Maverick Life

LOVE, UNSTOPPABLE

An ode to my dog

Illustration Marushka Stipinovich for Maverick Life

The year 2020 was filled with uncertainty and loss, and at times, immense solitude. In times like these, and beyond, many find support, comfort and sometimes help through their relationship with their pets. Here are five of our readers’ stories.

Stories compiled by Karel van der Vyver.

My dog, the therapist

My dog Daiv is a 14-year-old male dog. He is a small Maltese cross with big black spots; he has a magnetic personality, and everyone who meets him falls in love with him. He just loves cuddles and attention and will sit up and beg until he gets it.

Daiv is a registered pet therapy dog. It wasn’t always that way and this came about after a chance encounter outside the Spar, where I was walking with him. While untying him, I was approached by a lady who wanted to pet him hello.

Daiv, who is always up for a bit of attention, would sit, pose and act, the way dogs sometimes do when they want you to “see” them. Of course, the lady was delighted. She then told me that, because she now lived in a retirement home, she could no longer have pets and she missed them dearly.

Daiv. Photo: supplied

If Daiv was such a great companion to me, I wondered, could he bring comfort to other people too? Would he make for a great visitor to an old age home? I mentioned it to a friend of mine who happens to be associated with the organisation Pets as Therapy (PAT).

PAT organises therapeutic visits by animal guardians, who volunteer to take their animal companions, mainly dogs, to visit people in retirement homes, frail care facilities, schools, residential centres, and a variety of other venues. PAT started in 2001 in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town.

To join as a member of the organisation, Daiv had to do an interview session where he was assessed. He played along well, doing his usual sit-shtick which saw him passing with flying colours. There is no specific training for dogs who are a part of PAT; however, basic obedience is beneficial.

From then, we started to go on visits to a local frail care home for people with strokes and dementia, and Daiv brought a smile to the faces of everyone he met.

At the time, I also had to bring my mother, who had had a stroke and was suffering from dementia, to live with me; Daiv charmed her into parting with many snacks, leading to him putting on a bit of welcome weight.

Then Covid-19 struck. PAT suspended operations in March 2020, with immediate effect, following the announcement of the Level 5 lockdown. Although we all recognise how supportive our visits can be, particularly in situations where individuals are isolated from loved ones, we need to exercise extreme caution due to health needs within the populations that we visit, such as those residing in frail cares.

We could not go and visit the old people any more and were stuck in the house together. My mother’s condition worsened, and she passed away in July, one day before her 90th birthday. 

The fallout afterwards left me shattered and grieving was lonely and intense. And all the time, Daiv was there, next to me.  He has been my constant companion. When I felt like I wanted to fall apart, there was Daiv, needing a walk and a cuddle. And we made it through. Together.

Penelope Meyer, Fish Hoek, Western Cape.

***

Facing my ‘black dog’

My pet, Shadow, is an English Bull Terrier bitch, slightly undersized because of the neglect she lived through as a pup. She is brindle and white, very well built, and has a little scar on her face from surgery to remove a growth. In truth, I think all the other dogs call her Scarface.

My son generously saddled me with her after he found her and two siblings in a dreadful state on the farm on which they were born. They were about four months old and had not been well handled by humans at all up to that point, nor had they been fed – they survived on mother’s milk and I guess whatever they could scavenge.

They were terrified, tiny, weak and covered in fleas and ticks. Shadow was the smallest of the bunch, a runt amongst runts. At first, she was scared of me, and of so many other things: the car, her food bowl… For a month, she would grab a mouthful of food and run away to eat it, and then sneak back for another mouthful. She was literally a shadow, flitting from one hiding place in my cottage to another. I scarcely got to see her.

Shadow. Photo: supplied

At the time, I was having a bout with my other “dog”, black, dark, loyal… Depression. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning so a dog, a real one that is, was out of the question.

And then Shadow arrived. She became a responsibility: I had to get up to feed her, to check her water, to walk her, to look after her. She helped me unbelievably to fight off the other dog, just by being around and giving me something outside of myself to care about.

Shadow sleeps on my bed, so we start the day waking up together. I have to give her a tummy rub after I make the bed as she is very dedicated to her routine. We normally go for a walk in the paddock while my breakfast is cooking, and then she has hers and I have mine. Our schedule stayed the same during the strict lockdown, since I live in a cottage on a chicken farm, and there is a large paddock nearby where I can take her for walks.

I work from home, and she spends most of the day under my desk at my feet. We also normally have tea with a friend who has a Golden Retriever, who is now Shadow’s best friend.

She has some very strange quirks, I think mostly as a result of not being socialised with humans as a puppy. She makes me laugh a lot, and as I live on my own, having a sentient being with me makes a huge difference.

Shadow has basically saved my life, by introducing routine and responsibility. She is now about two, and way better in every way, but still a bit weird in some ways. She still keeps me going, demanding walks and outings, so I can’t sit and sulk too much.

