On Dogs

I have been told that dogs are tantamount to domesticated love. In the eyes of a dog you will find your number one fan, your biggest source of affection and a desire to eat things that science is yet to identify. You cannot deny that the love of a dog is the greatest source of joy on this planet next to her doing that thing you like.

I, sadly, do not own any dogs. I do, however, live on a property which is home to two: both of the snubbed-nose variety. Once, when life was simpler, they had a brain cell between the two of them but it was subsequently lost. As a result, I have to deal with the big one who has made it his mission in life to pee on everything or die trying. Objects which hold his affection include (but are not limited to), my prized Kumquat bush and front steps. In fact, my earliest not-piss related memory of him was when I first moved into my current flat. While unloading boxes in my living room, I looked out across the yard to watch him shitting. More specifically, he was watching me watch him shitting, not breaking eye-contact even for a wince. If you had seen the size of the turd he was leaving on my lawn, you too would be impressed. When he was done, he gingerly raised himself off his haunches and sucked the hemorrhoid cushion of his anus back in with what I can only describe as a look of pride. Given his face was made by generations of cruel, French, breeding, it is likely that I am wrong. Actually, now that I think about it, his facial expressions are limited to the following:

  1. There is food, and I must eat it, but not before forgetting how to swallow
  2. There is an object, and I must piss on it, but not before running up and down the lawn
  3. Crushing existential dread

To compound matters, he is ably assisted in his day to day knacker waving by a comely side-kick which comes in the form of a fun-sized, equally pedigree (read: chromosomally challenged) bitch. She has taken a shine to me these last few months, taking up her station on my welcome mat. She enjoys the thick weave of said mat for both comfort, and its ability to scratch her butthole, which she does so by pirouetting 360degrees on her rectums axis before falling over from dizziness. The strength of her bloodline is matched only by the collapse of her nasal cavity which I would liken to that of a bat that collided with too many windshields at the nurburgring. Her face can only be graphically expressed in two dimensions, both of which would be the direction of “down”. The inadequacy of her entire cardiovascular system is so acute, that on occasions, she forgets how to breathe, resulting in a fit of quasi-hiccupcoughing that can only be arrested by closing her nose, thus affecting a hard system reboot. If you block her nose and scratch her back simultaneously, she takes a screenshot.

These are not the only idiosyncratic dogs I have met in my short life. I had close friends who had an aging Jack Russel that was only capable of communicating through rasping wheezes and sitting on your feet whenever you had gotten in the least bit comfortable. Further back in my history were the Levison Labradors, who had succumbed to the temptation of an avocado tree several times a day for years. The result was that they were perfectly cuboid, and highly explosive during their cremation. Then there was Tjokkie, a Scottish Terrier I had the joy of sharing a splendid few days with on my friends plot in Plettenberg Bay. He had to be kept away from the horses lest he ate their shit and came down with violent diarrhea. It should be noted that he did this several times and not once did he put two and two together. Basjan, a Great Dane that had the misfortune of living in a house in Cape Town, belonged to close family friends. Whenever they had guests for dinner (held on the third floor of their home), Basjan would drag his bed (from the first floor) to the dining room and roger it like a Mormon honeymooner. Again, not breaking eye-contact, he would thrust about the contents of his bed with wild abandon, maintaining the motion while being shuttled out of the room and all the way back down the stairs. After a few mouthfuls of dinner in silence, Basjan would return for his inevitable encore, shagging the headlamps off his bed yet again. This time however, he was out of breath from the first round, so his long pink tongue would loll out of his head as his eyes attempted to separate themselves from the minor contents of his skull. Again, he would be tutted out of the room without so much as a cigarette the poor man.

Then there were the dogs which I grew up with.

