The Dogs of Tanzania
May 1, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’d never heard dogs howl at night before Africa.
My brother tried to warn us. He’d been living there for months, and we only spoke to him a few times, but he let us know we’d be upset at how dogs are treated in Tanzania. He also told us not to bring anything with aloe in it, as apparently a few years prior a student on the same program had been ambushed in the night by wild bush pigs. The bush pigs had torn his tent apart and put a few scratches in him, intent on finding his aloe lotion. He didn’t tell us to forgo clothing and pack our bags instead with toilet paper, which I kind of wish he had. “Dogs aren’t pets, here.” He said. “It’s really sad.” If you can, imagine that in my brother’s don’t-give-a-damn voice.
Our third night in Africa we moved from a small local hotel along the central city streets of Arusha to a touristy spot nestled (in a protective fence) in the more residential area. I’m a reliable sleeper. When our golden was a puppy, he used to spend the night in his kennel next to my bed. I learned to sleep through his early-morning yip-yipping, forcing my parents to wake up and come down two floors to take him outside. While this doesn’t reflect well on Past Me, it does show how damn resilient I am to even the most determinedly noisy of dogs.
That night in Tanzania, I could barely sleep for the barking. The barking, and the howling, and the growling, the low urgent wuff-wuffs of warning and the desperate wiff-wiffs of pain. In the morning, everyone in my family shared the same confusion. How had there been so many dogs barking, all across the city? How did they manage to bark all night long without rest? Why hadn’t we heard a single dog-related noise during the daytime? A true Hound of the Baskervilles situation. Yesterday I walked next door to borrow a copy, so perhaps dogs are on my mind.
We certainly saw plenty of them. They were lying about in ditches and around the sides of houses. They were small and a light dirty-brown, with uniform drooping ears and sad eyes. We weren’t allowed to pet them, since so many of them were diseased and we didn’t want to be nipped. They were covered in all sorts of bugs and bare patches. They shied away from people, which we learned is because people kick them or throw stones at them. We never saw a stray one.
Finally we asked our guide why the dogs bark at night. He sounded surprised. “Because they are nocturnal. They are animals. Like other animals, they are barking in the night.” We laughed and told him dogs weren’t like other animals, and thus, they weren’t nocturnal. He reiterated what he had said, accustomed to correcting tourists on the local wildlife. “In the day, they are sleeping. In the night they are barking and protecting of the home. You hear they are saying to the other dogs, do not come to my home or I will be fighting you.”
Tanzania was wonderful, and people we met were very kind, and proud of being, as they never tired of telling us, “a peaceful country. We don’t fight anyone. Christian, Muslim, all is ok here.” I post about dogs only because the notion of nocturnal dogs is so strikingly different. A dog that barks all night was doing its job, not harassing your neighborhood’s sleep. With so few resources and so much poverty, it’s sensible for dogs to be a defensive measure against wild animals or thieves. On the outskirts and in the boma, any number of predators might come prowling for your goats, and in the city, you need to make sure your home is protected at night. People also viewed dogs as part of a disease problem, and were trying to minimize their risk. I saw a taxi driver with the build of a rhinoceros hop up inside his car to avoid the small, rare, purebred corgi that a white hotel owner had brought out a few feet away.
While my boy was in Thailand, we talked of dogs. There, soi dogs roam the streets, wild dogs with largely mild temperaments. He tilted the computer camera out the windows of the café to prove how many, and within a half a second – there’s one, oh and another, and they’re followed by a third – and back to his tanned face. My boy was chased on his first day, by soi dogs, but after that badge of arrival they were friendly. The cities he went to weren’t as poor as the African ones, and there was enough trash for stray dogs to live off of. Soi cats, too, dotted the Thai streets. “Many Thais believe that only the Buddha can be perfect,” he told me, “and cats are perfect. People break or knot their tails so they’re not perfect anymore.”
The moment my family and I made it back to Vermont, we came as close to lavishing excess affection on our own dog as was probably possible. He gets such a disproportionate amount of attention; it’s hard to measure. As I fell asleep at night he’d climb up on the bed and shift all 70 pounds into whatever spot I was trying to sleep in, and I’d drift off with my arms tangled across his smelly warm fur. We’re fortunate and we have plenty of food to feed him, and safety so we can raise him to be a slobbering friend, and we don’t fear disease or wild animals (except skunks). I love dogs. I was practically raised by one. A more venerable, older dog who taught me as a child to cock my head to the side when I’m confused and that headscratches are affection.
I had a lot to learn when I hit highschool.