The head Peace Corps Medical Officer for our Pre-Service Training last year was a lively, capable nurse named Joanne. That she was from Colorado made me like her even more. Joanne cured me of my fear of spider bites by showing us awful pictures of snake bites. I recall much of Joanne’s wise counsel, but what I remember most is what she said about dogs. “Don’t pet them, don’t look them in the eye, don’t even look at them.” Then she showed us a slide with statistics on the prevalence of rabies in Cambodia. We all lined up willingly for our rabies shots.
Since then I have met a few nice dogs, family dogs whose job is bark their fool heads off all night long. I remember Joanne telling us that most dogs in Cambodia aren’t immunized against anything. They aren’t neutered or spayed, either. It is a strange sight coming from the USA where animals have rights to a place where dogs are eaten. There are restaurants in my province that specialize in dog meat. Sometimes I see young dogs crated on the back of a moto and know why the caged dog howls. Other PCVs who have unwittingly eaten dog flesh with their families have told me that dogs know when you have eaten their kin. They can smell your dog breath. They follow you down the street and call you names.
Where I live now there is an old geezer dog with No Name who occupies my porch as he has done for the past ten years, long before I called it my porch. His pale, mud-colored fur is eaten by mange and plagued with fleas. He has rheumy eyes, one blind, and an overshot jaw that never closes. He thinks we’re pals because one day I brought home a waffle from the market and dropped it on the floor. I remembered Joanne’s words once again: “There is no five-second rule in Cambodia.” So I let No Name have it. Now he wags hopefully wherever I come home.
The tragic part of this Dog Tale is a true story I heard at David Oliveira’s 70th birthday party. David and I had a glancing acquaintance through the poetry scene in Ventura, California. I was asked to deliver a few books to him upon my arrival in Cambodia and we became fast friends. Which led to his most auspicious birthday party, and meeting other expats who remembered an American woman named Ingrid who once lived in the neighborhood. Ingrid had come to Cambodia in the late 1990s, when things were still pretty rough. She ran an NGO, and started a school near David and Vic’s place near the river. Ingrid loved Cambodia, had found her life’s purpose, and, at the age of 40 decided she wanted a child. One morning on a walk with her dog, another dog attacked. She wasn’t even bitten, just scratched. The dog did not have rabies. But, she got a fever and before she could be medevacked out, she died. It was a matter of a few days. She was seven months pregnant.
I tell this tragic tale as a warning to visitors who might want to do my old pal No Name a favor and give him a bath. Or may want to romp with the neighbor’s cute puppy. Read the sign posted above. Even if you aren’t fluent in Khmer, please notice the bite taken out of the lower corner. The sign may look like a cartoon, but that dog isn’t kidding.