|Noah at 7 weeks old|
So, in case any of you didn't know I am now lonely and pathetic in Korea (as one of the English teachers at my school always says to me in jest). The wife has gone to study in Australia and I have to wait a number of months until I follow her there because I need to finish my contract and save money here. I am cooking bundegi fried rice, growing a beard, drinking only water, and not eating out at all in a bid to save for Australia. Pretty soon the beard will be trampish enough for me to become a successful beggar in the evening after my school day is finished. Combined with the pitiful condition of my watch that I bring to class, I think some of my students are thinking about making donations already.
Anyway, a few days before my wife left, my father in-law was given a Jindo dog by his friend. He couldn't really take care of it for a couple of days so he left him with my wife and I. I have an extremely soft spot for dogs, I think they are marvellous animals and so with this in mind 2 days was all it took for me to fall in love with the little rascal. We named him Noah because it is a Western name that is easy for Koreans to say and it had rained all day the day we got him, which caused some minor flooding.
My parents also happened to still be in Korea at the time after my wedding and when the day came to give the dog back to my wife's parents, we all went to their house for dinner (which is in the countryside).
I would be lying to you if I was confident in my in-laws ability to care for the dog properly and this was not solely based on how they were with him that night, but what I have seen from other Koreans when it comes to "caring" for dogs. Culturally, any dog bigger than a new born baby tends to be left outside in all weather on a chain and doesn't get out very much and this was my worry for Noah.
The way they treated him that night was also a concern. He was still very small and vulnerable, but starting to get a little more confident and explored around later in the evening. Unfortunately, my in-laws had got into the habit of feeding a feral cat in their yard, which meant it tended to hang around quite a lot. The cat in question also had a kitten that it was obviously very protective over. When Noah came within 3 or 4 metres of the cat, it gave him a discouraging growl, but my in-laws didn't seem too worried and just ate. I was constantly out of my seat. I am pretty confident he would have been mauled that night had I not been there.
My father in-law also didn't appear to be too keen on having the dog, although my wife assured me that he liked the dog but had a funny way of showing it and wasn't especially open with his emotions. Firstly, before I met the dog my wife and her father had taken him to the vets for the first of his injections. Upon hearing this first trip would cost 70 000 won ($70) he was extremely unhappy and my wife ended up paying instead (for his dog). She relayed to me that he said something along the lines of, "70 000, That's more than it costs for a person to see the doctor!"
This did not convince me that he was too dedicated to the dog's well-being and made me wonder what he would do if the dog required more serious and expensive medical attention at some point in his life. He was also fairly clumsy and callous with the dog, some examples included; he would spray his face with a compressor, wave a lighter around in his face, and grab his head and forcefully push it onto a roll of toilet paper like it was a pillow (causing the dog to squeal in pain when he was still only 7-8 weeks old). He then also spent the entire first night saying that I could take care of him if I wanted to. With my mum egging me on to do it and their general behaviour and lack of any preparation at all for having him, I reluctantly agreed.
I knew the situation was less than ideal to say the least. I was on my own, living in an apartment, and I had to be at work all day and still try and fit in the exercise I do everyday. Jindo dogs also grow to be about 20 kg or more, which is fairly big. This was going to be a problem.
Actually, some of my fears were settled a little by Noah's behaviour. He was extremely quiet and still is. He would moan and cry a bit, but rarely barked and he was fine being left alone. He also seemed naturally house-trained. Extraordinarily, he never made one mistake while living in my apartment, I didn't have to train him for that at all.
I looked up the breed characteristics and this behaviour was confirmed; that they are highly intelligent, naturally house-trained, loyal, curiously hate water, and don't really bark unless something is really wrong (why they are valued as a guard dog). However, I also saw warnings that they tend to be domineering, independent, willful, and have a high prey drive. Combined, this tended to mean that, if left alone, they would entertain themselves by destroying things. After a while this became very true and even with me carefully placing things out of reach before I left the house, he would find a way of destroying something and became a genuine handful for one person with limited time to take care of.
Despite all of this, I still would have struggled through, however I did have another pressing concern over keeping him and that was I was going to have to take him with me to Australia next year. This was a significant issue as my budget for everything was already tight. After a while of searching around and getting quotes, I realised two things; it was going to be a very difficult process to get him to Australia and also a very expensive process. The lowest quote I received was between 6000 and 7000 Australian Dollars. Added to this was the fact that even if I did manage to get him to Australia, my wife and I would have to find accommodation appropriate and cheap enough for having a big dog, not to mention a place where we would even be allowed to have him. The situation was impossible. So that was that, I couldn't keep him and I should give him to my in-laws before he and I became too attached to each other.
