Dog projects

I’m home from work this fine Wednesday afternoon, partly because there is not much to do until we receive the draft reports from our national teams on Community Social Responsibility in their respective countries; but mostly because my shoulder hurts from working, to the point that I’m starting some physical therapy with a local American. I’d had a desk and computer at the office until our program assistant returned; after that, I typed on my laptop; but then we moved into a new, cramped office with lousy desk space. Bottom line: bad ergonomics = shoulder and hand problems. I’m only giving this post about 10 minutes, and then I take a break.

Cooper has become a much more affectionate dog after a period of ignoring us. He had been food-obsessed, even stealing food off the counter. He was at his worst during his walks in the park: once off the leash, he’d run in search of picnickers’ bones or poo*. He ignored other dogs, and he wouldn’t come when called; all he wanted to do was eat. Finally, about two weeks ago, he stole a piece of chicken from my plate at dinner, and when I tried to wrestle it out of his mouth (not to eat it myself, but for principle’s sake), he tried so hard to gobble it down before I could take it from him that he bit me through the finger nail, drawing blood. I smacked him hard and banished him to another room, and wouldn’t let him back in for about an hour. The next day, Abby and I let him off the leash at the park as always, and then proceeded with our walk, and after three minutes we realized that Cooper was gone. We called, we searched, and finally some passers-by told us they’d seen him running back the way we came, out of the park; Abby climbed a hill and sure enough, she saw him standing in the traffic square outside the park. I can only guess he’d decided to find a piece of byrek or shishqebab at one of the eateries on the border of the park and had became confused; but our hearts stopped to see him standing in the middle of the street. Fortunately, rush hour hadn’t quite picked up yet, so I was able to get him out of traffic unharmed.

Since then, he’s been more attentive to us, and he has started playing with the park dogs again; and we’ve also started using food rewards to get him to come every time we call, as Abby’s pet guru, Victoria Schade, has recommended. (Abby met Victoria online by writing to Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post after he’d written about his dog and dog training in his live chat; we were considering flying her out to Albania at one point, when Cooper was in his biting phase.) This may be one of the reasons he’s more playful, but it beats having a jerk around the house.

Meanwhile, the dog of one of Abby’s colleagues was fatally poisoned in the park about a week ago. We still don’t know if he happened upon rat poison, or if cyanide-laced food had been left out by the lake as part of the city’s dog culling efforts. Abby and I spread the warning to other dog owners we know whom we see in the park, and many of us are worried about this. Last night, however, I held the first meeting with a group of people whom I hope will form the nucleus of a stray dog population control program. (The dog poisoning wasn’t the cause of this effort – I’d spoken to an Albanian friend about this weeks ago – but it was certainly a reminder of how important this project is.) We have three Albanians, including the director of the veterinary research institute, two Americans, and a German couple, with other Albanians and expatriates interested in joining on. Our goal is to create a trap-neuter/vaccinate-release program, an educational program about dog care, and a puppy adoption program. This will take a lot of research and fundraising, of course, but we already have a commitment from the Institute to use its facilities for the operations; and all of us are sickened by the current population control methods and realize that something needs to be done. My job with UNDP ends in mid-June, and so while it’s possible that the USAID position will come through, I’m now not sure whether I want it or whether I want to devote myself to the dog project full time.

*Do I mean animal poo or picnickers’ poo? Po-ta-to, po-tah-to …

Author: cohn17

Photographer and baker of macarons.

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