A few months ago, my dog Enano celebrated his fourth birthday back in his motherland – Mexico. As he chowed down on a cupcake from the local Mexican bakery (and threw it back up almost immediately after), I thought about his past birthdays celebrated in other countries, where cupcakes were swapped with watermelon ice-cream pops and kimchi.
Surely, a dog doesn’t really know how much he has traveled. When I realize that my dog has been on more trips than most of his human counterparts, though, I wonder if the experiences he’s had abroad have enriched his life as much as they have mine.
Enano found me in August of 2014. My boyfriend, Max, and I had just moved from South Korea to Pachuca, Mexico, to work at an international school. I knew that that the first thing we’d do when we arrived in Mexico was adopt a dog. I obsessively scouted online advertisements reading “cachorros en adopcion,” hoping to find something promising.
When we first set eyes on Enano, well, I wasn’t exactly convinced. He was an ugly puppy with scraggly hair, and bug-eyes sticking out of his head, wide with fear, I told my boyfriend that we should think about it. But, something about Enano won his heart, and he convinced me to take Enano home that same day. So, there we were. Two kids in their early twenties, barely out of college, at a new job, in yet another new country, taking care of the runt of the litter.
Showing Enano the sights lead to adventures I would never have planned for myself. Once, it was a trip to the mercado, where a truck backing up sent him hiding behind a barrel of limes. Another time, it was a trip to El Chico National Park, with Enano hanging his head out of the off-roader the whole way there.
Six months later, our time in Pachuca was coming to an unexpected end. Although we hadn’t anticipated leaving so soon, circumstances forced us to return back to the U.S. to figure out our next step. I thought it’d be simple, until we were told we’d need to hire a customs broker, which would cost a whopping $800. It wasn’t until a few years later that we realized we were royally ripped off: some airlines don’t require customs brokers, and even so–we grossly overpaid. My single biggest piece of advice to pet owner/travellers? Research is your friend.
But, once we reunited with Enano a day later, any stress of the process was quickly forgotten. Enano was meeting his Grandma for the first time, and who doesn’t love being at Grandma’s house? Steak bones once a week. Toys out the wazoo. He even had clothes! Oh – and the snow. If there’s anything that makes Enano a true “Mexican” dog, it’s his fascination with snow. Long Island and New Jersey had presented Enano with exciting travel experiences all on their own, too; his first time at the beach, his first time pumpkin-picking, doggy-day camps and humongous dog parks, where he preferred the small dogs over the scary “large” ones.
I wish we could have promised Enano that things wouldn’t change, that this home would be forever. But, for a number of reasons, we decided to move back to South Korea. And this time, Enano would be coming with us.
Bringing Enano from Mexico made us experts when it came to moving to South Korea. We got his tests completed; we got Enano registered as “extra baggage” (cheaper and safer than having to ship him as cargo); we made sure our employer-provided housing could accommodate him, and we made arrangements to walk him during breaks in our ten-hour work days.
When everything was finalized, we loaded the car, took out Enano’s kennel once more, and drove to the airport. We had lived in Korea before and we loved it. Now, our dog – if everything went according to plan – would be able to enjoy it with us.
Moving to Korea was a major adjustment. We were introduced to unexpected cultural differences when travelling with our dog – a dog that was considered “scary” and “extremely large” by Korean standards. It was hard to reconcile this fear with my medium-sized, skinny pup. There were neighbors who yelled at us when we took him on walks, insisting that he do his business inside. On our walks, we even had to watch out for poison on the streets, as bait was sometimes put out by those who didn’t want cats, dogs, or other “pests” roaming their neighborhood. Even with the challenge of overcoming cultural norms that were so different from what we knew, having Enano introduced us to places and people we never would have met otherwise.
We found dog-lovers in Korea. Every weekend, we would walk to an unofficial dog park a few blocks from our apartment. South Korea’s image-conscious culture means dogs are typically seen as accessories or otherwise need to be considered “cute,” so most of the dogs we’d meet were purebreds – obedient border collies or groomed pomeranians. Enano, being a mutt, was as much a foreigner as we were. Most of the other dog-owners, though, admired him.
In fact, it was because of Enano that we made our most meaningful friendships. One afternoon, while we were walking Enano around our neighborhood in Seoul, a young guy was sitting outside a cafe with his jindo-shiba mix. Enano made the first move, and just like that, Max and I became very close with Jigae’s dads, as did Enano with Jigae.
We spent the summer together in Seoul, our dogs playing on our friends’ terrace, while we drank beers and exchanged stories. Days were spent hiking up to Seoul Tower together, admiring the mountaintop views of the city, our dogs beside us. The six of us walked miles to distant parts of the city, visiting parks, dog cafes, strolling by streams and pagodas, and grabbing meals at pet-friendly restaurants, where I could slip Enano beef bulgogi from my plate. Enano introduced us to the most important friends we had in South Korea.
Eventually, our time in Korea would come to an end. Jigae and her dads went back to Brazil, while we made arrangements to go back to New York. Nearly two years after that, Max, Enano, and I have moved back to Mexico. We now live in a house with a yard where Enano can play. We walk him freely, as the culture surrounding dogs here is very relaxed. We take him on road trips to places like Acapulco, where Enano chased the waves of the Pacific and ate grilled fish on the beach. He’s even been back to Pachuca, his birthplace.
I know Max and I won’t stay in Mexico forever. I don’t know where we’ll be next. But, Enano has proven to be the best travel companion, introducing to local customs and making friends. Wherever we land, Enano will be our ambassador, fearlessly leading the way.
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