All my life I have been anti-pet. I frowned and took to commenting about those 'crazy' people that want to take their dog or cat with them everywhere. Then, a couple of months ago, my wife walked in the front door with a six-week-old dog. We named her Mun and this brought me a new question: how do foreigners care for their pets in Vietnam?
There is no question that every country has different cultural norms for pets in a range of places from cafés to restaurants and offices to shopping malls, but I had no idea how I was going to look after a dog in an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City.
My initial concern was with my home apartment. Posted on every floor is a sign indicating no dogs or cats allowed. In the true spirit of Vietnam, this seems to be a rule that is not a rule. Sure, there is no doubt that dogs and cats are not permitted by the management but every second apartment seems to have a dog or a cat. What I gathered from this is that the rule is there to be applied if something goes amiss and people start complaining. Until then, keep it small, keep it quiet and keep it hidden, and everything will be ok.
I have started to notice many neighbors entering the lifts with dogs and cats. Homemade boxes, backpacks, and an array of covert devices are used in order to transport their pooch or kitty in and out of the apartment. It seems that even though everyone knows you have a dog or cat, maintaining discreetness brings a level of acceptance and tolerance to people keeping a dog or cat in the apartment.
With a seven-week-old dog, I took on the challenge of getting her out of the apartment and taking her on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City for the first time. Quickly, I discovered obstacles and pitfalls that I had never considered, even as a runner who often runs on the road. Everything seems more dangerous with a small dog on a leash. Dogs seemed to appear from nowhere and the congested footpaths became totally unusable. My first 2km walk resulted in me carrying the dog for 1.5km as I could not cope with the stress of the environment now that I had a dog to care for. Also, to be honest, she gave up on the challenge and refused to walk on the street after just 500m.
Alternately, our first café experience was quite welcoming. Just opposite my apartment is a café that faces a small river. There, the staff welcomed our little girl with open arms and even had a dog of their own that played a little with my dog. It was a pleasant experience and I was able to give her time to experience the outside world in a safe and comfortable environment. Clearly, café culture has an area that is accepting animals in Vietnam.
|Mun (right) plays with another pet dog at a café in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor|
Dinnertime is also a new experience. Restaurants have a varying degree of acceptance of pets. This is still a work in progress for me but our first venture out was to a small oc (shellfish) restaurant near the train line in Binh Thanh. Here, the staff were wonderful and she was allowed to sit under our table, on a leash, and snack on leftovers, and a few treats we got just for her.
What has really pressured my nerves is that Vietnam is a country of motorcycles and this puts another learning curve into my new life as a dog owner. In my home country, it was rather easy to tie the dog into the back of your pick-up truck and go anywhere with your dog. But here in Vietnam, most people, including expats, only have a motorbike and one of the most terrifying experiences is trying to teach your dog not to jump off the bike at 40kph.
As I regularly visit my wife's family in Binh Duong Province and go to local restaurants and cafés that are too far for a walk, the need to transport our pet safely on a motorbike is a necessity that I just did not experience in Western countries.
Although my dog is only a few months old, the learning curve for riding on a motorbike has been slow. She struggles to pick up the concept of speed and does not understand the dangers of trying to get off the bike at 40kph when she gets scared. This has put me into a panic and forced me to lock her into a special carry bag, which she hates. But I just can’t risk either the dog or myself being injured or killed whilst driving on my motorbike.
|Mun sits on a motorbike while traveling with her owners to a resort in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City in this supplied photo.|
For those without a motorbike or private transport, taxis and app-based transport services have a variety of rules when it comes to pets traveling in taxis and other cars. Essentially, the rules for pets are largely unwritten and those with solid policies are varied. However, it appears that pets can generally travel in public vehicles if they are properly housed in a sealed bag or box so, if they go to the toilet, it will not damage the seats and carpet in the car. But the best thing to do is make a direct enquiry before taking your pet in a taxi or hire car.
On the positive side, pet ownership has seen an explosion in popularity over the past decade in Ho Chi Minh City. Now, pet stores and pet medical services appear to be opening on every street in every part of the city. Once reserved for the more affluent, pet ownership in Ho Chi Minh City is now popular in all districts and locating pet supplies or a vet has never been easier.
A recent weekend getaway was also an interesting experience. Accommodation websites often include 'pet friendly' filters and hotels across Vietnam are accepting pets as long as they are well kept, put on a leash or come in a cage, and they do not affect or injure other guests.
|Vu Thi Loan, Ray Kuschert's wife, and the couple's pet dog enjoy their time at a pet-friendly resort in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor|
As an expat, owning a pet in the city comes with additional challenges, uncertainty, and a raft of new experiences. Right now, my biggest concern is if my little girl understands Vietnamese or English, or both. Am I actually breaking any rules at my apartment or is the status quo the accepted culture? Strangely, just like my own first year living in Ho Chi Minh City, the only way to learn is by learning slowly one step at a time, and eventually you learn enough to understand community culture. Then, those moments with your pet are wonderful experiences, just like what you experienced in your home country.