He was the sweetest dog when he didn't have a muzzle. He loved the doggie treats we held out toward him. He was compliant when he didn't have his arm stretched out toward the vet. But he wouldn't give us the 3mL of blood that we needed.
If you are a dog owner, you might already know this - dogs can pick up on their owners' anxiety. We think that this might have been why Tashi, a 12-year old retired herding dog, got really nervous and agitated when our vets made attempts to collect a blood sample. He would snarl and growl when we held out his front leg. As our syringe approached his leg, he would wriggle desperately to free himself. (Top: Dr Gim and vet technician, Jules, removing fur matts from Tashi's bum. Above: Dr. Gim and Jules prepare Tashi for a blood collection as his owner, Karma Chete ama, and our translator/interviewer Ajay N. Rana, look on)
Ama couldn't take her eyes off Tashi as our team tried to collect the blood sample as a part of our canine distemper survey of Upper Manang District. Ama was possibly more nervous than Tashi was about the simple procedure. She asked us if it would hurt Tashi, and looked on anxiously as Dr. Gim cleaned his forearm with an alcohol swab and readied the syringe. Ama's body was tense and stiff, as she gazed intently at Tashi. If Tashi flinched, ama would yell anxiously at Tashi, asking him to comply, but her jitters likely made Tashi even more anxious than he already was. (Above: Tashi, was the sweetest dog when she wasn't retrained)
After three tries, our team relented. In that instant, ama felt relieved - her body posture relaxed, and so did Tashi. Tashi was happy to lick members of the team, giving all of us cuddles as soon as he was released from grasp.
His growls and snarls diffused into tail wags when our team began to pack up. He went up to Dr. Gim and Jules for more treats. He even came when we called out to him to take the above photo, as Ajay continued with the interview with Ama!
We could tell that ama was really close to Tashi. Ama found Tashi on the streets of Manang when he was a pup, and adopted him as a herding dog during his youth. Close to ama's bed and fireplace, we found this drawing of Tashi that a neighbour had made for ama. In Manang, some dogs are kept as guard dogs or for herding. Often, these dogs live outside of the house and are difficult to command and control. Working dogs in Manang are known to function autonomously, their job - to keep livestock safe, and predators and shifty humans at bay. But Tashi was now a companion dog, and her loyalty toward ama was evident.
We decided not to anaesthesize Tashi for the sake of 3mL of blood as he was an old dog. It was also a cold and snowy day, and Grandma's open-concept home was very cold - not good for a dog recovering from anaesthesia (they need to be kept warm as their body temperature drops). We were also confident that we could get a good sample size even without Tashi. After giving dear old Tashi a few more treats, we made our way down the steps, carved out of a single tree trunk, into the ground floor where livestock like cattle and sheep are kept, and went on our way to meet more dogs in Manang. It was good fun meeting ama and Tashi! And our team had a fun time navigating down the icy steps! We imagined how challenging it might be for Grandma during the peak of winter when there can be as much as 6ft of snow! Grandma and Tashi are tough!
This study was made possible by a grant from the National Geographic Society.
All images 2018 © Debby Ng/National Geographic