Last week while some of the Village Harmony folks were having a meal in the prettiest cafe in the center of Berovo ( a nice square featuring about 6 big cafes with outdoor seating, and a fountain or two),  a small, light-colored dog appeared near our table, wagging its tail and wearing a sweet expression. There’s some terrier in it and maybe some chihuahua. It’s sand-colored with a white blaze down its nose and little white paws. It’s filthy and hungry but like most of the dogs here it wags its tail all the time.

Still, when I went to pet it, it cowered — still wagging its tail.  I concluded that it has been kicked or hit, but not so often that it is totally afraid of people. I offered the dog some cheese from my salad, but at first the dog didn’t recognize the shredded white stuff as food. The dog seemed more interested in a pat than in food, so I concluded that it wasn’t starving.

The waitress, Gabriella, told me they call the dog “Maus” (“Mouse”) because “she” is so small (note: the universal Macedonian-English pronoun is “she,” used for male and female third person and sometimes first person, too). When I asked who Maus belonged to, the waitress (who has  shining dark clear skin and a bone structure that would get her a modelling job in the USA) said, “The town.”

Indeed we, the Americans, have noticed quite a few dogs running around that seem to have no specific owner. We’ve noticed how good-tempered they are and how they don’t beg.

“Who takes care of him?” I asked.

She shrugged again. “If he lives, he lives; if he dies, he dies.”

“But who feeds him?” I persisted. “He’s not starving.”

“The people feed him if he is hungry,” she said. “I feed him some pizza or…” she drifted off, saying hello to a friend.

I decided then, last week, to try to help Mouse when I came back to Berovo — in fact, I decided I would come back to Berovo if only to help Mouse.

Shortly after I met Mouse and Gabriella, the Village Harmony group left for Skopia to do our performance, but after a week I returned, and Mouse was still in the cafe. But this time Mouse had runny eyes and seemed to be limping.

Gabriella agreed that the dog was sick. She said she would help me get him to the vet, and she called and made an appointment. That was Monday and we had to wait until today, Wednesday, to see the vet, because the vet does not usually see dogs or cats but goes out to the countryside to take care of sheep.

At 9.30 a.m. this morning  I was at the cafe, but neither Mouse nor Gabriella was around. I asked the other waiters if they’d seen either one, and they pointed out Mouse who was sleeping at the cafe next door. One of the waiters gave me an old piece of pizza, and I slowly fed the meat and cheese from the pizza to the little dog. The dog was afraid to come to me at first but it liked the meat, and so, using my knowledge of intermittent reinforcement for behavioral modification (thanks, Valerie!) I convinced the dog that it was a good idea to come when I called.

By 10 a.m the dog was sitting by me enjoying a scratch on the chest, but  Gabriella was not there. I asked the waiter again and he rang her — she was coming, she said. I was very anxious because we had an appointment, I thought, for 10 am, and if we missed it I might not be able to get another one before I leave on Saturday.

At 10.15 Gabriella showed up and said she’d been sleeping. To my surprise she didn’t want to jump in a taxi right away but told me to wait a few minutes. “But the doctor– –” I said, all American and time-conscious. She shushed me and said not to worry.

I sat there trying not to fret about the time, but I was nervous.  In Melbourne our vet does surgery in the mornings only, and her time was scheduled very tightly around and between operations. I was hoping to get Maus spayed , and it seemed the day was passing.

But about 10.20 Gabriella summoned a taxi driver from nowhere, and since Maus had no collar or lead,  she also found a box. The taxi-driver opened the trunk and put the box in as I picked up the dog who I think had never been held before by a human being. I told Gabriella and the driver that we were not putting Maus into the trunk, and then I got in before they could argue.

Here dogs and cats are considered filthy and ARE filthy, but the driver’s car was no showpiece and he had a cloth over the back seat anyway. So I held Mouse, who was petrified, and she stared out the window in amazement. After about 10 minutes’ drive we reached the “vet.”

