Monday, May 5, 2014

Xena: Warrior Princess

This post is dedicated to my sweet girl, Xena, who is now with another loving home better suited to her size, energy, and socialization needs.

Beautiful, loving Xena at nine weeks

Walking home late one Friday night at the end of March, I came across a young dog and a puppy on Peace Avenue in downtown UB.  The dog, barely out of puppyhood, seemed lively and friendly.  The puppy was a tiny thing who waddled over to me and wedged herself between my feet.  That was it.  I scooped her up, not thinking about what the consequences would be, and took her home with me.
Only a ROBOT could resist this face!  Even Data wouldn't have left her on the cold streets of UB.
This little puppy couldn't eat solid foot, had to have water given to her by hand, and was covered in filth and soot.  Who knows what circumstances led to the little one being separated from her mother and wandering the streets of Ulaanbaatar that night.  What I do know is that she was some kind of fighter to have lasted any time at all!  But even more so, she was a sweet and gentle little lady.  Two baths later, the water turning black each time, and she ended up looking more like this:

Sock added for scale

She needed a name.  Given her dual nature, Xena (Warrior Princess) seemed like the obvious choice.  But I wanted to double-check that she was in fact a 'she' and to see what health problems and illnesses might be plaguing her.  Julian goes to a veterinary clinic about 15 minutes walk from the apartment and I brought Xena there the next day in my bag.  The vet thought that Xena was about 4 weeks old and in relatively good health, although she was malnourished and had been separated from her mother far too young.

Here is Xena's "warrior" side.  This face expresses the maxim: let sleeping dogs lie (or else they might pee on you)!
Having a puppy is what I imagine having a baby is like: she may sleep a lot but you end up getting relatively little sleep!  What with feeding, bathroom breaks, cleanup duty, cuddling, and play time, I was getting 3-4 hour blocks of sleep for the first few weeks.  She was so small that I didn't get her either a collar or a leash for at least a week.  This is also because she wasn't really able to go very far or fast on her own - her motor skills hadn't developed and she needed to be carried.  It took 2.5 weeks or so for her to be able to make it up and down the stairs in the apartment building on her own.  That means that I got peed on with alarming frequency.
Xena at 5 weeks, probably strategizing her next pee attack
One of my greatest concerns was that Xena and Julian wouldn't get along.  I figured that Julian would live in his room and on top of cupboards as long as there was a dog in the house, given how he feels about new people.  I couldn't have been more wrong!  Within 10 minutes of bringing Xena home that first night, Julian was sniffing her and prodding her with his paws.  They became rough-housing playmates and occasional cuddly companions from the very beginning.

Julian and Xena (about 5 weeks) lounging around together
When Julian still had the advantage in their play fights...
I tried to housetrain Xena as soon as possible.  She was so young that I shouldn't have expected much, but she caught on pretty well all things considered.  We definitely spent a lot of time in the courtyard, where there are little fenced in 'green' areas, playground equipment, a basketball court, and a bakery.  These regular visits gave Xena and me lots of exposure to my neighbors, most of whom I'd never met or spoken to, but that I now saw all the time.  Most of the interactions with neighbors were positive - there were, unsurprisingly, some exceptions - and that was doubly-true for the children.  In the time Xena lived with me, I met and got to know more Mongolian children than I had in all the years I've been coming here put together.  TMI: how do most urban Mongolians deal with the housetraining and 'toilet' issues for their dogs?  I've heard that people with balconies let their dogs treat those areas like toilets (kind of gross!) and I've seen pet pads (like floor diapers, really!) in the pet stores, but I got the sense that apartment-dwellers don't necessarily housetrain their dogs.  That can't be right...  I should do a survey of the Mongolian dog lovers' Facebook group.
Ready to go outside and play!  Xena at 6 weeks, after I finally got her a collar.  Whoever designed that collar and added the bell is a genius.
Many Mongolians are afraid of dogs, and you'd be amazed at how many grown adults were wary or outright frightened of Xena, even when she looked like she does in the above picture.  A number of kids in my neighborhood were quick to get over their fear and shyness when presented with opportunities to lead Xena by the leash and to give her a pat.  Xena loves children and was good with them from the very beginning.  Socialization is key when it comes to raising a dog and I'm very grateful that all of these young children unwittingly helped form Xena into the friendly, safe dog that she is today.
And not at all grateful to Julian for his instigation and bullying!  But he was to get his comeuppance shortly...

