I awoke early one morning, with a vague sense of increasing unease, to the sharp, insistent barks of our first, feisty Antiguan Chihuahua mix, faintly audible in the deep gloom below the rumbling rains ramming the galvanised gabled roof. Through the glistening glass, peering out into the cold murk for any sinister signs of strange intruders, I could make out the angry winds lashing the group of giant neem trees, their big branches flailing desperately to ward off the blows in the gathering gale, as the outer bands of the passing hurricane slammed screaming into the island.
Sheets of water steadily seeped in under the doors as the storm smacked all sides of the building. I stumbled through the house, groggy and concerned, to find sweet-natured Crix out of his basket, straining on his temporary leash, still barking in this his maiden squall and standing wet and agitated near to the kitchen, his furry feet in water, large liquid eyes anxious and amber in the smoking lamplight. As I dried his long golden coat and sought to calm him, he licked my face vigorously several times but continued uncharacteristically to fidget, fuss and fret and then suddenly he flew out of my arms, his fluffy tail waving like an unfurled pennant. He fled down the corridor to the bedrooms at the western end of the house with us in rapid, noisy pursuit.
We discovered the little dog had been trying to immediately alert us not to any understandable canine fear of violent thunder, harsh lightning or the threat of an inundated yard and rising flood but to my elderly mother-in-law unexpectedly passed out in the dark on the floor. She had collapsed next to her bed not from the shock of Hurricane Omar but from a too strong dose of secret self-administered laxatives at the worst possible time. Courageous Crix now stood aside and watched us quietly, as we rushed in to lift her, his soft pointed ears upright and alert, deeply satisfied his good deed had registered and then he slipped under her bed and lay there unmoved vowing to stay vigilant until daylight broke. He was later pampered with countless treats, praises and hugs, but Crix continued to serve selflessly without quibbling for kibble, as my children’s devoted football playmate, friendly protector and faithful guide.
For most of our impoverished early lives we enjoyed a rich range of wonderful pets and I can still remember with my three smitten siblings, in the empathy and innocence of childhood. rescuing sneezing, shivering kitten after scrawny kitten. We found them, barely alive, by then no longer able to mew, their eyes shut tight with mucus discharge, just days old, buried in mounds of rotting garbage piled along the pot-holed Independence Boulevard road with its filled in waterway, where punts formerly floated laden with sugar canes from the adjoining estate along the long, old dam that gave the area its original name – Punt Trench.
Having an unsuspecting mother with a malleable heart of 24 carat gold, we took full advantage, and would turn up without warning at her back door, silently beseeching with huge, weepy eyes, reeking and wet from the June rains bearing tiny balls of miserable fur hidden inside our school shirts or wrapped in warm paper or a handkerchief within our pockets and book bags. She never once rebuked us for bringing yet another mouth to feed in hard times, helping us clean the creatures and slowly nurse them to recovery and health.
We started with a breathing blob which wavered between life and death for weeks, and whom we worriedly called Wendy, as the lone survivor in a tiny litter of three left to die in a small water-logged box. A pitiful discard would grow up to become a legendary community mouser and an all-black live-wire with startling green eyes, initially dubbed an unlucky witch’s cat to be shunned by our stunned, superstitious and horrified neighbours, and eventually named by my sister, as the ever-elegant Suzanne gliding in seasoned style through our cramped living room and a lifetime of enduring memories.
Gentle Dopey would soon follow forever falling asleep to warm our thin, bare feet and curled up with us for regular cosy story time on our beds, the last of a pair of striped grey tiger tabbies to linger on, dogged by a permanent flu perhaps from using up all nine of her lives to outlast probably as many dismal days in a dangerous dump. Along the way, we succumbed to a waif that grew into a handsome, greedy giant who ruled as a majestic Russian blue coincidentally christened the incomparable Emperor Alex and admired for his stealth and cunning, and the cool Zen art of noiselessly removing hot pot covers and whatever forbidden treats hid underneath.
My older brother brought home our first pair of plump puppies, an unusual short-haired beige duo who developed into dashing dogs, the bold boss Bernard and bob-tailed Bruno. In retrospect, we should have designated them Casanova and Valentino, for the boisterous brothers lived, loved and watched over us in fierce, equal and exuberant measure galloping through the house and permanently into our hearts like wild horses in their nearly decade and a half. Bernard would die from old age and broken Bruno pined away, refusing all our frantic attempts and endless bribes to eat.
Our father was an avid songbird enthusiast like ongoing obsessed generations of Guyanese men, caring for his chirping champion chestnut-bellied seed finch or “towa towa” known as the “picoplat” or bullfinch, and when that was soon stolen, he acquired the less popular species, a “mountain,” then a “fire red” which both quickly went the way of the former. Finally, he settled in resignation for a cheaper, less desirable black and white “moustache” which would wake us up singing splendidly at sunrise.
Happy thoughts of our pets crossed my mind as I read a recent sickening letter in Stabroek News from a public spirited citizen of Central Corentyne who described the “appalling” and “cruel” treatment of transport and other animals in Region Six. “This happens on a daily basis in front of policemen and other Guyanese, and no one reacts to this crime. These animals have lives, feelings and basic needs, just as we humans do.”
The writer disclosed “cruelty to animals is no big thing here in these parts… A few days ago a man beat his dog to death because the dog played with the tablecloth and destroyed it. This happened in front of family and neighbours and everyone just stood there, watched and stayed quiet,”
“I discovered the street dogs are being poisoned as a way of cleansing the housing settlement. Region Six has the most people migrating where they leave behind pets of their own who eventually are left to fend for themselves, having no homes or animal shelter to take them to,” the contributor said.
The person cited the painful case of a particular dog. “A few months have passed now and he is still by the roadside looking at every face in every vehicle passing. He travels within a one mile radius every day. Presently, he sleeps in the bus shed whenever the rain falls. His condition is pitiful; his frame is now bones; his beautiful clean skin is now dingy and his face is very sad.”
Last year, street dogs were chopped at night and buried in the drains. One female had five puppies who were too young to survive despite human intervention, the person lamented, adding that a particular Police Station impounds animals but leaves them without food and water to starve to death.
Urging action by the Guyana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA), the correspondent pointed out such widespread abuse reflects the non-reporting of these crimes and inadequate and poor law enforcement. “The condition of these animals has reached this point because as Guyanese we do not want to do better,” the individual charged.
This January, the GSPCA shared on social media disturbing photographs of partially eviscerated cats who had to be euthanized, and relayed reports of the animals being doused with acid in the West Ruimveldt Area.
American profiler, Robert Ressler, who worked as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), concluded that criminals and murderers often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids, exhibiting early signs of cruelty and a psychopathic pathology that expands.
Studies indicate animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes, with humiliation and particularly parental abuse being key triggers for oft deadly family violence, through associated power and psychological control. When animals are deliberately hurt or neglected, it is a warning sign that others in the household may be in danger. Researchers have found that a batterer’s first target is often a pet, the second – a spouse or child.
Despite the efforts of various welfare groups and dedicated individuals, we sadly have further grim days ahead.
ID feeds wild birds and hugs her remaining mutts as she ruminates on Pythagoras’ view: “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”