this: as long as the animals are treated well in life, I won’t judge a culture for which animals it eats. I also know that dogs respond to warmth in every culture I’ve been in - and I’ve been told that unexpected animals do as well, such as a turkey that was taken in by a family as a pet and became a companion in the way that a dog or cat is a companion for us.

So - my question for you is, what unexpected pets have you had in your life? What about unfamiliar meats you’ve tried?

Upon my return from Nepal, I wrote a blog post about the magic of the goat. The goat exists as a highly functional creature, producing milk and meat, and generally has a likeable comportment. It’s starting to gain popularity in the pet food world as a novel protein, generally allergen-friendly, with a flavor pets crave. I’ve also already mentioned the probiotics found in raw goat milk - seriously, one of my coworkers told me it saved a cat’s life after she recommended it to a customer desperate for a solution to their cat’s lack of bowel movements.

Photo by Leroy Huckett from Pexels

Sadly, I’m lactose-intolerant and the allergy applies to goat milk. However, I absolutely love goats, and their presence in Nepal was quite palpable.

Much of life in Nepal depends on agriculture, with rice and tea being huge cash crops and staples in Nepali culture. Within Nepal, the prevalence of Hinduism and poverty means most Nepalis are vegetarian - however, during a festival, if a family were to eat meat, it might be goat served with a side of rice and lentils. Thus, farmers wander towns with their goats in close proximity. I’ve been able to pet them as I’ve walked past. I’ve also made acquaintance with goats before I’ve eaten them; such was the case with the goat I discovered in the family barn the night before it was sacrificed. I tried to calm it by petting its ears. An ineffective method, as it nervous-peed on my shoes.

Indeed, goats made appearances in unexpected places. Once, two men on a motorbike passed me in the street on the way to Kathmandu - a goat nestled between them, legs dangling over the wheels. I can imagine how that ride must have transpired, but at that moment, the goat seemed to have accepted its fate, as it rode without protest.

Another time, a bus trundled its way down my road, and I glanced up in time to register a goat curled up on the roof of the bus, placed as a bike or boat.

But my favorite #unexpectedgoat took place on the bus to Kathmandu, when another volunteer and I spotted a man bee lining for the bus with two goats in tow. We thought, “He’s not really...is he?”

In Nepal, of course he would - and the goats reacted as expected, bleating and scrambling through the aisles of the bus as it lurched over unpaved roads. After a while they calmed and sat, but still received side eyes and glares from fellow passengers.

Goats are gaining presence in Portland as well. They can be rented out to demolish blackberry overgrowths, and take residence in homes as companions. I even recently saw a couple walking their goats on leashes in a Portland park.

I could rhapsodize on about the beauty of goat creatures. But, for now, I’ll leave you with my recommendations: try goat for yourself. It’s possible to find goat meat at world markets. I suggest fully saturating it with garlic and pressure cooking it until tender. Find a classic Nepali recipe - or other recipes from other countries around the world. Next, if you have a meat-eating animal and you love it dearly, try finding food with goat or goat-based treats. My personal favorite is the Sojos freeze-dried goat chunks - perfect for a picky pet or one with food allergies.

Finally, I have to ask you: which is your favorite nontraditional pet? Or, how have you come across goats in Portland or around the world?

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