Expat Aid Workers love their kind of pet.
They will carry on long discussions with their drivers about how terrible it is that local people allow cows, goats and chickens to roam freely, putting vehicles in grave danger. Over their evening drinks after a trip out to a rural community, they’ll comment, aghast, on what a health risk it is that the locals let chickens and hens roost inside their living quarters. Expat Aid workers are quick to point out when relationships between local people and their animals pose health risks and undue expense.
But there are certain species, felines and canines to be specific, that hold an elevated position in Expat Aid Worker culture.
Is there a mangy stray cat that prowls around the office? Don’t be surprised when the Expat Aid Workers are the first to charm it and feed it. They will go so far as to take the cat home and keep it inside their house. They will name the cat and allow it to sit on their laps while they stroke and massage it. They will allow their children (and yours also) to touch the cat without washing their hands afterwards. They will allow it to walk on tables and furniture and even sleep in the same bed with them. They will desperately try to find homes for entire litters of kittens. They will purchase fish and prepare it for the cat, allow the cat to lick leftover food from their own plates, or spend exorbitant amounts at their favorite ex-pat styled supermarket on special imported catfood. And they will be offended if you so much as shush the cat for rubbing all over your pant legs and depositing its pheromones and hair on you.
Local colleagues and housekeepers can explain the dangers of keeping felines in the home until they are blue in the face but Expat Aid Workers are ineducable in this aspect. They may smile and nod as if in agreement, yet they will ignore any information provided about the potential dangers of their customs. Cultural traditions from EAW’s countries of origin are so ingrained that they usually fail to respond to scientific research or obvious signs that confirm the presence of high levels of allergens in cat dander, germs spread due to the unsanitary places felines wander while outside the home, and the risk cat urine poses to pregnant women.
Dogs are favorites also. Though keeping dogs in the home is considered offensive in some countries, the Expat Aid Worker will go to great lengths to bring a dog with him or her on a long-term mission. No obstacle is too great to prevent the Expat Aid Worker from being with his or her dog. The Expat Aid Worker will spend hundreds of dollars on vaccines and documentation. His or her driver will spend hours at the embassy getting documents translated and authenticated in order to allow the cherished pet to travel. He or she will spend more money per week feeding his or her dog than local colleagues spend feeding themselves. Even a stray dog adopted on mission will quickly become a full member of the Expat Aid Worker’s family unit, thus becoming immediately eligible for full privileges and protection.
Once part of the Expat Aid Worker’s family, dogs are quickly trained and civilized. They no longer run free in street packs and defecate wherever they please. They may be subjected to forced mating or sterilization as part of the Expat Aid Worker’s cultural adaptations to animal management and fertility control. In some cases dogs wear collars around their necks reflective of their status. They may be customarily restrained from freedom of movement and association with other canines (except for those of their peers in other Expat Aid Worker families). Expat Aid Worker dogs who are of full bred quality may be at a higher risk of kidnapping. This is all part of the context however for the animal that Expat Aid Worker culture and literature call “Man’s Best Friend.”
At the Expat Aid Worker’s home, unruly canines are treated in much the same way that misbehaving Expat Aid Worker children are, with ineffective mock scolding in a high pitched voice, and shaking of the head and apologetic “well what can I do?” smiles and shrugging of the shoulders. When being jumped on or slobbered on by an overeager Expat Aid Worker dog, it’s best to avoid kicking it or otherwise speaking harshly, as the Expat Aid Worker will take this personally and it may affect your future relationship. It is a good idea also to avoid discussions of eating cats or dogs until you are sure that the Expat Aid Worker has a sense of humor and can manage this information without it creating a hidden barrier in your interactions.
Pets hold an elevated place in the Expat Aid Worker’s culture and lifestyle. It is important to understand this in order to be able to work effectively with Expat Aid Workers.