William Nettmann, Sandton, Gauteng.

***

His Royal Highness

Sir Alfington Fergus McGrath turns 16 in 2021, the result of a passionate union between a pedigreed Border Terrier on a European Union pet passport, and a Portuguese mongrel living rough in an Algarve harbour.

I adopted Alfie in the UK back in 2006.

Alfie. Photo: supplied
Alfie. Photo: supplied

All 250g of him accompanied me to work one day; he ended up wailing so loudly when I left him to lecture, that I was forbidden to bring him to work again. He returned with us to South Africa in 2007, spent six weeks in isolation in Joostenbergvlakte, and has never forgiven the human race for this insult.

He inflicts his own unique brand of depressed angst on everyone he meets, a canine version of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

His suffering and martyrdom have reached new heights since his pancreatitis was diagnosed, as he is denied even the small pleasure of occasional kitchen scraps. No dog has ever suffered more.

Marianne McKay, Somerset West, Western Cape.

***

My own public protector

After six seemingly interminable months mourning the death of my last dog it was time for another.

The void needed to be filled so off we went, in search of what we thought would be “the best of the breed” from a litter of 11 newly born German Shepherds in Joostenbergvlakte.

After spending an hour observing the erratic behaviour of a litter of six-week-old puppies, I thought I was able to discern a human-canine connection and chose a particularly fluffy energetic bitch with ears fit for a rabbit.

When I returned to collect her on the designated day, she was just a larger version of energy, fur and rabbit ears!

I needed a name for my new puppy and Thuli Madonsela was, and still is, my South African heroine. It seemed fitting that I should have my own public protector called Thuli. And what an amazing dog Thuli has turned out to be.

Thuli. Photo: supplied

A dog of steel will, unbridled energy, forever shedding fur, but with undying loyalty and incredible intelligence, listening always with a cocked head and huge pricked ears.

Five years on, when I moved to London and my meticulous plans to take her with me came to naught, never have I experienced such grief. But, after six weeks of unrelenting determination, I was finally reunited at Heathrow with the most beautiful dog I have ever known, and what dances of sheer joy we both did!

Shayne Ramsay, London, United Kingdom.

***

Lucca, The Oval celebrity

Lucca – the gentlest, most loving, caring, friendly, boundless energy, giving, kindly, caring soul that has ever lived in my home. She is a small Rottweiler bitch. Typical black and tan, but always with a great big grin on her face, that of course can resemble a snarl until one gets to know her. We got her as a pup in December 2016 when she was just five weeks old and she has been a loving part of us ever since.

Here are some of the reasons why Lucca is special:

She is loving, gentle and able to calm down situations. She is always unconditionally happy to see us no matter if we are away for five minutes or five weeks. She is the best dog to take on our camping trips. She makes friends with everybody.

Lucca. Photo: supplied

During the strict lockdown, it was very difficult. She could not understand why there were no more daily walks. Thank goodness we have a quarter acre suburban garden so we would take little wanders around the entire garden, making it into an adventure. We have an indigenous bush mess of a garden, and we all love it. So, making pathways amongst the bushes, trees, mounds of dead wood and our little forest is interesting.

She contributes value, worth and constant companionship to my life. She does this through an ever-forgiving kiss or lick or a head on my lap when I was in tears over missing my grandchildren.

We walk our Jack Russel, Dhoni, and Rottweiler nearly every day on a wonderful community piece of open space, called The Oval in Irene Village, Centurion; it has become a pivotal community mingling of dogs, walkers, mums, dads, children, babies, several soccer games at once, gymnastics, runners, yoga, exercise of all descriptions and even some cricket. 

Yet, whenever we first appeared with her on this grand stage, no matter how far away we were from other folk, we had all the scared reactions: “Put that vicious dog on a leash! What are you thinking bringing that dog here? Careful of our children! Keep that dog away!” 

And indeed, for the first day or two, when Lucca arrived, it was like an explosion around us: up people would jump, screaming and running to wherever they thought was their safest haven.

But all it took was a leash, kind talk, lots of convincing and introducing our Lucca slowly to the people around us over the following four or five days. Lucca at first thought all the hullabaloo was really part of a game and pursued the colourful display of runners, causing them to run ever faster.

Seven years later, she is everyone on The Oval’s greatest friend. Everyone calls out to her when they see her, they love to pat and touch her. She really is a great big cuddly teddy bear and definitely not what everyone expects from a Rottweiler. 

She loves everyone and is always so bewildered when they don’t love her back. Here’s to you being loved by many more people in years to come at The Oval, our Lucca. We love you to bits. 

Ros Ambler Lindley, Langebaan, Western Cape. DM/ML

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  • My rough collie MacLaren certainly carried me through lockdown; my full-time live-in therapist! He is convinced that the world is there purely to give him love, and that is not a bad life-philosophy, especially when you are a chocolate-box beauty! Under a coffee cup at a cafe we found the message: “Be the person your dog thinks you are”!