There is an unfortunate bias against female dogs in Mongolia.  While obviously not universal amongst Mongolians by any means, the rejection of female dogs often leads to female puppies being abandoned or killed.  A number of people (all men, I might add!) dismissed Xena as a potentially good dog when I told them that she was a girl.  Part of the reason is that spaying and neutering are not widely practiced in Mongolia, which leads to numerous problems from the owner's perspective: heat, endless puppies, etc.  Certainly those concerns are legitimate, although they can all be addressed by fixing the dog, whereas the idea that only male dogs make good dogs is laughable (although the results of that belief are not funny at all).  Such a belief may be practically tied up in the perceived need for ferocious guard dogs (although there's no real evidence that intact male dogs are the best guard dogs) but I suspect that something else is going on.  The only times I've heard people (let's be honest, they are almost always men) in the US take a vested interest in keeping their male dogs intact and asserting that male dogs are 'better' is from people who practice or uphold certain patriarchal values that I find distasteful at best.  Moreover, the practical results lead to animal suffering through unplanned pregnancies and unwanted puppies.  I can't say for certain whether this attitude is a decisive factor in the treatment of dogs in Mongolia, but I do think it is a factor.  Luckily this ugly attitude is not shared by all, and certainly not by the kind, dog-loving people I've encountered when I'm with Xena.
Puppy smiles!  Xena's personal specialty.

Over the weeks Xena grew and developed rapidly.  Her energy level rose and she got quite strong, pushing over little barricades I had set up to keep her out of trouble with relative ease.  Many people had trouble believing how young she was; it's possible that the vets misidentified her age, as we'll never know her actual date of birth.  It was a long while before I could sleep for more than 4 hours at a time; at least, it felt like a long time!  The whole time Xena was with me I got up later than 6am exactly once, and that was to get up at 7am.  This began to take a toll on my work productivity and my mental acuity fairly early on.  By 7 weeks or so Xena started to look and act like a real dog, rather than a Beanie Baby with bodily functions.

"Sit" was the command she mastered very young, as seen in her standard photo pose (7 weeks)
This was a great age for playing with children and going outside, but it was beginning to get harder having her in the apartment.  Her increased energy level led to a certain destructive nature, not at all unusual in puppies, but difficult to manage in an apartment.  My family has had dogs since before I was born but I've never cared for one in an apartment setting.  It's obviously much, much easier if you can turn the puppy out to run and romp in a safe outdoor environment.  Poor Xena didn't have that living with me in downtown Ulaanbaatar.

Xena at 8 weeks with some of her toys.  The white sock under her paw is the same one from the first photos of Xena at 4 weeks of age.
More worrying was that Xena's size and strength started to give her the upper hand in her play battles with Julian.  I began to worry that she would accidentally hurt him.

Not that Julian stopped looking for trouble.  Here they are in a play fight that he started (as usual)!  Xena is about 7 or 8 weeks by this point.
From early on I'd looked into the option of sending Xena to the US.  After a lot of research, I learned that this was a possibility but a difficult and expensive one.  Moreover, my life in the US is likely to be in apartments for the near future, and Xena deserved a yard.  All of this and, frankly, my exhaustion and difficulty working while caring for a puppy, led me to look into giving Xena to another family.  A friend of mine connected me with a very kind Mongolian woman who lives in the suburbs of Ulaanbaatar with her young son and a few other puppies.  When this option came about, Xena was too young to 'fend' for herself around other dogs, so we agreed to wait until May before she joined her new family.

Julian and Xena: a complicated relationship (9 weeks).
Giving Xena up was a very hard decision.  She's been a huge part of my life here in Mongolia, even if that's only been a 6-week period, and I care about her very much.  I already miss her!  But, in the end, she is a Mongolian dog who belongs here with a Mongolian family and other Mongolian dogs.  I feel so fortunate to have found a good home for her with caring people and new friends who will be with her for the rest of her life.  Just this evening Xena went with her new family, accompanied by her toys and her food, to what I hope will be a happy, long life.  Her new family and I will coordinate veterinary care over the next few months, as Xena needs her second round of shots next month and to be spayed in early July.  While Xena belongs to someone else now, in my heart she's still my girl.  Here's hoping for all the best for my little warrior princess!
Xena at 9 weeks: how my warrior princess has grown!

UPDATE: I am beyond sad to report that Xena passed away only a few months after this original post was published in 2014.  One day Xena escaped her new family's khashaa (enclosure) and was hit by a car.  The family's mother found her body in the street when she returned home from work that night.   Xena was a wonderful, sweet dog who brought light into every life she touched.  I mourn her death, miss my time with her, and treasure my memories of her.  I take some comfort in the fact that her Mongolian family loved her as well, making her months with them full of fun with small children and other dogs to play with, and that overall her too-short life was a happy one.  I love you, my good girl!

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