Growing up, we always had dogs. Yes, dogs. Plural. At one point, it all got out of hand and we had 11 dogs. Long story. This story is about the special dogs that were part of the fabric of my childhood. My family loves animals. My granddad is a farmer (amongst other things, more on the legend later) and so his farm was like a private zoo. He has had over the years: cows of different varieties (of course he is Fulani so cows are more like family), sheep, goats, horses (which I am half in love with), dogs, rabbits, geese, chicken, ducks, cats and more besides. He also always had dogs in his house so naturally, when my mum had her own place in Yola, she got a dog.
Our first dog was inherited from uncle no 1. She was a beautiful golden retriever called Sly. Gorgeous dog that my sister claims was given to her. I don’t know about that but she was lovely. Always up for running around aimlessly, her tongue lolling out of her mouth as she worked up a sweat chasing my sister and me around. She would let us wrestle with her and lick us hello every time we went to visit during the day. She had lovely warm eyes that always seemed to sparkle with pleasure when she saw me and her mouth seemed to smile 24/7. She never barked unless there was a trespasser on our grounds and she never bit anyone all her life even if teased. She lived until she was 13 years old…in dog years that is like a century old or something. Unfortunately, she went a little demented towards the end and ran rampant in the hut with sheep that was meant to supply the entire extended family for Eid. The vets had to put her down. We weren’t told until it was done. We cried for her and she occupies a special place in our hearts because she was our first. RIP lady!
The most special of all to me was Whiskey. A gorgeous brown-eyed German shepherd husky mix. Or as I would have called it when I was younger, a police dog. Apparently, he was brought for me when I was a toddler which must be true because I do not remember not having Whiskey or Sly around. I don’t know where the name comes from either because he was more black and grey coat but maybe he had more of a whiskey hue as a pup. He was less playful than Sly – he was more elegant and exuded restrained strength. Where I would want to run around with Sly, I remember just sitting with my arms around him, stroking his head and talking to him. Above everything, he made me feel safe so when my temper got out of hand or I was upset and wanted to hide it, I often found him and he sat with me happily. Everyone (but my mama, sister and I) was nervous around him when he was fully grown and most were outright scared. He looked ferocious and when goaded, he would lower his head, peel his upper lip back and growl low and deep in his throat. Despite never feeling threatened by him, even I would jump when he barked. It was a truly fearsome bark. The neighbours called him a ‘dog of Satan’ because they were so petrified by the sight of him. I loved him the best and he lived to the grand age of 12. I was off at Boarding school when he tried to get out of the dog house and got caught by a bit of wire mesh. He was found the next morning. I came home at the end of term and as soon as I put my stuff down, made a beeline for the dog house. I looked around eagerly. Killer, Baby, Bush and Mimi were there but no Whiskey. I ran back in and asked my mama. She broke the news and till this day, I get misty-eyed when I see a German shepherd husky. What a dog!
Killer was next in and she was a Dachshund – which apparently means ‘badger dog’ in German. She bore more puppies than Sly so when I think of her, it is mostly in the contest of birthing puppies. She and her newborn puppies nearly came to a sticky end once when she decided to have her babies in one of the deepest holes they ever dug to escape the Yola heat. The hole was under a tree so there were roots in the way and unluckily for her, whilst she laboured in the middle of the night, there was a heavy downpour of rain and she got stuck. The other dogs made such a dean that we woke up and went to investigate. We peered out the window and as we didn’t see any strange men lurking, we knew something else was up. My mama was roused and we all trooped out in the rain and quickly realised Killer and her babies were stuck. Between the hole filling up with water and the scared new mum Killer, it was hard work to get them out but we did eventually get them all out, all unhurt and I remember they were so cold, we broke the no dogs inside rule and brought her and the puppies in. My mama even used one of our towels to dry them and we found blankets and a box for the puppies. Out of that litter, we kept Baby who was a lovable rogue. A large brown mix of Killer and Whiskey.
Then there was Bush (named after George Bush the 1st who wasn’t much liked in our circles). He was Beagle-shaped but pure black, small with much shorter legs than all the rest. I think he was a Dachshund and black Labrador mix. What he lacked in size, he made up in mischief. He suffered from classic ‘small dog syndrome’ and would flare up into temper when teased. He was always full of zip, ran around like a loon and was hyper-excitable. He was the deadliest when it came to attacking unsuspecting neighbours. He never tried to bite anyone living in the house but anyone not resident was fair game to him. He was very sly in his approach. He would approach from the back or side silently then just before he got to his victim’s feet, he would give his high-pitched bark and nip at their heels. He didn’t succeed mostly because the bark was a giveaway. He did bite a poor old distant aunty/granny once. She came to visit, bearing a bag of fresh oranges for us and Bush had got out of the dog house. He especially loved black bags so when he spotted this, he attacked and she was too slow to react so he bit her on the calf. She had to go to hospital for a rabies shot and for years after, she would open the gate and peer in. She didn’t come into the house unescorted for a long time and even when we checked to make sure he was safely in the dog house, she was nervous every time she came. Naughty Bush!
My last dog was Mimi. He was the best looking of all. He was a hybrid of all above dogs probably. He looked a little like a collie but tall like Whiskey with a hint of Labrador. He was white with a few large brown spots and brown patches over his eyes. He was in Killer’s last litter. At this stage, we had 8 grown dogs plus 2 grey hounds we were watching for my uncle. We all knew we shouldn’t keep any of the new litter but that was all out of the window when I woke up to find Killer’s six babies. They were the fluffiest, cutest round little puppies. I fell in love with Mimi at first and I was determined to have him. I named him despite my mama’s discouragement. My sister too had designs on another so a 2nd was named. When they were 4 days old, one of the puppies fell ill and died in a day or 2. Over the next 2 weeks, 4 died. Killer and my sister and I were beside ourselves with grief. The best looking litter and they were dying one after the other. Prior to this, I don’t remember ever losing a puppy. Mimi and a girl puppy promised to my mama’s friend survived. My mama didn’t have the heart to take him after all the tears shed over the other puppies so he stayed. He was full of life and he grew rapidly. He was very boisterous and playful, restless like me so we were inseparable until he was old enough to move into the dog house. He would lick me wherever he could reach and race me. And he was always begging for a rub. He ate whatever I was eating and drank whatever I drank. He was the most loyal of all.
Sad ending to this love story: when we moved to England, my mama asked a neighbour to look after them and gave them money for food. I don’t know the full details of it but it was 2 years before we went back. By then, they were all gone. Presumably they all died. I felt bad then and still feel bad now. I suspect they pined to death because all the love was taken away and the house stood empty. I really hope their ends were quick and painless because they were true friends growing up. I like to believe that all dogs go to heaven. Because let’s face it, why wouldn’t they?