Category Archives: Travel

I casually dropped into a previous post that I brought a purple chipmunk back to a friend in Peru. He’s recently got himself a puppy, and my plan was to put myself in the good graces of said puppy.

Well, the puppy isn’t getting the chipmunk until he’s house-trained, but my friend was excited about the chipmunk regardless. He brought it up to me, thrilled, a week later that the chipmunk makes three kinds of noises.

Ulysses the Briard.

And, finally, I’ve met the dog. It’s a Briard sheepdog that needed to be brought down from Lima - they simply don’t have the breed in Arequipa. We took him up to Sogay for the day and let him run free among the grass, bark at farm animals, and goof around for a couple of hours while we caught up. It was also an opportunity for me to get some of my questions answered on raising dogs in Peru.

We talked a bit about life for Ulysses (names for the James Joyce novel, but pronounced according to Spanish convention; the dog couldn’t understand his name through my accent). Dog food here is expensive. Purina is considered the best brand, and its most premium line costs about s/200 a kilo. That’s $60 for roughly two pounds of food. It’s an insane amount of money. I think, truly, if I had a dog here, I’d be making food for it, and it would be eating better and saving money.

Ulysses stalking the yard.

Ulysses leads a pretty charmed life; as I’ve mentioned before, life for pets here is wildly inconsistent from home to home. There are dogs that live on roofs, dogs that are allowed to roam the streets, and dogs that wear harnesses and go for leashed walks with their owners. Ulysses is the last category. He sleeps in the home and is allowed freedom there (when I arrived to meet him, he’d just leapt in the water with some of the laundry), and he has very little contact with street dogs. He likes Sogay because it means freedom.

My friend and I connected during my internship because we’re both a little abnormal for Peruvian - particularly Arequipeñan - standards. And he told me he thinks Ulysses is taking after him.

For example, Ulysses likes to chew on rocks. Sometimes he’ll bark at walls, and, while I was there, he barked at the air for a solid twenty minutes - maybe even longer. He also sticks to the convention of his breed and loves barking at cows, donkeys, or any other kind of farm animal.

Cecilia hanging out with Ulysses

But Ulysses also stands for something I think a lot of pet owners (as well as parents!) relate to: he’s been solidly improving my friend’s mental health. Seeing this puppy excited over discovering the word has made the world itself new and thrilling for my friend. Developing such a strong bond with a creature he cares for allows him to love unconditionally, without fear. Ulysses gives him hope, peace, and humor.

Having pets (or children) isn’t for everyone, but for those who are well-suited to it, I think the world truly becomes a better place.

And there is your quick happy update for the week. How did your first pet change your life?

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Part of how I’m supporting myself in Peru is through teaching English online. It’s a simple format; most of my students like to read daily news articles. I like it because it keeps me abreast of some of the finer things happening in the world (such as the free Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump haircuts offered in Vietnam before their summit there).

One student chose an article about a topic that particularly excited me: an exhibit about life as a dog happening in California. The exhibit allows people to experience the way dogs hear, see, and smell, and has other demonstrations, such as one golden retriever leading blindfolded participants around an obstacle course.

The article finished with another interesting bit of information: when we humans look into a dog’s eyes, our bodies release oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Apparently the dog experiences this release as well. This in contrast to chimpanzees, who just look away.

And so I thought I’d take the time to research and write a little about how dogs’ senses work, and how they’re different from ours.

To begin, I often hear people say dogs can only see in black and white. This actually isn’t true, according to these articles about dogs’ vision. Apparently because dogs have eyesight more evolved to seeing in low light conditions, their ability to see color is lessened - but not so much so that they can’t see it at all. Indeed, scientists theorize that dogs can see on a spectrum of yellow to blue, so any mix with red will not register. Additionally, though dogs can’t see as far as humans can, they do have the ability to detect movement at quite a distance. And, of course, I am envious that they can see well in the dark. It is also due to the setup of cones and rods in their eyes that their eyes glow green in photos while our human eyes glow red.

Another interesting thing to note: studies do show that dogs have the ability to recognize faces, and pay more attention to the eyes for this, as well as when assessing emotions.

