It is a revered pet in some cultures and still a pet but not as revered in other cultures. It is also a servant charged with multiple obligations in various cultures. And in a few other cultures, it is a delicacy. 40 000 years ago, the dog either cunningly or naively, or by biological programming submitted to man’s charm. And since then an exalted companionship has grown between the two friends, characterised by enviable loyalty and boundless exploits.
I could be slightly well versed with the subtleties of a pet and a servant dog in the African culture. And shrouded in my African outlook on a pet and servant dog, I have been fascinated by the place of the dog in other cultures. This includes the abundant loyalty that the dog bequeaths its master. And the lengths to which the master goes to reciprocate this loyalty.
"Loyalty isn't grey. It's black and white. You're either loyal completely, or not loyal at all."
A story carried by Kenyan media in 2011 must have best accentuated man’s loyalty to the dog. Neighbours do quarrel about their unbecoming children, over their pets or other domestic animals. But this was one of a kind. An altercation between two neighbours triggered by a short lived intimacy between their dogs!
In this upmarket Nairobi suburb, a stimulated male dog (not with a drug, just natural stimulation) felt it had been denied the right to honour its biological obligations for far too long. Scenting its equally deprived female counterpart somewhere around and about, it tore through the fence and sneaked into the adjacent home. The two dogs exchanged pleasantries and then progressed to a tangle. Obviously with mutual consent, but fortunately or unfortunately the tangling lead to conception.
The owner of the impregnated dog got extremely irked by his neighbour’s dog, or rather his neighbour for not being responsible over his promiscuous dog. It not only took the innocence of his young and chaste pet, but also drove it the parenting way. The altercation received a generous share of coverage inform of print space and broadcast airtime in the media.
I happened to listen to this hot topic conversed on a call in radio show. One caller said, “if your neighbour’s son can impregnate your daughter, so what’s the big deal with a dog doing what a dog ought to do?”
"You don't earn loyalty in a day. You earn loyalty day- by- day."
This story took me down memory lane to a dog I owned as a young boy. A neighbour’s dog had given birth to a litter of puppies. So I began to appease him into giving me one of the puppies, if they survived. I would go to a local butcher and collect some bones and bring to his lactating dog. The bones were thoroughly cleaned of any meat any way.
A three month puppy did eventually come into my possession. I gave it a simple name, Karam. I began the hard task of feeding it and at times we ate from the same plate. When away for school I left it under the care of Grandma. She however had difficulty pronouncing Karam and used to call it ‘come’. I wiggled and removed its puppy teeth, just like a child is closely monitored to shed its set of milk teeth.
Karam grew up to be vigorous dog and gained multiple prowess. His main prowess was the amount of fight in him despite his average build. He spared no other male dog in the neighbourhood. This made me feel so heroic. He was no dog of a prince but was a prince of dogs.
Karam spent his energies in conquering a large and far sprung territory. And it was not just for the sake of it like us men would want to. It came with the responsibility of siring and spreading his seed.
"Don’t let your loyalty become slavery. If they don’t appreciate what you bring to the table, let them eat alone."
Karam attained the age of doing what a dog in my culture ought to do – to fend for himself. And he was equal to the task of looking for his food in the bushes and in garbage. He remained a healthy and sprightly dog. Occasionally, when there was some left over ugali and I felt sufficiently compassionate towards him, I would throw a piece of it his way.
When I went for a hunt with him and we managed to catch a rabbit, I would take it all away for my family’s ugali stew and gave Karam the visceral organs and bones. This was tantamount to Karam assisting in providing the rare meat portion in the family diet.
Perhaps my meanness drove Karam to avenge by eating all our brood of chicken before going for the neighbours’. Essentially Karam had become what is referred to in Kiswahili as mbwa koko. A neighbour whose brood of kitchen Karam had decimated eventually cornered him in the dead of night inside his chicken cage. He had gone for the last one that was sitting on eggs. The neighbour brutally bludgeoned Karam with a machete. Early the next morning he summoned for me to get rid of his carcass from his compound.
I assembled some close friends who were also touched by Karam’s untimely death in the the hands of a cruel neighbour and we gave him a well-deserved send-off. That is complete with a requiem mass and a crucifix on his grave. I regard the neighbour a cruel person to date.
