If you know me at all, you know about my intense obsession with dogs. When I walk around NYC, I wave to them and say “hi, buddy!” without acknowledging the humans walking them. I try to pet them when their owners aren’t looking, as long as they look friendly and fluffy. I follow more dog accounts on Instagram than I do of my actual friends. And I was more excited to see my parents’ dog after coming back home than I was to see them. Just kidding, Mom and Dad!
Because of my obsession, being in Myanmar was interesting for me. In every city I was in, there was a huge population of stray dogs. In most of the areas where I was hanging out in Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan, the dogs were pretty domesticated and used to humans. It was in Inle Lake where the dogs felt completely wild. There was definitely a canine takeover of the city after 11 PM and I was woken up several times each night by their fights. I felt like I was in a revival of West Side Story.
After four weeks of being surrounded by dogs and being unable to play with them (just in case they weren’t nice or had fleas or something worse), I was incredibly excited to visit the Yangon Animal Shelter (aka YAS). I found out that I could go play with 500 dogs in Yangon via the Visit.org website. Visit.org connects travelers with meaningful cultural experiences with non-profits that help to impact the local country and people, and in this case, the local dogs. I became a Storyteller Ambassador with Visit.org back in February, but this was the first opportunity I’ve been able to take advantage of while traveling.
My local Yangon friends and I rolled up to the shelter, marked by a small sign and a blue truck, and walked a path through the woods for about 15 minutes. We started to hear barks and I could feel myself becoming even more excited about what was to come. Terryl, the coordinator for YAS, had warned in an email that it was going to be loud when we first got there because the dogs loved visitors, but that they would calm down once they got used to us. This was indeed the case as when we got to the gate, the dogs went crazy. I loved it.
YAS is home to 500 beautiful and playful pups. There are a few different areas for them to play outdoors, so you’re probably with around 60-80 dogs at a time, though that’s just my estimate. The dogs were so sweet, though you could absolutely sense jealously among them because they all wanted attention. I tried to spread my love around to each of the seven dogs that was on me at each moment.
Some of the dogs have lived tougher lives than others and are quite shy because of it. Terryl commented a few times how she couldn’t believe certain pups had warmed up to me so quickly, which made me feel good about myself as an aspiring dog whisperer. (Excuse me while I brush my shoulders off.) On the other hand, there was one particular cutie who would bark at only me, try to approach me while I’d play it cool, but then would start barking again. If we’d had more time there, I’m sure we would have been okay but it made me sad that she thought I was scary when all I wanted was to love her.
What also made me sad was when we visited a special section for dogs who have been hit by motorcycles or cars and a dog who walks a little differently and kept getting picked on by the other dogs. Some of these dogs have to wear diapers because of their injuries and their back legs don’t work. My childhood pup (& BFF) Huckleberry was hit by a car so I was thinking about her a lot while I was petting my new friends. But while these dogs are addressing some challenges, their faces still lit up when we walked in and played with them.
You can tell that these dogs are loved. There were staff members and other visitors giving lots of attention to the pups and Terryl was calling every dog by name. I don’t know how she does it because I don’t even know some of my Facebook friends’ names (especially if they change them after they get married).
The Yangon Animal Shelter is quite far from downtown Yangon, so I’d recommend going on an afternoon after you’ve had a morning of exploring in midtown or uptown. It’s about an hour north of Shwedagon Pagoda. I say “after” a morning of exploring because you will get dirty, so you might not want to plan anything immediately after your visit. If you come out from the experience clean, it means the dogs didn’t jump on you and try to play with you and I’m not sure what that says about you as a person. Since you’ll get dirty, wear clothes that you don’t care about so much – like $3 elephant pants that are already ripped in a few places, for example.
It’s important to note that this experience is not for everyone. Even if you are a dog person, being approached by this many dogs at once could be intimidating for some. For me, it was an absolute dream come true.
> To book this experience yourself, go to Visit.org, and select “Myanmar”.
> To learn more about the Yangon Animal Shelter or to donate, go here.
> For more posts about Myanmar, click here.
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