Whizzer was a Daschund who you would be forgiven for believing was equal parts ferret and disgruntled cubicle worker. No dog held as much animosity to the world as he, and he would express this by climbing one of our Camphor trees and barking incessantly at anything that had the gall to walk past.  His specialties included killing venomous snakes and eating once every new moon. Everything that he did came with a kind of manic energy, including nearly chewing through a door the one time he was being looked after by a student while we were on holiday. Whizzer was not named by our family, but was rather taken in from another when he did not get along with the resident animals in   their house. Confidence was his specialty, exuding it in all things that included the seizures he would have later on in life. These would be preceded by him jumping onto the table, pausing for effect, and then collapsing in convulsions to make sure he had your attention. Whizzer enjoyed trips to the Transkei just so he could take out his primal rage against cows, more snakes and Pieter Venters tent. On these trips, Whizzer would always sleep at my feet at night, and did not move until morning.

Not to be outdone by her indentured brother, there was Rat. Rat was named by our family because Dad. Rat was a thoroughbred Daschund whose breeding allowed little scope for intelligence. This did not stop her from having many endearing qualities. The first was her latent ability to find chocolate at precisely her level (about thirty centimeters off the ground). Where chocolate famously is bad for dogs, in her case, it was the great motivator, making her scour the undersides of Christmas trees annually in the hopes that someone was foolish enough to leave it there. Another of Rat’s gifts was to sun herself on the paving by the pool while resident birds of prey took practice dives overhead for the chubby, meaty thing that didn’t move no matter how dangerously close your talons came to it. Rat also hated the gardener, Edward. Rat hated Edward for as long as Rat was alive and Edward worked for us, which it turns out, was the same amount of time. The Saturday morning call to prayer would start with Rat barking at Edward from the minute he entered our property at 8am until he left at lunch. Theirs was a rivalry for the centuries, albeit an incredibly one sided one. She would follow him while he mowed the lawn, barking; he would take bathroom breaks to find her waiting outside the door, barking; he would have a quick nap on the grass, to be woken by her, barking; he would eat his lunch as she sat at his feet, begging and, barking. Edward was so well-loved that the scales of karma tipped all the hate for him in the world into one, small, dog.

Then there was the ocean of calm between the Daschunds – Cujo. A black Labrador whose ability to eat whatever Whizzer had just killed was only matched by his fear of water. That is right, a Labrador was afraid of water. As a pup he fell into the pool, a memory which stayed with him for as long as he lived. Cujo would often be found taking up residence on the mat by the glass concertina doors of the house. I would go and lie down on my back next to him where he would obligingly sit on my face. Cujo enjoyed many simple things, running out of the gate was one of them until a short, sharp, visit to the local vet ended his predilection for adventure. We got him from the farm and bought a cheap duvet as his first bed. His first night with us was spent on the scullery floor whelping for his mother. He eventually became the strong, silent type of animal whose gruff bark you could take seriously. Otherwise, the lad was noiseless which made his quiet expressions of affection all the more charming.

They used to wait for me you know. I lived in a cul-de-sac, the kind which is visited by otherworldly entities in Steven Spielberg films. Every day, I walked to and from school without so much as a care, my school day ending as I rounded the corner to my house to find the dogs all sitting on the drive way waiting to greet me. The afternoons would be spent at play in winters, with summers being exactly the same except with more pleas to enter the pool. Only Wizzer would oblige with a trip on the boogie board, myself as the outboard motor, of course.

The three dogs that grew up with me died within months of each other while I was at university. They were not replaced.

Replacing a dog is a strange notion, making it sound like the changing of a tyre. It makes them sound like a possession as supposed to a personality. That is what they are after all, personalities that plummet into your world from an affectionate herebefore. When they first arrive, we all believe dogs to be eternal in our orbits and in a way, they probably are. When I look at the small mutt that visits me from my landlords home lying on my mat, I think to Cujo who bathed his shaggy-blackness in the morning light at our front door. Wizzer’s incessant need for adventure is channeled in my memories of terriers and lapdogs who refuse to let size get in the way of their ability. A gentle lick, a curious roll of the head, are all the things that keep the memory of dogs alive long after they have gone.

No, I don’t think dogs are domesticated love. For them to be domestic would be for them to be normal, suburban, dull. There is actually nothing domestic about a dog, even if they pee outside.

Love though.

That is what they definitely are.

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