My Caymanian daughter mentioned to me recently that she had not paid much attention to dogs growing up (we had several), but that now they’re a joy in her life. It struck me that it was like that for me, too. Growing up in Guyana, a dog was this creature you had roaming the yard at night that you tied up during the day when people came around. Our dog at Hague was Brownie, but I basically ignored her. Dogs in the house? Unthinkable. But then change comes upon you unheralded.
Many years later, living in Grand Cayman, on 3 acres of land, a Phase Two hurricane hit us, and among the damage it caused was the overnight destruction of the island’s chicken farm. Hundreds of fowls escaped, survived and bred in the bush, and in a matter of months they had become a nuisance all over the island – digging up your garden, picking at your fruits, and digging huge holes in the areas under the trees. My fencing was no use (they would fly over it) and you couldn’t trap them fast enough (they were too plentiful). A friend suggested, “Get a couple dogs.” It was a godsend. Literally overnight the posse of wild fowls that had taken over my yard disappeared.
Indeed, I saw the result on the very first day I brought the dog home from the SPCA. She bolted as soon as I let her off the leash in the yard – I thought I had a crazy dog on my hands – but in fact, she had spotted a chicken 100 yards away; the chicken took to the air with dog in furious pursuit. Chickens can fly – they can get up to a good eight feet easily – but they can’t stay up long so by the time I caught up with the two principals, running dog had captured descending chicken, and that game was over.
In Grand Cayman I began to see dogs differently. I had two, including a Shepherd-Chow mix named Baron who was a delight, and the SPCA folks took to telling me about dogs needing to be part of a pack and suggesting that I let them in the house occasionally. I was reluctant – Hague was still in me – but Baron broke me down. He was smart as a whip, would figure out which door you were going to use and bolt there, and he would play these running games in the yard with you that would leave you laughing. Baron would wait every day at the gate for me in the late afternoon when I came home. Every time I returned from a trip abroad, he would spot me at the gate and take off at top speed running around the yard in huge circles like a lunatic. I’ve been living in Guyana over two years now, and I still miss him.
And then Choo came along. She’s a Shepherd mix that a friend brought us a year ago from Lethem as a 4-week old pup, and she has taken us over. I’ve written before about her chewing disposition (plants, shoes, socks, wood handles on tools, plastic chairs) that led to her name, and although people assure me this behaviour will fade away, I have my doubts. If you leave stuff out, she goes for it; this week, a young pepper tree left outside the wire-mesh barrier ended up in shreds.
Choo is a chewer, but she captures you with her inquisitive mind and her impishness. Whatever job you’re up to (woodwork, painting, gardening) she finds herself in the middle of it and if you banish her, she will plop down a few yards away and watch. She checks out every scrap that tumbles from your woodwork, and she will sometimes snatch a small piece like some prized possession, eluding you skilfully as you try to regain it. If it’s quiet work, like writing, or acoustic guitar, she will lay down a few feet away and stay there – often for hours – until you move.
She loves trips in the van. If she sees me picking up the van keys from behind the door, she bolts out the front door and is sitting waiting by the van door when I get there. She’s watching me. If I don’t say anything to her, the second I open the door she’s inside – one jump. In the house, she understands “outside” and will go when you tell her, but she will usually pause just inside the door and give you one last “are you sure?” look before stepping out.
My daughter in Canada bought her a hard-rubber ball as a toy, but Choo plays fetch on her own terms. She will bring the ball back close to you, circling you like a shark, but never giving it up; if you move to grab it, she deftly slips away. Last week, she’s doing this to me, so I bus’ her off and go into the house. I’m standing in the kitchen. She comes in the front door, ball in mouth, drops it on the wood floor, bang, and looks at me. I ignore her. She picks up the ball, moves a few feet closer, drops it bang again, and looks at me. I ignore her. She moves even closer, drops the ball bang again, and looks at me, ears erect; she has this puzzled “are-you-deaf” look. I move toward her. She picks up the ball and bolts out the front door.
I grew up in a culture where a dog was a yard protector that you fed and gave water to; visits to the vet and special dog foods were unknown. Dogs sneaking in the house were promptly chased out. Rides in a car? Are you nuts? It was a shock for me to learn in Canada of a dog sleeping in its owner’s bed; Vreed-en-Hoop folks will cite that behaviour as evidence of “mad people.”
In my relationship with dogs, I’ve clearly moved on from my West Dem days, but I confess that I still draw the line at that dog-in-the-bed scenario. If any dog could win me over, it would be Choo, but that hasn’t happened – yet.