"Loyalty is a characteristic trait. Those who have it, give it free of charge."
Ellen J. Barrier
I later encountered the privileges the dog enjoys in the Western culture. And stopped to behold the emotional and may be even spiritual attachment towards the dog.
Karam was not supposed to come anywhere near the door of the house as this a sign of a coward dog. He was supposed to patrol the compound and remain alert all night. But during the breeding season, Karam normally absconded duties but I would understand he was on call to an urgent biological obligation.
Compare Karam, a dog from a rural African village with a dog of the West. A dog that lives with its owner in the same house. A ‘Live-in dog’ literally and life companion to its keeper. No fending for itself. And no mischief in the neighbourhood which could lead to dispersing its pedigree genes anyhow like how Karam was used to spreading his seed.
The encounter with the dog in the Western culture made me feel even more remorse about how Karam met his tragic death and to regret how badly I treated him. At least I made sufficient amends with the decent send off.
"A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down."
From a little puppy to a grown dog, Karam would roll on grass or on bare ground and invite me to roll with him. He would observe and pity me trying to imitate him. He would then spiral more perfectly as if demonstrating for me how to make a good roll.
When Karam disappeared from home for the first time, I went round the village in search of him. Stopping everyone along the village paths to enquire if they had seen a medium sized, light brown male dog with white patches on both sides of the belly and on all limbs.
Then I got used to his escapades especially that when he attended to obligatory functions. I sincerely missed Karam and perhaps he missed me the most when he disappeared from home for days.
He would return looking a little emaciated, dirty and sometimes with injuries on his body. I would go down on my knees and we would be locked in a tight embrace. Karam nibbling and poking my back with his paws. I scrutinizing and carelessing him all over with my both hands.
I would ask him where he had been, if he got enough to eat, if he got into trouble etc. He would whimper in my ears in response to my series of questions. I would interpret his whimpers as saying he was so far away, that there was little for so many of them, that he constantly got into trouble with his peers…… Grandma would prescribe herbs to rub on his wounds and scratches. Karam would leak out the herbal concoction with his tongue. Grandma would say that his saliva might be more potent for curing his wounds. And that licking the herbs was yet another way to consume them, and could work better from within.
Karam responded swiftly when I called him and always came wagging his tail rhythmically. I must have learned from Karam to respond as quickly and ecstatically when my mother or grandma called out for me.
"Loyalty is still the same, whether it win or lose the game; true as a dial to the sun, although it be not shined upon."
Back to the Kenyan story of the tangling dogs. The owner of the impregnated dog went to court seeking compensation. Was I a journalist covering this story, I would have followed it with an insatiable hunch.
I foresee a presiding judge reluctant to admit a charge of defilement on the accused dog. The defence attorney on his part must have advanced a biological argument. That dogs do not just get intimate for pleasure, but for procreation. That when that season comes, an erotic scent travels in the air. A well scented dog aptly captured a stimulus and responded to an irresistible call to duty. That no law – of the land or Godly – stops a dog from going out to sire when it’s naturally compelled to do so.
The attorney for the plaintiff on the other hand must have built his case around a negligent dog owner who failed to prevent his pet from acting on its biological urgings. He must have argued that a dog is not a rational decision maker but rather under the beck and call of its master. To counter the persuasive argument of a dog on a biological compulsion, the attorney must have asserted that procreation for dogs in exotic places cannot be relegated to the whims of seasonal scents. That it is the sole business of experts to determine which breeds can blend well and sprout a desired pedigree.
An attentive judge takes notes profusely ahead of a landmark ruling. Perhaps the meticulous judge passed a judgement that exonerated the accused dog but slapped a hefty fine on its co-accused owner.
"Loyalty is a 24-hour proposition, 24/7. It’s not a part-time job."
This kind of altercation over pets is near impossible in the West where a dog owner monitors his pet 24/7 perhaps well aware of the legal repercussions. Dogs here do not randomly salute each other through licking and nibbling. The kind of spontaneous dog fights that had become Karam’s hobby during his short life are out of question. Western dogs must also be sterilized. How else can they subdue the compelling urge that makes African home dogs travel miles away, across villages and towns?
