“Never touch a dog in Tanzania, really?”
Today I saw some terrible pictures of peeled dogs hanging at robes in China; skinny, emaciated, broken dogs in cages after a life of harshness and cruelty. It makes me think of Tanzania and the terrible lifes most dogs have to endure. They do not eat dogs but most people have no means to take care of them. The character of these Tanzanian dogs in general is incredibly sweet. How is it possible to remain that quality of sweetness in such bad circumstances?
My first contact with Tanzanian domestical dogs takes place when I visit the Masaï village Endonyowas in Ngorongoro for the first time. I am arriving at the Boma of the family of Olobikoo, whom I am sponsoring to become a teacher. Within this boma I see several dogs lying coiled in front of a Manyatta. They are skinny and their pelt is full of tangles. But most of all I notice their bodylanguage; the typical pose of an abused dog; alert, inert, huddled and of course tail between the legs. Some of them are suffering from too many pregnancies.
The next three days i am witnessing how the children are treating dogs. They seem to have no feelings of respect for dogs, just bullying them mentally and physically. Even puppies are full of fear and you have to approach them with softness and respect to be able to pet them. The children laugh hard and uncomfortably when they watch you pet a dog. In the nights I can hear the dogs bark when danger for cows arrives in the shape of Hyenas or Wild dogs.
The evening before I leave, I return to their boma and I see a little boy beating a dog with a stick. Other children are yelling around them. I hear myself shouting at them with great anger and they spurt away. I order them to get back to me and tell them never ever to abuse a dog again, “And you know why”: I ask them? No they do not know. “Because this dog is saving your life if a predator comes”: I tell them, while adults are watching me. “He will fight for you until death comes. So he is your best friend. You treat your best friend like this”? Meanwhile I am petting the dog, forgetting every advice they gave me in Holland. I never saw children abuse a dog again in that village, but I am not sure what happens when I am not around.
That evening many Masaï come to say goodbye to me and wish me a safe Safari home. When everybody moved out I go outside to look at the stars and the moon and listen to the deep silence. When I look at my right, I see a dog silhouette on the path. He is just standing there looking at me. Then he approaches and surprisingly pushes his wet nose in my hand. He turns around and disappears in the dark, leaving me touched by his gesture of gratefulness and his way to say goodbye.
Since then I show Tanzanians my love and respect for dogs whenever I can. I learn them also to train their watchdogs, because they get jumpy wild when you show up or touch them. Can you imagine what happens to a Tanzanian dog when you reward his behaviour with food and kindness? When I arrive they welcome me. When I meditate in the garden, they come sleep in my lap. When I have a walk they escort me. And I know when danger comes, this special living being will fight for me.
Never to touch a dog is a very general advice for tourists to stay on the safe sight of life. Of course you have to be careful. But use your own eyes to see, your ears to hear the way they bark. Then you know if it is okay to touch them. And allways approach them with respect and kindness. Their response will show you which dog to trust. Honestly I have more dogs coming at me when I am jogging in Holland then dogs ever bark or frighten me in Tanzania.
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