The Dog Dilema

As a lifelong animal lover, vegetarian since adolescence, a one-time dog, hamster, and degu owner, and several times cat-owner, I have a soft spot for animals. Had my life taken a different trajectory, and I hadn’t moved to a big city full of small apartments, I could see me still living in Michigan with several dogs and cats sharing my pillow. And that wouldn’t be so bad. But alas, instead I’m in Yemen. With no pets (save for Mr.YemenEm’s two kitties who are being lovingly looked after by our friends in Washington DC).

Here’s a big difference between Yemen and America (because there’s just one, dontchyaknow): Yemenis don’t have pets. Many think it’s gross or at least odd that Westerners and others keep dogs and cats in their homes. If some of them knew how I let my one-time dog Al (who my aunt and uncle adopted – don’t I have the best friends and fam?) get under the bedcovers and snuggle with me cheek to cheek, they’d probably never shake my hand again, to say nothing of doing the double cheek kiss that everyone here is so fond of.

It makes me a little sad that people here don’t experience the joy and fun of having a cat or dog, but Yemen’s a poor country, and people here aren’t going to spend money taking care of a non-food animal when it’s expensive enough to take care of a family of humans.

But just because pets aren’t a thing here doesn’t mean cats and dogs aren’t running wild. Indeed, the embassy and our hotel grounds are literally crawling with cats and dogs. The cats are not so much an issue. They tend to keep to themselves, find food in the trashcan, drink from the swimming pool, snarl and fight (or mate?) in the evenings, but generally just lay around looking pretty during the day. The dogs do pretty much the same thing, only their presence is much more objectionable to the residents of the haunted hotel in which we live. Many people who live at the hotel don’t want stray dogs barking through the night and patrolling the grounds for food. The presence of the dogs has been a major source of contention since Mr.YemenEm arrived, with various people taking different sides: From the extreme of one woman who was rumored to take dogs into her hotel room, bathe them, let them sleep in her bed, and then let them out the next morning, to a man who is rumored to have called for a fatwah on the pups and has ordered the murder of many an ill-fated dog in Sana’a.

There’s a very kindhearted lady here who takes care of the dogs at the hotel, and even miraculously managed to secure homes for several in the U.S. But sadly it’s a losing battle. I haven’t even wanted to write about Puppygate, as Mr.YemenEm calls it, because the whole situation makes me so sad, because it is so hopeless. There are no vets in Yemen, which means there is no way to spay or neuter a dog. There are no vaccines to prevent diseases like parvo or rabies. Even if there were those vaccines, without spaying and neutering dogs and cats, they will just keep on coming.

A few weeks ago, there was a roundup of dogs on the hotel grounds. The seven or eight pooches who were a constant presence suddenly were no more. I didn’t want to ask for details, but I don’t think they went to live on a farm. The one dog who was spared was a very pregnant golden-colored mutt. A few days ago, she gave birth to a litter of eight adorable little pups. Everyone loves puppies, so people at the hotel are pitching in to make sure the puppies are looked after. They’re secure in a spacious pen with their mom, who gets lots of food and attention. As heartwarming as spending time with the puppies is, I keep thinking “Well, now what?” When they get older, will they suddenly disappear as well? Should I post heartbreaking Facebook messages pleading with my American friends and family to take one, and to pay big bucks to ship him on 30-hour trip back to the states? That dog would certainly have a better life, but what about its brothers and sisters? And the hundreds more that will come after it? And what about all the dogs in the U.S. who need homes? No easy answers (or answers at all, really). I realize this is quite the “wah wah” post, so I’ll wrap it up. To quote a wise man who may or may not have invented Plinko:

“Have your pets spayed or neutered.” And also, if you have a cat or dog, give it an extra scratch behind the ears today and tell ’em how good they have it. And how good you have it too.



  1. As Yemenem’s aunt who adopted Al, I find this story heartbreaking. But Yemenem shouldn’t think too highly of us. Al has given us so much more than we have given him. One thing I never gave him though was a place in our bed, he has his own on the floor.

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