The theme of this post has been floating around in my mind since approximately day one, but I just have never gotten around to describing exactly how unfortunate one would be to be a dog or cat, be it pet or stray, in this country.
First experience with a stray was in the airport. After arriving in Tbilisi at 4 am there was a cat in the airport. A cat in an airport. Just wandered in. That is the first time I have seen anything like that.
My first days in Georgia, as I was walking with other volunteers, we came across many stray dogs and cats, all of whom looked stunted and miserable. The puppies and kittens were literally the smallest I had ever seen. They were just adorable sitting on the side of the street wanting to be loved. It did not seem to bad, except that there were a lot of them. At this point I had not seen how strays were treated.
Not long after arriving at my host first families house, I was on my way back from the store with my 6 year old host brother when we saw one of the adorably tiny kittens. It was sitting at the entrance to the alley with its tail curled around its body and eyes closed peacefully basking in the sun. As we approached, it opened its eyes and meowed. Probably not the smartest move for the cat. My host brother then started to pet the kitten. I told him to leave it alone. We started down the alley and the kitten followed. Seeing the kitten walking into the alley way, a neighbor woman yelled at my host brother to scare it away. He dutifully picked up some rocks and started hurling them at the kitten he had so lovingly stroked but moments before. His aim was terrible, so he went up to the kitten, picked it up, dropped it and while in the air kicked it. Over the remaining time spent with my first host family, many a cat had stones thrown at it, kicked or was chased with a broom.
This behavior is not particular to just this first host family. Many, but of course not all, Georgians use violent strategies to keep strays out of the way. I see dogs kicked in the street and cats constantly are having things thrown at them. Might seem callous of me to say that I try and ignore this as much as possible.Being a stray in any country is going to be a fairly shitty life, so Georgia might not be that much worse than other places.
Sadly (yet smartly), strays learn how to avoid people, or sense who is going to be nice to them. On multiple occasions dogs have followed me, tails wagging and their nose almost in my hand, if it is by my side. I usually just let the dog follow me until it realizes I do not have anything for it (sometimes I do).
In most cases, being a pet is better than being a stray, not necessarily here. I had discussions with a few of my classes about pets and what they are fed. Dogs here are fed bones. No meat on the bones. No leftovers. Just bones. Not the best of diets, but probably better than garbage. Well, since pet dogs are allowed to roam, they tend to eat garbage anyway due to bones not being enough to sustain them.
Also being a pet dog does not exclude you from being kicked and generally mistreated. Again, this is not everyone and this is not exclusive to Georgia, it just seems more prevalent. There are definitely families who truly love their pet and treat it like a family member and feed it to their best of their ability, which is sometimes only bones.
I have heard many a horror story about some of my fellow volunteers host families’ pets. One volunteer’s host family has had three dogs since his arrival in June, all of which were run over by a car and left to die. Granted, there are very few veterinary clinics around for a injured dog to be taken to and if there had been one near this village, the family would not have been able to afford any treatment.
Another volunteer friend’s host family had a dog that one day ate a shoe or two, so the host family took it downtown and left it on the side of the road. Amusingly enough, when I went to visit this friend, the dog followed me back to her house. Her host family was not amused and promptly chased him away again. I felt fairly bad for unwittingly leading the dog back.
Being a pet cat means you get to chase mice for the family, may get some food scraps, may be let inside, and probably still have things thrown at you by neighbors.Generally speaking, it might be easier to be a cat in Georgia.
Of course there is no spaying or neutering, which means that strays run rampant and pets mingle their genes with the strays as well since they are allowed to run free. It is a general mess of stray animals here.
Moral of the story- only have a pet if you can afford to feed it a healthy diet, give it medical attention and spay or neuter it!