Monday, December 21, 2009

A Dog Story, from Kabul

There are few things in the journalistic repertoire more inviting, and more difficult, to write well than a "good" dog story. My pal Seamus, our man in Kabul, has pulled it off with the following story of Skinny Minnie.
Despite her emaciated condition, she tore through the two plastic bags before I had a chance to take out the piece of chicken. By the time I got to the second piece, she had the devoured the first: two gulps, maybe three.

I had quickly defrosted to two chicken breasts in the microwave before left my home and boarded the van to take me to my designated running spot. I wasn’t too confident that she would be alive when I got to the barren plot of land where she and five or six other dogs made home, more than likely to escape the taunts and attacks of the people who in many cases lives only a little better than them.

I had doubled wrapped the chicken to prevent the smell from reaching the driver, escort and guard who accompanied me to the several-acre site where the university will someday build a new campus. How could I explain to them, who in many cases support families on salaries of $250 per month, that I was taking two skinless, boneless chicken breasts to feed a mangy dog that was already on death’s door. But it was the only suitable food I could located in the short time I had. A week earlier, I had asked the guards of the largely undeveloped lot whether they had any bones I could give the dog. They replied with straight faces that they couldn’t afford meat for themselves, so, no, they didn’t have any bones for a dog. No, I thought, I just meant bones, the remains of a meal that was headed for the garbage anyway, then realized I had already dug myself a deep enough hole.

Minnie, as in Skinny Minnie, was by herself in the corner of the lot where a couple of months earlier stood the remains of some bombed-out buildings that provided marginal shelter for families of squatters. Sometime during the summer, when I was away from Kabul, the buildings were razed, the families, which included many children, were pushed out or left on their own to make room for the new construction. The only sign of what will someday be built is a few guard shacks, a gated wall surrounding the perimeter of the property, and a new field for football (or soccer for my fellow yanks). There was a net on either end of the field when it was inaugurated a couple of weeks earlier for the benefit of the university’s board of trustees, but the nets were gone by the next morning, apparently shredded by the dogs.

There’s nothing for the dogs to eat on the lot, save for a few ground rodents, and the guards who there around the clock are unlikely to feed them anything. In dirt-poor Islamic countries like Afghanistan, dogs are considered “unclean.” Touching one is sufficient reason to wash one’s hands. The vast majority of Kabul’s dogs wander the streets, feeding themselves from the piles of garbage that also sustain herds of goats and sheep. During the day, the dogs are largely ignored as long as they stay away from people, but if they get to close they are typically yelled at or stoned. Not with out some reason, I might add. When any animal is cold, hungry and ignored, it is seldom on its best behavior. At night, many of the dogs roam in packs, where they have strength in numbers and the advantage of surprise.

Minnie is the black sheep of the canine community at the new campus and is routinely attacked by the other dogs. After scarfing down the chicken, she followed me for a while, loping along at an enfeebled pace, staying on the inside my circular loops to stay close to me with having to cover as much distance. When we got near to some of the other dogs, who are relatively better shape, they ran her down. Minnie just laid down and cowered, perhaps realizing she didn’t have enough strength to outrun them anyway. I threw stones at her assailants and they quickly scattered, as though they accepted that there was no real sport in battling a dog to weak to put up a fight. I went to Minnie and scratched her head and muzzle. It had taken weeks for her to accept my gestures, to believe that I would not harm her.

Afterward, riding home in the university van, the day before I left Kabul for a month-long break, I wondered what the odds were that Minnie would be alive when I returned. Not very high, I thought.
Good man, Seamus. We cannot save 'em all, as my mother on her deathbed told me. But we can try to help...

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. Every thing we do, every little bit, matters.
    As I feel sure your mother would agree.