The “vet” was a long offwhite building with a black sign outside, pretty far on the outskirts of town. We walked in — me holding the still and silent little dog in my arms — through a small hallway lined with shelves. On the shelves were dozens of jars of animal parts and organs and animals. I saw a fetal big and something that might have been lungs, and then I looked away. Gabriella said, “You see why we don’t — — ” and I did. I understood then that not only can’t people afford to take animals to a vet, but there ARE no vets as I think of them. There was only this horrible, filthy, disgusting place full of dirt and death.

There was no reception area and no receptionist, but we walked through a dirty, long hallway to an office where a man was smoking. Gabriella told me the building was probalby 70 years old, and I’m sure it was. It looked as if it had not been cleaned in all that time.

The vet looked surprised to see the dog and asked what the problem was. Gabriella explained that the dog was sick and I wanted to get it seen to. He said, as if it was unusual, that he’d like to look at the dog.

I said okay to the examination — duh — and we walked back to a sort of half-open room that seemed like a kind of place where large animals might perhaps be housed sometimes. I can’t say why but it seemed like stables.  There were piles of boxes along the walls nd no examination table, only a flat empty space  between piles of stuff on a table.

The man — about my age, with very dark hair — picked up poor Maus by the scruff of the neck (Mouse cried and so did I) and dropped the dog on the table, where she weed a little bit and held completely still, in fear and confusion. The vet went to get some things, and I patted and talked to the dog, who stared straight up into my eyes and didn’t blink or move.

When the vet came back, I asked Gabriella to ask him to tell us if Maus was male or female (we hadn’t been able to get close enough to see) and the man PICKED UP MOUSE BY THE TAIL to check the genitals. I was horrified but managed not to slap his hand. Maus was okay and, it turns out, female.

The doctor  listened to the dog’s heart with a stethoscope, and said it was sick with dog flu. After two shots and a pill down the throat, Maus was free to go “home” to the streets. I asked if the vet could spay her, but he said she was too little. I am guessing she is less than 6 months old — her teeth are still very small.

So Gabriella and I took Maus back in the same taxi to where she usually lives (in the square) and she trotted off to lie in the sun as usual. I had coffee with Gabriella and explained to her that it’s very strange for us (Americans) to see animals running around freely and that I wanted to help them. I gave Gabriella the money for the taxis and the treatment (total of 700 dinari, about $18 US) and thanked her profusely for her kindness and her assistance.

She said she knew it was strange for Americans to see how Macedonians treat dogs, but that even PEOPLE in Macedonia are not treated like people, so for animals it is even worse. She told me that there is not good health care for some people in Macedonia. There is a doctor in town but if anyone gets really sick they have to travel to Skopje, the capital, for care.

But Garbiella is a good person and she understood my desire to help — she herself has a dog at home and she loves it. She is a mother and a survivor of an abusive marriage — perhaps that’s why she is one of the few people who seem to want to take care of dogs and cats. I hope their numbers (the people, not the cats and dogs) are growing. She has not had her dog fixed, as I understood it, but at least the dog has a good home and good care and no diseases.

The good news for Maus, Gabriella told me, is that next week the vet will give the dog a second injection (more vaccinations) and then a special green collar that lets the people know that Maus is registerd with the vet and does not have rabies or other diseases. I have not seen any such dogs here in Berovo but I saw some dogs in Skopje with eartags that I assume mean the same thing.

As we were chatting with a friend of Gabriella’s (she knows everyone in town), and playing with the friend’s baby, Phillippe, Mouse suddenly developed a disturbing white froth at the mouth, and we saw a pile of pizza-vomit that must have come from her. Gabriella jumped up and got a broom and then water to clean up the mess, because “It is not nice for people who are eating their lunch,” and then we took the dog away from the cafe to wash its mouth and offer it some water.

I am concerned that the dog may not hve digested the pill, and so has no immunity to worms, but at least Mouse stilll has the injections in her bloodstream and will get better from the flu and will not get Parvo or rabies. And maybe, once she has the collar on, she will even get a home.  Gabriella says it won’t happen, but I have hope.

When I last saw Maus she was trotting across the square, and she was wagging her tail.