For the Dogs

I would like to give a detailed account of the dogs in Guizhou, but there is little that I know. Perhaps one could say that I know enough to be appropriately frightened, which is just the amount that the Peace Corps Medical Office wants a volunteer to know.

The first statistic we heard in Pre-service Training was the rabies vaccination rates for dogs in China (3%). As time went by and I learned more about China, I began to analyze this percentage. If the vast majority of the wealth is concentrated along the Pacific Coastline, and wealth has any correlation with owners vaccinating their dogs, then the 3% is quickly reduced to 0 in the countryside.

And so, after spending a year here, I had still never pet an animal. It was discouraging. That's why, the day I finally saw a dog wagging its tail while a little girl patted his back, I felt so happy. I strolled down to the side-street and decided to go for it. It couldn't hurt.

Now let me tell you something that I knew about dogs before coming to China. In America, the vast majority of dogs will bite when they feel threatened and a significant percentage will bite for a number of other reasons. What I'm saying is that I was well aware of the tendency for dogs to bite. Coupled with my refusal to ask the little girl whether or not I could pet her dog, my hasty attempt to pet the first animal in over a year was met with a strange smile.

That's right: the dog smiled at me. Or it seemed to for just a moment - before I realized that the teeth were fully bared and quickly approaching my knee.

People say that intense situations can cause a slow motion effect. Some report that time even stops during critical situations. I'm not sure if that happened to me. I think the truth is that some sort of epinephric fluid shot into my system and pulled my leg out of the way: I certainly didn't do it on my own.

There were political and social repercussions after this foolish incident, though not as many as there would have been if the dog had bitten me (we were at summer project, charged to the care of some Chinese college teachers). Measures would later be taken to ensure our safety by protecting us from ourselves. Questions were asked such as, "Now, you know not to walk out into the street, right?" in complete seriousness, and, generally, I felt a huge loss of face.

What I took away from the incident made it worth all of the shame. I became wary of dogs. Big dogs. Little dogs. All dogs.

This is why, when I run in the countryside, I often carry two stones - one in each fist. I have not thrown them at any dogs, but feints have proven to be an excellent deterrent. Not that I think any dogs are really going to attack me - many are tied up by the families who will later eat them.

In America a derogatory word for a police officer is "pig," but in China they use the word "dog."

When I look at the wandering, scavenging, miserable creatures along the road I feel the invisible barrier between the lives these wild animals and their American counterparts. But my moments of sympathy are always overshadowed by a deep caution.

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