Tuesday 4 October 2011

Snake Food

When I say I have ‘finally’ determined the breed of the two dogs that unexpectedly joined my household I should really say that I have finally got around to do a little investigating.

I have had a few dogs in Angola, two of them Alsatians and both easy to train, loyal and very protective, the qualities one would expect in an Alsatian. The first I raised from a pup while I was still in the security industry and the dog went with me everywhere. He could be meek as a lamb or ferocious as a lion according to my whim.

A South African, a Boer naturally, suggested that I had my local guard or better still, he said, one of his mates beat him with a chicote on a regular basis so that he gained a lethal dislike for Blacks, or ‘Blicks’ as he pronounced the word. I was rather tempted to bash the dog with Boerwors, Biltong and a Bible so he learnt to hate, and hopefully savage, hypocrites stemming from south of the Green and Greasy Limpopo but I had no cause to do either, the dog just instinctively knew who was bad and who was OK.

I have seen many an otherwise brave man pee his pants when, having tried to be arrogant at a security checkpoint I let the dog mount the bonnet of his car and savage his windscreen wipers, our ‘reasonable’ response but one giving us all a good giggle in the process as well as saving us a round or two of ammunition and acres of paperwork.

I called the first dog ‘Sabre’. Not a very imaginative name I’ll admit and it does get worse but Sabre, as a name, was perfect. It just seemed to fit. In the correct hands, he could do the doggie equivalent of stabbing someone in the heart or nipping the cork off a bottle of champagne and suffered the abuse of toddlers with a stoicism that would put most parents to shame.

I smuggled him out of Angola on a tramp steamer bound for Cape Town when I moved down south and eventually left him with neighbours who had truly fallen in love with him when I had to move north again.

The second Alsatian, Sabre (No 2) was even better. In addition to everything Sabre No 1 managed, this one could, to the dismay of at least one fleeing armed robber, climb trees and, since we now had a swimming pool, would launch himself into it and offer his collar to any child struggling in the water and tow them to the shallow end. The potential for enjoyable diversion of such heroic effort on demand did not escape the attention of the many kids who enjoyed my pool and Sabre No 2 ended up fitter than Mark Spitz.

Sabre No 2 was given me as a puppy by one of my most loyal staff (and now enduring friend). At the time I was living on site in a converted container so the dog and I spent our every waking moment together. At night I would strip off my sweaty clothes and make a bed for him out of them next to mine until he got big and bored enough with that and I would wake in the morning to find him comfortably snuggled into my bed clothes, my gentle snoring a signal to him to hop in and join me.

But then I finished building my house and moved him from the site and the family from rented accommodation to the new home.

Within a couple of weeks he disappeared. I was down south at the time and when Marcia first mentioned he was gone, I assumed he was out in his new neighbourhood sowing his oats but several weeks later when I got back, he was still missing and never turned up again.

You could never compare the loss of a mere dog to that of a child but there is a tug at the heart when something, albeit an animal that has been a part of the family is lost. It was hard enough for me to walk away from the people with whom I had left Sabre No 1 and hear him howling the moment he realised I was not there but at least I could console myself with the thought that with them, unlike with me, he had a stable environment to look forward to. God only knows what happened to Sabre No 2 and this uncertainty upset me.

So it was a while before I took another dog on.

I do not get to see Dominic anywhere near as often as I would like and walks through the bush without him are bloody lonely affairs so it was inevitable that on just such a walk, I would befriend, or be befriended by, a raggedy, flea and tick bitten stray. Here they throw stones at dogs so it was only natural that he would keep his distance but, perhaps encouraged both by my demeanour and his empty belly, he kept pace with me throughout my walk unknowingly advancing ever closer to my house. Skinny and weak as he was, he had an almost aristocratic pride about him. This was no ordinary mongrel.

‘If he walks through the gate’, I thought, ‘he’s mine’

And he did.

Four weeks later, a couple of visits by the vet and a daily diet consisting of beef and chicken, he looked the bee’s knees. And then he disappeared.

This was frustrating. I have an eight foot high wall around my house and the gates should always be locked and only opened under the supervision of the guard so how the hell could a dog get out? Perhaps well fed and recovered, his wilder instincts took over and he bunked.

Rodrigues, the supplier of Sabre number two appeared a few moths later with two beautiful Alsatian puppies. These dogs were gorgeous and I knew that fully grown they would be magnificent.

Again I got the vet in to give them all their jabs and deworm them. Again I fed them better than I fed myself and they grew quickly showing every hint of the intelligent and superb specimens of their race they would be. They were so obedient that when I took them for walks they would jostle to be able to stroke up to my right leg so closely did they walk to heel.

I had just fed them one night and ushered them out into the garden when I decided I would go outside for a smoke and see the gates front and rear were locked.

I noticed the back gate was wide open and there was no sign of the dogs, still unnamed as this was something I wanted to do with Dominic.

I got to the back gate just in time to see a pick up drive off.

‘Where are the dogs?’ I said to the guard who was standing there.

If I had plugged him into the mains he could not have sprinted off quicker. He had no difficulty outrunning a middle aged chain smoker and I have never seen him since but I am now reasonably convinced I know how my dogs and half the tools in my outhouse managed to walk off my property. Had I caught up with him I would have had no hesitation modifying my South African friend’s advice by whipping the guard senseless rather than the dog.

I gave a dinner party, all thoughts of lost canines long since consigned to memory and one of the guests brought along a timorous beastie, a tiny, frightened black bundle which spent most of its time peeing on my carpet every time anyone moved near it and the rest staring about itself with wild eyes and trembling like a leaf in a hurricane.

As the guests all started piling into their cars on the driveway, I was still sitting at the table feeling pretty mellow when I noticed the bloody puppy was still sitting there paralysed by the shakes so I grabbed it and ran out.