So overall, a dog’s sight isn’t as strong as ours, but their hearing abilities make up for it. Obviously we already know dogs can hear in much higher pitches than we can (hence the dog whistle), but they can hear at a much greater distance as well. With more muscles and longer ear canals, dogs have more sensitivity to sound, and they can move their ears to focus better on any given sound. My favorite piece of information is from this article, and is about cats, who can apparently hear so well they can distinguish from another room the sound of a normal cupboard opening, versus the sound of a cupboard opening with their food behind it.

And, of course, there is the matter of how well a dog can smell. This article by PBS details how many more olfactory receptors dogs have than we do - dogs’ ability to smell is so powerful that one drug detecting dog could identify a bag of marijuana in a gas tank filled with gasoline . OK, so we already knew dogs had the ability to smell more than we could, but I didn’t know that dog’s noses separate air between air used for smelling, and air used to breathe. And, furthermore, when dogs breathe out, they have access to scents they couldn’t catch with the first inhale.

Thus, scents are incredibly important for dogs, and it’s why they love stinky treats, and stinky food - seriously, the stinkier the better!

The inner life of dogs is harder to measure, as they don’t have a verbal language we can understand. Instead, a lot of scientific studies focus on physical responses to ascertain dogs’ emotional responses. Thus they’ve seen how the human-dog bond is so important for dogs that a dog’s stress level (in a rescue facility) stays down for days after an interaction from a human.

Overall, dogs are amazing animals. And just so you don’t think I’ve forgotten - I will be doing a version of this for cats as well.

What’s an example of a time you’ve seen a dog’s incredible senses in action?

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As a traveler, I’ve become a bit of a loner. I visit countries solo with the assumption that I’ll meet people through my projects, and usually intense relationships form with the rapidness of shared desperation. When we part ways, we have the internet and social media to keep in contact - and as much as I abhor spending long hours scrolling through Facebook, it is a great way to maintain friendships around the world.

I think it can be easy to leave people in some ways, especially with those advances in communication. And, truthfully, I’ve never thought that distance lessened intimacy for me. Maybe some of the experiences will stall, but the relationship doesn’t have to change.

My point of all of this is to say, while leaving my family and friends can be sad, I know they are happy that I’m living my life. They understand who I am and why I do what I do. I travel with less guilt that way.

He’s used to sharing my wool blankets with me.

It’s not the same for the family dogs. They get used to me being home and grow accustomed to things such as sleeping in my bed with me, or having someone around to put them out more frequently. It’s to the point where, when I am home, I reign as the second in command. And we spend a happy month or two, or a few, together when I’m working at the store or doing other projects in Portland.

But whenever I take out my suitcases again, they express their anxiety. My little gremlin especially hovers around me as I pack, her tail down and ears back. I give them extra hugs and kisses when I’m going away for especially long periods of time.

I think it’s especially painful to me because they don’t understand why I’m away. They don’t have the context to balance the feeling of a missing limb of sorts.

Rumor has it while I’m away they walk into my room and stare at my bed, or they head in there at night expecting to sleep with me. Sometimes when I’m on the phone with my mom, the gremlin will recognize my voice and lick the phone. Our big dog doesn’t even realize.

I think part of my problem is that I feel guilty over the silliest things. Troubles at my sister’s work? Wow, I feel really bad for them. The dog on the roof next store whimpering to see me? Sometimes I avoid it because I feel bad that it feels so stressed about someone being so far away.

She’s waiting by my suitcase.

But that dog is one of the relationships I come back to, as well as others. There are strays I recognize, a pet shar pei wearing a fleece vest on the route to my classes, and a puppy I’ve yet to meet, but for whom I brought, from our very own store, a Chippy toy and bacon treats. My goal is to make a good first impression, and everyone loves the purple chipmunk.

In the end, I have to recognize the opportunity cost of when I travel. I’m still young and trying to bridge the gap between my volunteer projects and paid work. I have too much curiosity to stay at home, and, what’s more, I think travel is necessary for being effective at my future career. It’s also necessary, then, to leave my dogs. They are still with people who love them and care for them and it will be a happy surprise when I am home again.

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