SMOKE: Danger, Gevaar, Ingozi
Originally published: 24 July 2003
I read somewhere that the New National Party (I wonder at what stage the "New" part of that expires?) is calling for tougher regulations on dog owners, which force them to ensure that their animals can't attack other people.
Apparently a five-year old boy was killed in Welkom earlier this week when a dog jumped a fence and ripped his throat out, and the NNP no doubt saw a good opportunity to get some positive press on a rather obvious issue.
I'm not about to run down to my local NNP office and swear allegiance and sign up and take over management of their voting campaigns or anything, but they certainly have a point.
Apparently between January 2001 and October 2002, 1,980 dog attacks were reported to police. It's a safe bet there were many, many thousands more.
It's not an infrequent news snippet - some kid or domestic worker getting ripped to shreds by some dog - but in every single case of death the wrong party is punished.
The dog gets shot (as the boerboel that attacked the Welkom kid did), but in fact - whether you like it or not - the dog owner is to blame. Every time.
If your dog attacks someone and kills them you should face a murder charge, because you obviously are not a fit dog owner.
I've had a strange relationship with dogs over the course of my life - our family always had fat, goofy cocker spaniels, whose only crime ever was to let burglars into the house and give them a fat old welcome into the bargain.
In fact - many's the time we came home to catch our spaniel chugging down a lager with some thief and having a merry old time - they were the most inoffensive dogs you could ever hope to know and wished absolutely nobody in the world any harm.
But I developed a deep fear and hatred of dogs other than my own, as I was always being attacked by them.
In Pretoria in the eighties I - and my older sister - did a newspaper round for the Pretoria News, delivering newspapers to a whole bunch of houses in the Lynwood Manor area on our bicycles, or by foot.
It was a nightmare - two houses down stayed Brutus, who left almost as much an impression on my childhood as puberty did. Every time I passed that house Brutus would charge and I would have to inch past, throwing well-timed and aimed stones to keep his slavering jaws from eviscerating me from the knees down.
He was fond of his ankles, was Brutus, and mine are still scarred today from one of our numerous, one-sided bouts.
My worst experience was delivering to a house on the hill one day - I couldn't see any dog around and I opened the gate and went right up to the front door.
There was a slot in the door and I stepped onto the mat to push the paper through, before realising that the mat was not a mat at all - it was a massive, pitch-black St Bernard.
I know - St Bernards aren't black. But this motherfucker was. Jet-black. Coal-black. At least as high as me. Cujo looked like a gay teddy in comparison.
To this day I don't remember how I got out of there, as the brute was on me in a flash. The only thing that saved me was the satchel on my back, in which I was carrying the newspapers.
The hound went for the satchel instead of the back of my head (which would have fitted nicely into his dripping maw) and once I was out the gate I managed to wrestle it back.
I don't know how many months I did that newspaper round for, but it was way too many. I developed severe stomach cramps that hit me at random intervals, rendering me incapable, and all my memories of that time are of creeping around the neighbourhoods of a grey, 1980s Pretoria, always wondering where the next beast was going to strike from.
As I grew older and bigger I began to fear dogs less, and I think I have a pretty good handle on them now. I took my Jack Russell (hardly a Hound of the Baskervilles, I know, but it's a start) for training when she was a pup and I learned more than I could ever have hoped about dogs.
The one thing that really stood out was that you are your dog's master and as such are responsible for leading it and teaching it.
If you buy a nervous or edgy dog, chuck him out into the front garden and let him rot in weather foul or fair - denying him the love and attention he needs - and some stage he is going to jump the fence and rip some poor bastard's throat out.
Across the way from me two enormous Rottweilers live camped outside the driveway gate, watching and threatening anyone who walks past. I can't open my gate to go out without them standing up and announcing their intention to not just rip me up, but to do so slowly. With enjoyment.
It's clear they receive no attention and I seriously pity anyone who happens to be around when one day that gate breaks down.
If I were to be attacked by those dogs and ripped up, those owners are responsible. If you can't understand that a dog has a soul and a spirit and as such needs almost as much attention as a human being, and if you don't put the time in, you are going to have a discontented animal.
It's not good enough to say that you have a dog for protection - you have a dog because you want one. A dog is a lot higher up the evolutionary scale than most animals and their thoughts, emotions and feelings are as tangible as those of a human.
Their intelligence is also beyond question - just ask Mischka (my JR), who has a B.Comm degree (cum laude, with honours) from UCT, and is currently reading for a Social Science degree, majoring in Paleontology (she was attracted to the idea of looking for skeletal remains - might as well enjoy your job if you have to do it, is her reasoning, and a few smuggled Jurassic thigh bones once or twice a year would sort her nicely for the winter).
The point I'm driving at is that what you put into your dog you get out, and if what you're getting out is having to watch the police shoot your dog in the head because it tore the throat out of the neighbour's kid, you have to know you went wrong somewhere along the way.
It's a dog's life. Let it have a good one.
All Smoked Out,