Tales & images from life as me…

TIA Tales- Pets & Vets


As I prepared for the craft fair this weekend I spent a lot of time in town and when you wander the town you are guaranteed to cross paths with both street people and street dogs. These require two entirely different stories, i am certainly not comparing the two, but it suddenly occurred to me that our little furry friends easily warrant a TIA Tale column for their mad existence out here.

For a start most local dogs are what we call ‘shenzi’ (Swahili for a bit of everything, mismatched, also used to describe a rubbish car or dodgy fundi- another great Swahili word!), there isn’t really any breeding here and few Tanzanians keep them, in fact many are really afraid of them.

Anyone who lives here will have heard the street dogs howling at night. It’s the eeriest sound, like baying wolves. It starts with one or two and then it spreads in a wave of sound until the howls go up in unison across the whole area.

The pet dogs are largely imports and most frequently imported as guard dogs – so Rottweilers and Alsatians are popular options. Our two blondes aren’t quite in that league; we have a lab and a small fluffy thing, both of which are more likely to lick you than bite you. Anyway, the pet options are increasingly popular and this week several of my friends – in one of those odd moments of synchronicity – have decided to set about bringing in a dog.

The problem, though, with doing things against the tide out here is that you make your life pretty difficult – and it means pet owners frequently have crazy tales to tell.

There’s the problem of feeding them – local shenzi dogs will pick through rubbish dumps, or if they’re fed in the house they get treated to rice and dagaa (tiny little fish that smell absolutely revolting!). If you want to get dog or cat food like Whiskers or anything fancy then you may well need to visit the big cities (Dar or Nairobi) and stock up, or pay through the nose!

But that’s nothing compared to the dangers they face out here. In the uk my cats would bring in mice and the odd bird, here the birds could take them and they’re more likely to catch a rabid bat, poisonous snake or aggressive lizard!

Plus there are ticks. These things are seriously gross. They latch onto your pet and then suck, slowly. Over a few days they get so bloated that they go from little English wood louse shape to a perfect swollen round, and then they fall off, fully satiated. If you try to pull them off before they are ready they often take their revenge by popping all over you! They can also offer tick bite fever. Imagine my friend’s delight when she looked in the mirror one morning to discover she had one on her face! She said at first she thought developed a huge mole overnight!

And when they have these encounters there’s no such thing as the veterinary clinic to pop to! We do have a vet, we have a couple actually, but it’s all mobile, and they work with what they’ve got – and that often means using you as an assistant!

A friend of ours from a nearby gold mine needed his dog to have an operation not so long ago and we volunteered to host it and the vet at our house as getting the vet to the mine site was a bit too much of a distance. I came home from work that day to find our kitchen table in the car park with the dog – split neck to tail – bleeding all over it. Rather than apologizing the vet simply waved me over and asked me to hold onto a particularly bloody flap of skin whilst he removed some apparently no-so-vital part of the poor animal’s insides! This is by no means an uncommon story around Mwanza. We replaced the table!

You can’t even imagine how many neutered dogs seem to still go on heat, or even have puppies in some cases!

It’s all pretty basic. Medicines for animals are frequently human meds and any luxury bits, like those comedy cones to stop dogs biting stitches, need to be provided by the owner!

I have to end this blog entry with a reference to The Hero Dog. This was a little shenzi dog who had a nasty accident, I assume with a vehicle because one leg was partly removed and what was left was horrifically mangled. We’d see her, hopping in three legs, and try to avert our eyes. It was disturbing. Poor thing. Many of us talked about getting a vet to put the poor thing down, but she was a wily street dog and we could never find her when we wanted to. She disappeared for a while and we all assumed she’d died, and then suddenly there she was, still hopping, but bravely going on, finding food and somehow, against all odds, surviving. I admit I don’t know where she is now but I’ll never forget The Hero Dog.

Vet or pet stories to share anyone? Please feel free to add your comments! Thanks for reading.

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One response

  1. This is from Jeff but he wasn’t sure how to post a comment soI’m doing it for him because it’s well worth reading!

    Reading your TIA this morning on the subject of pets n vets reminded me of a few incidents many years ago in Nigeria when my kids were small (about the same size as my grand kids today !!)
    One hair raising story was concerning a horse – we had a couple of horses in Kaduna, Nigeria and one of them got a nasty kick in the unmentionables as he was doing his “siring” duties on a friend’s mare. Apparently mare’s do that when they’ve had enough ! (Not dissimilar to the human equivalent !) Anyway the poor bloke’s testicles swole to a huge size and looked extremely painful. After several home visits from the vet he decided they would have to come off !!! To my surprise he said that he would have to do the op at his premises – I had a vision of a pristine operating theatre for horses but what was I thinking ?? Next morning my garden boy and I walked Silver to the vet’s and he told us to tether him under a tree and he would do the op at lunchtime. So I went to work and returned at lunchtime. Particularly searingly hot day and the poor horse was wilting under the tree. My garden boy Saleh had stayed with him to make sure he had water but Saleh himself was distraught with the vetinary “care” he was receiving. Anyway a tipper truck suddenly arrived with a load of sand which was dumped at the front of the vet’s place. Little did I know this was going to be the operating table !! The vet came out and administered anaesthetic by way of injection in the neck. It took another two injections and about twenty minutes of swaying around with me and Saleh trying to hold him up. We were bith sweating profusely and extremely traumatized by this. Eventually he sank to the floor on the pile of sand and the vet moved in with his instruments – I’m not too squeamish but really just had to walk away and take some deep breaths. Little did I realize this was only the start of our (Silver’s, mine & Saleh’s) trauma. About an hour later poor old Silver started to come round and tried to get to his feet immediately – we were trying to hold him down – have you ever tried to hold a horse down ? Eventually he does get to his feet and the vet looked him over and said ok you can take him home !! What ??? He’s not going to be admitted to one of the private wards for overnight care ?? Anyway we set off (it’s about a mile to my place) and Silver is still extremely unsteady. Every fifty yards or so he stopped as the anaesthetic took over him again and he started leaning – Saleh and me trying to prevent him falling into storm drains and all the other natural hazards on African roads. The sun was beating down relentlessly and Saleh and I were absolutely beat ! Got him home eventually and let him lay down on some nice fresh straw. That vet doesn’t know how close he came to being castrated by a pretty vexed Mzungu that day !! (By the way, the vet used the sand, which was on my bill of course, to build a new wall at the front of his premises !)

    Another harrowing story concerned a dog we had – Ben. Lovely little black bush dog puppy that my daughter Charlotte chose. She took care of him and over the next six to eight months he grew to be a lovely looking dog, similar to a black retriever but definitely of bush dog stock. He was devoted to my daughter and they were inseparable most of the time. Then one day we had some friends round and Ben suddenly started growling and bit my friend for no apparent reason. Over the next few weeks these growling incidents and fairly minor attacks on visitors increased and it happened that every time my daughter returned from school he would growl and his hackles were up, until one day he refused to let her through the door and when she attempted to push him back, talking nicely to him he sunk his teeth into her leg and would not let go. Same day I took him to the vets for his last injection and he almost did for me, and a friend who came to help, and the vet !! The vet did not give enough of the lethal stuff and he actually started wriggling and would have done someone a lot of harm if we had been unable to hold him down while the vet gave some more stuff. I later learned that all the puppies from that litter had had to be put down. Too much inbreeding I guess !

    May 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm

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