It was the day before Christmas Eve and I was busy in the front garden, trying to save what the scorching sun hadn’t singed, putting new plants in that the kids had chosen from the nursery. The ground was dry. It gave way easily, but also filled up what I tried to dig. This land remains sandy a few centimetres beneath the artificial lushness we struggle to keep.
The kids asked me if they could go and feed our chickens and the last remaining goat, Daisy. I gave them permission, with the usual “Be careful” that I might as well not say. They were off in a flash.
A few moments later they came running back.
“Daddy, there are dogs! Daddy, there are dogs with Daisy!”
I jumped up and grabbed the closest big thing – which was a patio broom with a green brush, not really the most threatening of weapons.
In the goat’s pen were two very large dogs. One was a rottweiler and the other was just as big but I didn’t know the breed.
(I have very bad memories of rottweilers, having rented a house once next to a neighbour who had two of them. Vicious greetings every time I stepped out of my own gate. Drool sizzled on the ground beneath them as they gnashed their teeth and barked at anyone who passed the thick black grills of their gates.)
I nearly froze. The dogs were barking madly at all three of us. I scanned the pen for Daisy and saw her on the ground, motionless. The dogs seemed trapped in the pen for the moment, but the fence does not even reach my shoulder.
I shouted at the kids to run back to the house.
“But Daddy, where’s Daisy? What about Daisy?”
“Just run back to the house! Run!” I shouted at them both as I walked backwards, keeping my eye on the vicious dogs. If they managed to get into the pen it was likely they could eventually get out and go after us.
When we got into the house I was breathless. It took me a while to explain to my wife what was going on. We phoned the Dog Control Unit and were told it is a matter for the cops since the dogs had broken into our property. We got passed around for a couple of hours from one police station to some animal welfare group or another.
Every hour I foolishly stepped out of the house to try and see if the dogs were still in the pen. Waiting for the authorities seemed like forever. Three hours later a van came to a screech outside our gate. It wasn’t any of the people we were expecting.
An elderly man stepped out. He said he was there to read the electricity metre. I told him about the situation and he went back to his van to fetch a stick with a whip at the end.
“I’ve learned how to deal with dogs like them.” I opened the gate for him and he had a good look at the dogs in the distance. “Rottweiler, the one,” he mumbled.
I led him to the metre and then he was gone as soon as he arrived, with the parting words “They’re not coming, the cops. If they do they take their time!”
It was so close to Christmas, why would anyone even bother about a family with two invading dogs in a semi-rural area? There were holiday robberies to deal with. Drunk driving. Petty crime. Domestic violence involving alcohol and home made weapons.
The dogs would growl at each other every now and again. A nasty fight would break out between them, and the victor gets to feast on one more of our chickens that had been trapped in the pen by pure stupidity (or curiosity at these intruders, you might say). Bloody feathers flew, not at all like in a harmless pillow fight. There was nothing I could do but watch.
A couple more hours passed. Then when we had given up for the day, a police van finally came. The cop got out of his vehicle and introduced himself. I felt a sense of relief. In the same breath he said he was coming back in a few minutes to fetch a colleague. My face dropped as his tyres kicked up dust backing up.
Another half an hour went by. The sky was beginning to gather up the gloom usually reserved for Christmas Eve this end of Africa. At last two vehicles pulled up at the front gate: the cop and someone called Mark from the Animal Anti-Cruelty League. They brought out long sticks with loops at the end.
Knowing the extent of my ability to deal with strange vicious dogs, I told them “I think I’m just going to stay here with the kids, if that’s ok.” They smiled and understood my level of bravery. It took them over half an hour to catch both dogs. The rottweiler, probably full with the chickens it had devoured, was easier to catch. The other one, just as big, proved more of a challenge. Eventually both dogs had stiff leads on, but both men struggled to get them in their separate vans.
I walked with the men to the goat’s pen, now quiet and in a bigger mess than I thought. The wooden gate was ripped off, and there was a mound of sand in the middle.
“Where’s the goat?” I asked. We went in the pen and searched. Not a trace of Daisy. I noticed the mound and went for it, Mark started digging as well. The cop stood there watching us. I stopped for a moment, taken aback by the feeling of dusty fur. “She’s here. They buried her,” I said. It was then that I remembered the same thoughts that were running in my head the whole day – I wished the worst on those dogs. A nasty thought that should really be directed at the careless people who raised them.
When the men were preparing to leave, we got the kids out to see them off and to hand a small bag of Christmas chocolates. They were kind people, thanking the kids and telling us of their own little kids back home waiting for them.
They drove off with big smiles.
My family decided to get supper from out to get a break from the whole tragic experience. I stayed behind to deal with what the dogs had done to Daisy. Small blessing that we have such sandy ground.