It actually turned out that I probably would have had the dog for about a month anyway because my mother in-law spent about 3 weeks in Seoul looking after her own mother who is starting to show early signs of dementia. My father in-law was working all day everyday (and in Korea, all day really is all day and sometimes all night too) so he could not look after the dog either. Anyway, I had him for longer than was ideal, which made it a bit difficult to give him up and I hope hasn't made him too attached to me.
My fears about how they would take care of Noah have been slightly erased, as my mother in-law looks to be quite gentle with him. They will move him outside, which I think is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing. My experience of taking care of him also taught me that he reveled in being outside more than most other dogs I have known or looked after, so I think this is not a bad thing as long as they walk him regularly, which I hint at often as something they need to do a lot.
Something really good might come from the whole thing, however, and this is the fact of the dog bringing my in-laws and I together. Without my wife to form the connection, seeing them without her would have been weird and uncomfortable to say the least.
Another problem I have with my in-laws when I visit them is the sheer length of time I see them for and the lack of mental stimulation in this time often makes me painfully bored. I always liked going to their house more when I was doing a job for them, like moving rocks or shoveling sand. Now, though, I have the dog to keep my mind occupied and this also gives me something to talk about. I can also help them out by looking after the dog occasionally when they are away, so I am becoming useful to them as well. It seems that this dog might be the best thing for my relationship with my in-laws, it now gives me a reason to visit them more regularly and speak to them more often.
But there is a Problem
I wrote most of this post before I learned of how the doggy was getting on at the in-laws house and I'm afraid some optimism has disappeared slightly. It is not a lost cause, but there are significant hurdles to overcome. The problem I see is that if we cannot overcome these obstacles, I may actually grow to dislike my in-laws just when I was starting to get along with them better. Like I have said before, I know my in-laws are not bad people, they are really genuine and nice, and the troubles we have are down to culture, this I can understand.
Korean culture with dogs is generally something that I do abhor, but after visiting him yesterday I do understand that my mother in-law, in particular, really cares about the dog. My mother in-law has been fantastic since my wife has left and I am confident that there is not a bad bone in this woman's body, I think she is truly amazing these days and she takes great care of me too. This is why the cultural difference is so incredibly frustrating. I find myself becoming angry at her when I know she is doing her best with the dog, she just doesn't understand dogs in the same way. I feel a wave of negative emotions towards her that I know are unfair (and I am sure there are situations where she feels the same about me), yet I can't stop them
I reckon mixing the culture of the average Korean and the average Westerner and putting a dog in the middle is a bit of a recipe for disaster. Simply what my in-laws see as just normal behaviour in having a dog, I see as slightly abusive, mainly in the form of neglect. Their solution for the troubles the dog has caused by this neglect just seems to be to neglect it so much that they will eventually break and get used to it. I don't really see the point in having a dog if you treat them in this way.
What I see at the moment is that they wanted a dog, got one, made zero preparations for having one, taken no responsibility for caring for him, and basically have no idea at all about caring for him. Now I hear that they are worried he will bring them bad luck when he cries. This is because he is a dog, he is a sentient being with feelings, desires, and emotions and he desperately wants to be with people and he wants to be loved. Instead he seems to be on his own all the time with no one paying any attention to him; I think I would cry too.
But the thought processes going on in my brain and that of my in-law's brains are, I suspect, quite different. To me, I am putting myself in the place of the dog; how would I feel if...... I humanise his him in one sense, but also I try and understand the dog mind. I know they are social animals with certain needs and because I have had a dog before, I know what they tend to enjoy and hate. I also read-up on the Jindo breed type, so I knew the specific issues I might face. To my in-laws he is a dog and like everything else, it has its place, and its duty. A dog's place is to be outside, tied-up, where else would they go? All my considerations seem to be largely irrelevant. The thinking of my in-laws explains how they care for the dog (i.e. not caring in the sense that I think one should be taking care of a dog), but it also explains the way they care for me.
I am a son in-law, my place is part of the family - almost like blood - my mother in-law's duty is to make sure I am well looked-after, so no matter how I behave, that is exactly what she does. This is why I can be the terrible son in-law from a Korean perspective (like a commenter in a previous post thought of me) but I am treated like a king anyway. It doesn't matter that I don't want to be treated like a king or I don't think I deserve any of it, it happens anyway.
So what can I do with the dog? I cannot have him, I cannot really arrange for him to stay with others; he will become too big for anyone I know in their current accommodation. I am also quite sure that giving him away to another Korean would result in similar treatment and my in-laws do actually have the perfect place to have a dog in the countryside. After a few suggestions on how to improve the quality of Noah's life yesterday, however, I am optimistic again that we can reach a compromise between our two culture's perspectives on raising a dog, but I guess only time will tell. My emotions on this subject, perhaps very much like this post, go from up to down and back and forth on the whole thing. Of all of the dilemmas and challenges that have come my way since being married into a Korean family, this counts as the greatest so far. Let's hope we can figure it out for the little champ.