In summer, the dog is entitled to be walked out every day. In a park you will find approximately every three in five people tugging a dog. The other day I overheard a neighbour pleading with another to walk her dog out together with hers since she had got an urgent commitment.
"Total loyalty is possible only when fidelity is emptied of all concrete content, from which changes of mind might naturally arise."
A number of times on my way home I have met this girl seemingly in her early teens with a huge dog and in the company of her age mate who is from a different race. It seems to her (may be in her racial background) a dog is not as revered and even looks indifferent towards her friend’s dog. With an aroused curiosity I have observed these two girls whose cross racial friendship is endangered because of the dog.
Then the dog sniffs at this indifferent girl menacingly and she was getting even more upset. The other girl bowed down to her dog and she mumbled something to its ears. She must have begged the dog to like his friend. Surely this is a delicate balancing act between having a social time with a friend and maintaining affection to her family pet. How I wished she succeed in reconciling the two adversaries.
"Loyal companions are an unequaled grace, stanching fear before it bleeds you numb, a reliable antidote for creeping despair."
Two friends who are far away from their homes get emotional over what they adore and miss most. One about her young daughter back home in Africa. She shared her feelings with her friend one day. The friend consoled her by telling her how much she missed her dog back home, and she sincerely got so sorrowful about it. She actually got overpowered by the emotions of not having cuddled her dog candidly enough before she left home. The consoled turned to be the consoler.
At a corridor leading to a super market I come across a desperate lady sitting on the pavement with her huge dog crouching next to her. She has imbibed in one too many and is making an appeal for something. I decide to stop and listen. She is begging for money to buy dinner for her dog. Sympathetic passers-by cannot let the unfortunate dog go without a meal. They contribute enough for the dog to eat for days to come.
Still on dog food, while looking for breakfast cereals in the super market I happen on a shelf with this attractive packaging for what appears like really nice cereals. I begin sampling which one to buy for my breakfast only to realize they are all dog food. Dog owners are spoilt for choice in this frequented section of the supermarket.
"Loyalty a will, a decision, a resolution of the soul."
In the Western culture one has many things to consider before owning a dog. Some dog keepers go for the very big ones the size of a goat. Others keep the small fluffy ones the size of a big cat wagged by their flamboyant tails. It must be a tough choice between small, medium or large; puffy or slender. It may be informed by considerations such as breed, price, available living space and ability to provide proper nutrition and medical care. Some accompanying privileges and treats are also extended to a dog such as occasional dying of hair. I would be utterly lost in this permutation of factors.
And in addition to the basics provisions and privileges, comes the responsibilities one must honour towards their dog. As a dog owner, you have a legal duty to clean up every time your dog messes in a public place. Registered blind people are not required to clean up after their dogs. Most local councils require dog owners to a carry poop scoop and a disposable bag whenever they take their dogs out to a public place.
Some councils offer free scoops, and it’s the responsibility of dog owners to ask at a council’s animal warden unit. They need to look out for bins marked as ‘dog bins’ to dispose dog poop. If one cannot find a dog bin, then they should double wrap the dog bag and place it in a normal litter bin. However, the by-law is constantly broken as you might step on a dog’s shit on a side walk.
"Those who don't know the value of loyalty can never appreciate the cost of betrayal."
A google search ‘dog rights’ posts many organizations fighting for dogs’ rights. The UK has a substantive Animal Welfare Minister who oversees that dogs, cats and other pets are guaranteed a minimum quality of life. The Protection of Animals Act dates back to 1891 and has been amended over the past century obviously to enhance the wellbeing of animals. Of late it has sought to have in place legislation that not only protects animals against physical abuse, but also recognizes quality of life and physiological needs. Below are some of the rights.
A Dog’s Bill of Rights
To err is human, to forgive canine
I have the right to give and receive unconditional love
I have the to a life that is beyond mere survival
I have a right to be trained so that I do not become the prisoner of my behaviour
I have right to adequate food and medical care
I have a right to medical care and green grass
I have a right to socialize with people and dogs outside my own family
I have right to special time with my people
If have a right to be bred responsibly if at all
"The whole point of loyalty was not to change: stick with those who stuck with you."
