A gathijo is a term I came up with that is used whenever I speak about my kitties. It encompasses exactly what they mean to me:
Gato + hijo
Cat + son
But a pets meaning changes depending on where you are.
In Bolivia pets are appreciated loving members of the household but there is always a boundary that should never de crossed. The dogs we owned were not to enter our home; if they did, they were to do so very quickly, say hello and then be ushered out like nothing happened. Our dogs had all the luxuries we could provide. A huge warm enclosure, a massive garden and a vet available whenever they needed one. I would say most homes in Bolivia, regardless of their economic status, provide the same amenities. Bolivians also have the mentality that a dog and a cat will do just fine in the streets. If you have ever visited my country you would have probably witnessed our streets filled with friendly stray dogs and a few cats. People don’t mind them roaming the streets and recently many animal welfare organizations have popped up bringing more awareness and striving to do better for them. There are new public feeding places for the strays and some buildings even include outside homes for their streets dogs.There are new laws protecting them and thanks to social media people can report and document abuse.
When I moved to the States I saw a huge difference in the treatment of pets. People there whole heartedly embraced them as family. Living and sleeping with their pets. You didn’t buy a pet, you adopted one. You didn’t own an animal, you were their guardian. I don’t think I ever saw a dog just wondering the streets. People walk their dogs and pick up their poop for heaven’s sake. I found this new dynamic very interesting, could a pet be more? My sister who lives in the States has a lovely dog, Madison. Whenever she has to travel or must leave her alone for more than 5 hours Madi is dropped off at daycare where she can even enjoy swimming lessons and hangout with her puppy friends.
In Kuwait my husband and I decided to buy two kittens. We were unaware that there was actually a place where we could adopt from. We took them home and they have ruled our lives ever since.
Because of culture and interpretations of the religion dogs are deemed filthy and unwanted. Many dogs are targets of children who find pleasure in hurting them. There have been several reports of children burying, kicking and cutting animals just for fun. Just yesterday a kitten was rescued from children who hung him(Click here to see some of the abandoned animals and their stories). In 2013 the abuse of dogs reached a new low, with a report of over 80 dogs slaughtered and tortured. It is common practice for people to purchase a puppy or kitten and then releasing it on the streets or worst, leaving them in the middle of the desert. Many pets are abandoned for the Holy month of Ramadan, for the summer season when most people travel or just because it just “got too big”. Many animal organizations report at least 50% increase in homeless animals during those seasons. Such organizations struggle to make ends meet. Most of the animal organizations are just groups of independent animal lovers that donate their homes and time for this cause. These people have vet bills of over $8,000 every month. Though there are many Kuwaitis who help and love their pets like family, the grand majority of citizens in the country perceive animals as inferior creatures and have no qualms to abandon them in a 50°C (122°F) weather.
Personally my husband and I spend hours feeding our feral colony of cats. We currently have over 15 cats and 4 dogs. We are hoping to have a TNR (trap-neuter-return) campaign in our area in the future. We are not the only “crazy cat people” though, there are many expats who come to this country and can’t help but to aid these creatures in any way they can.
I’m not by any means implying that animal abuse doesn’t happen in the States or Bolivia. I will say though that in my experience and from what I have observed it is extremely rare to find children who are encouraged and find joy in harming defenseless creatures. In fact, on January 2016 acts of cruelty against animals are now counted alongside felony crimes like arson, burglary, assault, and homicide in the FBI’s expansive criminal database.
Bolivia was the first Latin American country with legislation a prohibiting any and all animals in circuses and it became a law in 2009. The story of the Bolivian circus raids, including 25 African lions, is told in the award-winning movie, “Lion Ark.” There is also a law that prohibits and punishes any physical, emotional or psychological damage to any animal. It also prohibits the breeding of domestic animals for commercial purposes and the keeping of animals by people who have a history of violence against them.
I’ve tried researching and seeing if there are any laws protecting animals in Kuwait and from what I can gather, they are only protected if they belong to someone. For a more in depth explanation click here. I’ve spoken with many of the Kuwaiti people I know and they are totally unaware of the problem or that cruelty like this happens. Animal cruelty is not reported or deemed important at all. If a blogger or an influencer talks about it or supports awareness they are harassed, because on the list of problems that need attention in the Middle East – animal welfare should be at the bottom.
I would like to say that things have improved in the five years that I have lived here, but unfortunately I have seen no such change. There are more active groups and it never seems enough for all the cruelty that happens around us.