‘OI! You’ve forgotten yer rat!’ I shouted.

‘Oh no Mate, she’s a present for you!’

She? I checked. It was a bitch. Bugger.

It took a while. Once again I made a bed out of the clothes I had been wearing during the day next to my scratcher (much to Marcia’s annoyance) and to avoid yet more grief from the same source I got up early each morning and cleaned away the pooh and mopped up the pee. Slowly the dog stopped trembling at the sight of a human being and started to respond in a manner more sanitary than dumping the contents of its bowel and bladder wherever the encounter happened to take place.

I had no idea what kind of dog it was. It certainly did not look like any kind of working dog I would have bought but I was stuck with it so really could not care less how many of Heinz’s 57 varieties it possessed. All I knew, and as Marcia kept reminding me, pound for pound it was eating ten times as much as a human and laws leaving very smelly evidence of its biological throughput invariably on the most difficult to clean surfaces.

Although I was annoyed with the cynical way the dog had been dumped on me and felt no attachment to it whatsoever, I was going to look after it but as to a name? It certainly was no Sabre. My Sabres were bloody great Alsatians that struck terror into hearts, not this skinny black thing that resembled an emaciated whippet. Sure, it was a living breathing creature and I was, albeit grudgingly, beginning to notice a sense of loyalty in it but I’m no Mafia boss so I am not going to get off with stroking a bloody Chihuahua.

I decided that I would leave the naming to Dominic.

In the meantime, I had to call it something. It is all very well bonding with an animal but left to its own devices, unable to recognise its own name when called with sharp rebuke, it will quickly learn how to open the fridge by itself and clean it out with as much gay abandon as it has just mopped the residue off the plates left on the dining table.

So I referred to it as ‘Dog’.

My estranged wife is as impossible as most wives are who run off and then repent and she now uses every legal device to impede access to my son so it was three months before Dominic came face to face with Dog, by now sleek, lithe and fiercely protective of little Alexander.

I have forgotten what the expression ‘to lie with dogs’ means exactly, or at least its implication, but within a weekend, Dog sleeping alongside Dominic and Alexander (who will only sleep in the arms of his half brother when Dominic is in the house), I quickly realised that if I ever had cause to beat either of the boys, I would have to kill Dog first and as much as I have never laid a hand on either of my boys I realised, seeing them lying together and hearing Dog’s protective snarl quickly transformed into paroxysms of delight as she recognised me when I checked on them, that I loved Doggie too.

Being young, Dominic is not nearly as predisposed to the almost libidinous desire for alcohol and its inevitable consequences that I feel so he tends to get up rather earlier than me.

My rather lunatic neighbour, commander of the Presidential Guard no less, had acquired an African Python, its girth at the very least equal to the thickest portion of my thigh and also an ostrich, drumsticks shod with claws which, as a child I was led to believe could rip a man’s stomach out. I vaguely recalled mentioning these more or less related facts to Dominic along with a suggestion that he might like to pop over for a squint but was nevertheless surprised to be woken at some indecent hour by a young lad, frothing with indignation, screaming that Colonel Henriques was feeding puppies to his snake.

Well, I don’t know about you but with a tongue as rough as a bear’s arse every morning, I am pretty useless without at least a cup of tea so Dominic, exhibiting the disgust I am sure I deserved, did not hang around long enough for me to at least pull on a pair of pants and shot back over to Colonel Henriques’ place and dived into the cage enclosing a bloody great snake and the tiny puppy it had its coils around.

By the time I stumbled bleary eyed into the street Dominic was already on his way back clutching a tiny bundle of fur followed by a bunch of AK toting soldiers who, with eyes as wide as saucers told me how Dominic had dived into the cage and wrestled the puppy free from a very hungry snake. Not only that, he’d apparently punched and kicked the guard who, by trying to grab the lad who had just dodged by him and jumped in with a man eater, was presumably only trying to prevent his employer’s neighbour’s son from certain death.

Henrique’s brother accosted me and accused my son of trying to kill his brother’s snake.

I like Angola. I would not be here if I didn’t. A lot of countries were very badly treated, not just by the once greatest colonial power in the world but by all sorts of other opportunists and it’s still happening. It is a bizarre standard, I know, but if a society still values the life of a snake over that if a dog, is it really civilised?

Dominic made his own mind up when he leapt into the enclosure and rescued the puppy but now I have two strays to look after.

I could not come up with a name for the first one. Reluctant to get attached to an animal that some bastard would probably nick I called it ‘Dog’. A name that has stuck.

Dominic pushed off back to his Mum leaving me with a flea bitten rag with a bunch of broken ribs, a reminder of the less than amorous embrace Henriques’ snake gave it until Dominic dived in, a puppy so young it tried to suckle Dog until I nicked one of Alex’s bottles and fed the poor sod.

Dominic agrees that Dog , as names go, isn’t bad and Dog, more importantly, answers to it. So I have decided to call the new addition, Dinge, which is German for ‘Thing’. Dominic thinks that is cool as well and Dinge already responds to his name so I guess he is happy with it too.

Having gone for walks with Dog through the bush I know that she is a demon for flushing game. Now that Dinge is part of the pack I can see that there is an instinctive bond and the pair pf them work together,

So, two intelligent, remarkably similar dogs from wildly separate sources instinctively working together under the control of a human?

Turns out they are not dogs, they are primitive hounds. Portuguese Podengos.

They were carried all over the world by Portuguese explorers in the 14th and 15th centuries and two of their descendants are now resident with me. Purely by chance, I have two dogs that are only content if they are flushing game when we are walking, sleeping on my chest if I am tired, playful as puppies with children or savaging anyone who goes near my kids.

One was dumped on me, the other was snake food, but I am rather fond of both of them.