After enjoying all this rights, provisions and privileges; how does the revered dog give back to its keeper? I came to think of it after encountering a frail elderly person tugging a huge dog. Perhaps if it were not for owing its total submission to the master, the dog looks strong enough to break free and find itself another life elsewhere. My concern is that in spite of his frailty, his dog may still be getting all his total attention. Can’t these well fed dog help the elderly man with some tasks in return?
And yes it can! Support Dogs, a non-profit based in Sheffield, UK “trains dogs to assist and support owners with their specific disability”. The non-profit has three types of support dog programmes it runs nationally.
Source: Support Dogs, Sheffield: www.support-dogs.org.uk
"Loyalty is about giving as much as you can as long as it does not hurt."
Man is still not compensated adequately enough by the dog for being its keeper. He has gone further to harness more intrinsic dog’s traits and put them into more sophisticated uses for his benefit. Recall the Pavlov’s dogs in scientific research about response to stimulus. Man has made many other scientific breakthroughs with the dog as a guinea pig or as a participant in the research .
The dog serves in the line of duty alongside police officers, providing leads in solving heinous crimes. Sniffer dogs detect drugs and explosives, and unearth crime scene evidence. In emergency situations, the dog has helped to save human life. We waited in baited breath for a small dog to wag its tail on detecting someone trapped in debris during the unfortunate incidence of a collapsed building in Kenya.
"Loyalty is demonstrated and expressed; a song proclaims it best."
At a street junction in city centre of the city, an opera does a charity show to raise funds for support dogs. In harmonic voices and choreographed instruments, the dog’s service and heroic acts are honoured. “… a dog is adorable and nobble, a dog is a true and loving friend, a dog is also a hedonist” . The songs span artists – the very popular and not so popular. Genres – punk rock, hip-hop and the slow rhythms. Message – love, loyalty and heroic deeds. And time periods – the oldies and the latter day classics. The opera enacts “I love my dog” by Cat Stevens, “Black Dog” by Led Zappelin, “Martha My Dear and Hey Bulldog” by the Beatles. “Cracker Jack” by Dolly Parton and “How much is that doggie in the window – the one with the waggly tail” by Patty Page. The milling crowd sings along and make contribution towards a noble cause.
"Loyalty is best demonstrated when there is nothing too much or too big to give away."
Not so surprisingly, in the Western culture a dog can inherit the estate of its deceased owner. A dog can go holidaying. Perhaps you have met some in the streets of your cities or beaches while on their holiday with their owners. Can you figure out this dog holidaying in Maasai Mara atop a tour van viewing game! It must get so mesmerized by the clumsiness of the wildebeest crossing the Mara River during their annual migration. If so much potential can be tapped from one creature, then it surely deserves to be taken for holiday.
"Men are only as loyal as their options."
After giving so much, the dog is not exempted from the wide range of sources of meat at man’s disposal. Man can still afford to convert his close companion and a loyal servant into a delicacy. May be without any ill will or malice, just an option in diversifying the diet. One man’s source of solace is another man’s source of meat.
I am not among those who question how and why man got compelled to make the dog a delicacy. Nor an advocate for dropping it off the menu. My views regarding the dog as a delicacy are unprejudiced. I also yearn to sample the ‘contentious’ cuisine someday. Fry, choma (marinated with spices) or in whichever other form in which the cuisine is prepared and served. To savour this delicacy, perhaps I need not travel to far away China where it is crowned with a slaughter and dine festival.
And by the way, is the delicacy red or white meat, and does it have a name to differentiate it from other meats which go by monikers such as beef, mutton, pork etc.? Didn’t I come across the meaty name ‘chow’ suggested as fitting moniker for the cuisine?
The dog often bites man. And man has become accustomed to biting the dog and it’s no longer news. Man made the friendly and resourceful creature into a delicacy not because he reviles it. Don’t we all slaughter and make feast of animals that we revere in our cultures? And has any one thought of spelling the word ‘dog’ backwards and, like me got persuaded to arrive at the conclusion that the dog must have been godsend for man?