We all know them—the stray dogs on your route to work, the kittens that pop up in the spring with the flowers—and it’s painful to walk by without at least slipping them a bit of sausage or a pat on the head. But then there are the animals who go a little further, the ones with the know how to turn a daily pat on the head and scrap of food into a routine. At first they follow you around, then they end up on your doorstep, and finally they’ve cozily ensconced themselves in your warm apartment like it’s the most natural thing. Without realizing it, you gained a pet.
The relationship between a person and their pet is a fantastic thing. They’re happy to see you when you come home tired from a day of navigating Surgik, they add a bit of lightness when you’re engrossed in the budget of your latest grant, and of course they’re a source of warmth in the winter. In exchange for food and shelter they give you love and friendship. We all know this.
Still, just because it’s as easy as plucking one up off the street, bringing a pet home in Ukraine is a major decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Think of the time commitments you have as a volunteer; are you a member of any working groups? Are you an active participant in Oblast collaborations? What about summer camps? And making use of vacation days abroad? Who will be there to take care of your animal while you are fulfilling the goals your service requires?
Perhaps that question is easily answered by the babushka across the hall. Let’s get a little more technical. Do you know that your Peace Corps living allowance doesn’t cover the cost of pet food? Is there a pet store in your village or town? What about a veterinarian? Do you know where you can get your pet immunized and sterilized? The very reason that allows us to so easily bring a furry bundle of cuteness back to our apartments is one of Ukraine’s biggest problems.
At the time of writing, Ukraine is getting ready for Euro 2012. There are gruesome reports that stray dogs in host cities are being rounded up and thrown—alive—into incinerators. That poison is being hidden in food for starving strays to eat, after which they convulse violently before their death. The overabundance of stray animals in Ukraine is a danger to humans as well as to the animals themselves. If you choose to become a pet owner during your service, it is your duty as a Peace Corps volunteer to do so responsibly.
Making a two year commitment to live and work in Ukraine is certainly a long one, but when we make a commitment to a pet, it’s for life. Before you take the little guy home, stop to think about what you will do with him once your service is up. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to be graced by a neighbor who truly cares for their animals and is willing to take on another, but for many volunteers this isn’t the case. It’s possible to give your beloved pet to the volunteer taking over after you, but what will they do once it’s their turn to leave? Are you ready to add the paperwork and expenses that come with shipping your animal back to the US with you?
If all of this is too depressing, I apologize. The goal of this manual is not to dissuade pet ownership, but to get PCVs to think seriously about their decision before they bring an animal into their home during service. Every pet deserves a loving and well informed caretaker, and we’re hoping to provide you with the information necessary to make sure your decision is the right one.
Jenny Alton, TEFL Group 41