The past two weeks of my life have been devoted entirely to my dog Sophie. You see Sophie is just over a year old now and has already been in heat once. Having a female dog in heat has to be just about the worst thing ever, especially during the summer when I had no other choice but to keep her locked inside all day. Luckily for me, I happened to meet a vet while celebrating a friend’s birthday a few months previously. Meeting him and talking to him about animal care in Armenia, the costs, the dangers and the stigma of having your dog fixed, eased my mind about getting the surgery for her done while we were here. I put it off for so long, not only because it is very expensive here but also because it is not such a common procedure. The cost is anywhere from 30 to 60,000 drams to fix a female dog which is obviously money Armenians just don’t have, especially not for a dog. Veterinary care in post soviet country is limited to say the least, justifiably so when health care is also limited. So early Saturday morning Sophie and I made our way down to the bus stop to catch our marshutka. I never bring Sophie to Yerevan with me, and the thought of her on the Marshutka makes me very nervous, but it had to be done. Luck was against me as the mini bus was full and most of the passengers were not too happy about having to share a ride with a dog! Once we arrived in Yerevan the vet told my taxi driver where to go, and when we arrived I was quite surprised to see we were at residential building and not an office. My friend instructed me to stay in the car as he took Sophie from me, my arms grasping on to her not wanting to let her go. Wait, I instructed him. I asked why I couldn’t go with him and wait for her to be done, and he told me that surgery was a very long one and that I must go. I was a little bit surprised and really quite frightened but I didn’t really know what to do, so I warned him that Sophie is not just my dog, she is my baby and to take good care of her. Leaving a dog with someone you don’t really know and have no credentials for is terrifying. It’s not as if I could look him up on yelp… I went to my friend Leslie’s house and slept a few hours, thinking that I would just take a nap and when I woke up I would be ready to go get Sophie. I thought the operation would take about 2 hours, three at most. Boy was I wrong. 5 hours later I began to panic a bit, wondering what could have gone wrong. After about 7 hours had elapsed I got a phone call telling me to come get my Sophie Jan. When I arrived at the vet’s house I was warmly greeted by his family, his mother, father and sister as well as their 5 dachshunds. Razmik introduced me to his father who he said was also a vet and specialized in anesthesiology. The father immediately came over to me with a huge smile on his face and a cigarette in hand. He told me my Sophie was a very good dog and escorted me into the living room where Sophie was laying on a table. As soon as she saw me she stood up and began to wag her tail again before she fell. She tried to jump off the table but was too drugged up. The poor thing looked awful. I looked around and thought to myself what the hell did I do to her. At the same time she was obviously high on narcotics and it was funny to watch her spacing out! She had an incision mark along the whole of her abdomen and was very weak. We sat for awhile as Sophie gained some strength and the Vet and his family talked to me and my friend who I brought along with me. The family told me how much the father Garik, loved my Sophie and how he just thought she was such a good dog. He told me how he asked her to sit in Armenian and Russian but that she didn’t understand but as soon as he asked her in English she sat right down. They also told me that when they called her Armenian pet names she didn’t respond so the sister came in and called her baby, to which she began to wag her tail! Then he told me a story I wish I never heard, he told me that as they were preparing to open Sophie up she lifted her head and looked at the doctors, scalpel in hand, and that they had to give her more medicine. My poor little puppy!!! The next day I was instructed to take Sophie back to receive some post-op care and a shot of antibiotics. This time I was on my own, not even the younger vet who spoke English was going to be able to be there. When she arrived at the vet’s house, the family was very happy to see her, everyone petting her and telling her what a good dog she is. We talked about how she had spent her night, how the surgery had gone the previous day and what I would need to do in the future for her. The whole time Garik was trying to get Sophie to come to him, but she wouldn’t. He explained to me that he had given her the narcotic shot and that it is a very painful shot, so she didn’t trust him anymore. He reminded me of a big kid, trying to get the puppy to love him. At one point he even made his wife bring a piece of meat so that he could feed it to her. Once she went to him he petted her and told her what a good dog she is, in the sweet coddling language that Armenian is. He then flipped her over on the table and began to treat her scar with peroxide and idodine. It was really difficult to watch as the mother held her head down and the daughter had a grip on her feet. She struggled but in the end realized she wasn’t strong enough to overtake them. The whole time the family spoke to Sophie, telling her it was ok, and that they wouldn’t hurt her. Not the cold, uncaring treatment I imagined they would give her. In the end the process took about an hour. We talked, paused for breaks during the examination, had coffee and fruit and the Doctor smoked, nothing extraordinary in Armenian business. At an American clinic the process would have taken ten minutes total. But this is Armenia, and Armenians are nothing if not hospitable and conversational. The next two days we repeated this process, each time was the same, good conversations, coffee and a little bit of veterinary care. At the end of each session the vet would call me a cab to take me back to the house that I was staying. Well on this last day, when we got to the cab, the driver refused to let Sophie in the car. It may surprise you to hear, but this never has happened to me before. The vet got very angry and yelled at the driver, telling him that he doesn’t ask if he has transported sick people in the car so why should others care if he has transported a dog a few blocks. He was very angry and when we went back upstairs he called to company to complain and told them that he has always used their service but would never use them again. It struck me how much this man loved animals as he began to rant about Armenians and their perception of animals, and how poorly they treat them. He told me that he and a friend of his go out every night for an hour and feed as many of the stray dogs as they can, and that he has even brought many home with him and found them a place to live. We began to talk about the stigma of having an animal spayed in Armenia and I explained to him that everyone in Spitak told me I was mean, for doing it. This got him into even more of a range and he made the same argument I have made many times, which is, is it better for me to allow her to have puppies that no one will care for and will starve to death and be gathered and shot out in the streets? There are a few things that impressed me about this experience. One was the availability that the Doctors made themselves to me. I had home phone numbers and personal cell phone numbers and was encouraged to call any time I was worried or had a question. Can you even imagine that in America?? Doctors would get so many phone calls from paranoid pet parents that it could never last very long. I mean I called the doctor the first night at 12 pm, of course he told me he would still be up at that time, so I knew it was ok. Also they treated me not as a paying customer, but as a friend. I felt like I was a friend and a guest in their home. We talked about many things, not just about Sophie. I also felt as though they loved my Sophie dog, they treated her as if she was absolutely their only priority, even when they had other patients and were running late. Yes, it was strange for this American to see a surgery performed in a house, and yes I did worry about sterility issues. Yes the equipment was old, and dated, and yes Sophie’s incision was 5 times as big as a dog would get in the USA, but I am living in Armenia now, and all those conditions are just part of life here. Doctors smoke while treating patients here, human or animal, and business moves slowly, not because they overbook as they do in America, but because they take the time to be personal. It was a very frightening experience for me, but Sophie is absolutely fine now even though she did get a slight infection which ended up costing me twice as much money. I am lucky to have had such great care here. Did I mention all of my interactions with the vet were 100 percent in Armenian!! At the end of these stressful weeks, I can look back at how far I have come, and the fact that I was able to take my dog to the vet and communicate everything about her history and her treatment and understand all of the vet’s instructions as well as in depth conversations about animal care in Armenia, and compare it to the care in the US. No my Armenian is not perfect, but I am doing the best I can, and for once it is enough.