Chelsea, my favorite Peace Corps volunteer*, had a recent birthday. Since she is a known bear enthusiast, a group of her friends got together and we took her to the Pristina Bear Sanctuary. (*She told me I had to write that.)
Some restaurants in Kosovo used to keep live bears in cages as a way of attracting customers. The bears were poorly fed and kept in deplorable conditions. They have since been rescued and brought to the bear sanctuary to live (since they are too domesticated to be returned to the wild).
My fear was that we wouldn’t see any of the bears, but we saw quite a few!
This bear was so roly-poly, I wanted to cuddle him. It’s a good thing they have fences up to keep people like me from trying to do that.
This blonde bear was a favorite. She kept digging and digging.
As another friend pointed out, calling this the “Pristina” bear sanctuary is a bit of a stretch, as it is several kilometers outside of the city. We had to take taxis to get there — two taxis for 9 people for 40 Euro round trip. Our taxi drivers went to get coffee for an hour while we explored the sanctuary. That’s Kosovar hospitality for you. 🙂
The bear sanctuary was very well done — very beautiful, lots of good information, cute touristy stuff to buy, and a cafe and places for kids to play. I highly recommend visiting!
My parents put their cat down this weekend. At first, I hesitated to write a tribute here because I didn’t want to be a bummer right before the holidays, talking about our dead cat. But then I figured, this is my blog, I loved our cat, and so I’m going to dedicate a post to how awesome he was.
My sister adopted Oz when she was in high school. She named him Oz after one of the characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show my whole family enjoyed. When my sis moved out a few years later, my mom had gotten so attached to Oz that she asked Kristen to leave Oz behind. Thus, Oz became my parents’ cat.
Oz was abnormally shiny as a kitten. He looked like he was made of patent leather. Visitors to our house would say, “Your cat is so … shiny,” with a dazed look on their faces.
As Oz got older, his fur dulled to a more normal sheen. But his hatred for me sharpened. Oz liked my other family members to varying degrees, but he loathed the very sight of me. It became a running joke in our family. His hatred did not stop me from trying to heft his 16.5-lb. body (he was a big cat) into my arms and sticking my face in his fur. He would hiss and growl, swat me with his paws, and run away.
When I lived in Chicago and would get ready to visit my family in Michigan, my excitement at getting to see Oz far eclipsed my excitement at getting to see my parents. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. You know where you stand in the line-up. After cats, is where.)
Oz was a weird cat. Here are some fun facts about him:
He loved feet, particularly men’s feet, particularly my grandfather’s feet.
He loved human food. Cheese was his favorite, but I also saw him happily eat pepperoni, lettuce, and bread. He begged for food like a dog.
He loved a stuffed toy gorilla I’d left in my bedroom when I moved away to college. And by “loved,” I mean he “had intimate relations with it.”
He loved being groomed. It was the only time he allowed me to touch him. His love of being groomed outweighed his hatred for me.
He hated change and would freak out if you so much as left a sock on the floor.
Despite being a scaredy-cat, he loved the outdoors and would try to sneak out if you left the door open.
He could do yoga better than any human.
Serving in the Peace Corps is hard. I had a distinct picture in my head of my joyous return home, but now that picture has to change. It will be hard to walk into my parents’ house for the first time knowing that Oz isn’t there anymore.
I last saw Oz this summer when I visited the United States. I don’t distinctly remember the last time I held or petted him. I wish I did. I didn’t know it would be the last time.
Rest in peace, Ozzymodo. You were a great pet. I love you so much.
(Note: I moved the post I originally had scheduled today to tomorrow, so I’ll be posting Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday this week.)
Before moving to Kosovo, I had never heard of the following type of dog (it has many names): Sarplaninac, Shar Mountain Dog, Illyrian Sheepdog, Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog. All of those names describe one basic breed of dog, which is common in Kosovo and looks like this:
Photo taken from Wikipedia
Photo taken from About Dogs EU website
Clearly, this is a dog that displays maximum fluffitude, but do not be fooled — they are bred to protect sheep from wolves.
Though I have never seen an actual working dog (as in, up in the mountains, herding sheep), many of the street dogs in Kosovo look like they’re part Illyrian Sheepdog (my preferred name for them). Here is a picture of a stray dog I took in Peja (he was just sleeping, not dead):
I don’t know why there are so many names for this breed. They are beautiful animals, though. I am not the first Peace Corps volunteer to become fascinated by them (and we all know I’m a cat person). I may have to find a puppy and bring it home to my dad once I am done with my service. 🙂 (Dad, you have been warned … )
If you would like to learn more about Illyrian Sheepdogs, you can click this link.