Throughout my entire life, I have always been against having a pet. I used to frown upon and make comments about those “crazy” people who bring their dogs or cats everywhere with them. However, a few months ago, my wife surprised me with a six-week-old dog named Mun. This brought up a new question for me: how do foreigners take care of their pets in Vietnam?

There is no doubt that every country has different cultural norms when it comes to pets, whether it’s in cafes, restaurants, offices, or shopping malls. But I had no idea how I would take care of a dog in an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City.

My initial concern was about my apartment. Every floor of the building has a sign that says no dogs or cats allowed. However, in true Vietnamese spirit, this seems to be a rule that is not really enforced. While it’s clear that the management does not allow dogs or cats, almost every other apartment seems to have one. From what I gather, this rule is only enforced if there are complaints. Until then, as long as you keep your pet small, quiet, and hidden, everything will be fine.

I’ve noticed that many of my neighbors bring their dogs and cats into the building using homemade boxes, backpacks, and other covert devices. Even though everyone knows that they have a pet, keeping it discreet seems to bring a level of acceptance and tolerance from others.

One of the challenges I faced was taking my seven-week-old dog out of the apartment and onto the streets of Ho Chi Minh City for the first time. I quickly discovered the obstacles and pitfalls that I had never considered, even as someone who frequently runs on the road. Everything seemed more dangerous with a small dog on a leash. Dogs appeared out of nowhere, and the congested sidewalks became completely unusable. During my first 2km walk, I ended up carrying my dog for 1.5km because I couldn’t handle the stress of the environment with a dog to take care of. To be honest, she also gave up after just 500m and refused to walk on the street.

On the other hand, our first café experience was quite welcoming. There’s a café right across from my apartment that faces a small river. The staff there welcomed our little girl with open arms and even had their own dog that played with mine. It was a pleasant experience, and I had the opportunity to let her explore the outside world in a safe and comfortable environment. Clearly, café culture in Vietnam has a space for accepting animals.

Mun (right) plays with another pet dog at a café in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

Dealing with mealtime was also a new experience. Restaurants have varying degrees of acceptance towards pets. I’m still learning about this, but our first outing was to a small shellfish restaurant near the train line in Binh Thanh. The staff there were wonderful and allowed her to sit under our table, on a leash, and enjoy leftovers and a few treats that we specifically got for her.

What really stressed me out is that Vietnam is a country of motorcycles, which adds another learning curve to my life as a dog owner. In my home country, it was easy to tie the dog to the back of a pickup truck and go anywhere. But here in Vietnam, most people, including expats like me, only have a motorbike. One of the most terrifying experiences is trying to teach my dog not to jump off the bike at 40kph.

As I often visit my wife’s family in Binh Duong Province and go to local restaurants and cafés that are too far to walk to, I’ve had to figure out how to transport our pet safely on a motorbike. This was something I never had to consider in Western countries.

Although my dog is still young, it’s been a slow learning process for her to ride on a motorbike. She struggles to understand the concept of speed and the dangers of trying to jump off the bike when she gets scared. This has caused me to panic and forced me to lock her in a special carry bag, which she hates. But I can’t risk either of us getting injured or killed while driving on my motorbike.

Mun sits on a motorbike while traveling with her owners to a resort in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City in this supplied photo.

For those without a motorbike or private transport, taxis and app-based transport services have different rules when it comes to pets. The rules for pets in public vehicles are largely unwritten, and those with solid policies vary. However, it seems that pets can generally travel in taxis and hire cars if they are properly housed in a sealed bag or box to prevent any damage to the seats and carpet. But it’s best to inquire directly with the taxi or hire car service before bringing your pet along.

On the positive side, pet ownership has seen a surge in popularity over the past decade in Ho Chi Minh City. Pet stores and pet medical services seem to be opening on every street in every part of the city. Pet ownership, which used to be reserved for the more affluent, is now popular in all districts, and finding pet supplies or a vet has never been easier.

A recent weekend getaway was also an interesting experience. Accommodation websites often have a “pet friendly” filter, and hotels across Vietnam are accepting pets as long as they are well-behaved, leashed, or in a cage, and do not disturb or harm other guests.

Vu Thi Loan, Ray Kuschert’s wife, and the couple’s pet dog enjoy their time at a pet-friendly resort in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

As an expat, owning a pet in the city comes with additional challenges, uncertainties, and a whole array of new experiences. Right now, my main concern is whether my little girl understands Vietnamese, English, or both. Am I actually breaking any rules in my apartment, or is the status quo the accepted culture? Like my first year living in Ho Chi Minh City, the only way to learn is slowly, one step at a time. Eventually, you learn enough to understand the community culture. Then, those moments with your pet become wonderful experiences, just like what you experienced in your home country.