Neutering Nunu: A Dog-Culture Clash in Iraq In Iraq, one of the connections NPR's Baghdad bureau has made centers on a white terrier that sought refuge from the mayhem of Sadr City. The staff took him, and named him Nunu. But their decision to have him neutered shocked their Iraqi co-workers — and brought up questions of cultural difference.
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Neutering Nunu: A Dog-Culture Clash in Iraq

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Neutering Nunu: A Dog-Culture Clash in Iraq

Neutering Nunu: A Dog-Culture Clash in Iraq

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And now a story from our Baghdad bureau about Nunu, a refugee from Sadr City that our staff took in. Nunu is a white terrier. And like many impulsive pet adoptions, our human staff didn't anticipate all the problems that dog ownership can bring. NPR Katia Dunn reports.

KATIA DUNN: A few months after Nunu came to live with us in Baghdad, I asked Ghasson - an NPR translator - to call a veterinarian and make an appointment. We needed to have Nunu neutered. Ghasson didn't have any idea what I was talking about. I explained that in the States when we own a dog we think it's responsible to stop it from reproducing. We even call it fixing. In Iraq, Ghasson explained, it is just the opposite.

GHASSON: The idea of having a dog is to have puppies and especially that you may give one of the puppies to your close friends, to your relatives. But right now it's just like we're going backwards. Instead of having more puppies we are trying to stop the coming puppies, which is a kind of nonsense.

LOURDES GARCIA: Come here, baby. Here it is. Here's the ball.

DUNN: It was Lourdes Garcia-Navarro and I who decided we had to neuter Nunu. Garcia-Navarro is a correspondent in Baghdad. Nunu kept getting lost, slipping out to gallivant around with a pack of stray females who roam the street outside our bureau. The snip, as she called it, seemed like the only solution.

On the day of Nunu's appointment, I tried to slip out the door quietly with him, but the staff caught me on the way out. Everyone is sad about Nunu, Ghasson said to me. He explained that for Iraqis having a big family is a great achievement, a basic right of which we shouldn't deprive man or dog. Another translator, Isra, went so far as to say that Nunu would be scorned. Before this, she said, she always thought that the stray dogs outside envied Nunu for his posh indoor lifestyle.

ISRA: But now I mean that he will stop being a male dog; no stray dog will ever think of envying him anymore.

DUNN: I assumed the vet we visited would, like U.S. vets, be an advocate of population control. But this is the first thing veterinarian Leith Jacob Sabah said to me.

LEITH JACOB SABAH: Yeah, it's the season for breeding. I prefer to find him a girlfriend. What do you think?

DUNN: Sabah explained that veterinarians in Iraq are basically matchmakers. He proudly told us about hundreds of arranged dog marriages. He'd even brokered a few international unions. But I insisted, Sabah shrugged, and started shaving Nunu's fur.

Ghasson and I stood by and whispered as we watched Sabah and his assistant do the surgery.

GHASSON: I think from now on he's going to be fat. Because he will focus on eating only. (Unintelligible) left for him.

DUNN: When we brought Nunu home later that day, I admit he looked pathetic all bandaged up. Isra and Nada, two translators, were horrified.

NADA: There was no other solution? Just an operation? It's awful.

ISRA: We should give him asylum in the United States, because he doesn't fit here anymore.

DUNN: Today, Nunu has pretty much recovered. We're glad we don't have to worry about little baby Nunus showing up on our doorstep. The staff seems to have moved on. But did we do the right thing? I asked Garcia-Navarro what she thought.

GARCIA: I think it's one of the things that you grapple with here all the time, whether you're imposing your own system on an alien culture, a different way of doing things.

DUNN: Of course, no single one of us can say for sure whether or not it was a good decision.


DUNN: Except for maybe one dog.

Katia Dunn, NPR News.

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