Ushering in the Year of the Dog

Dingoes are found in all Australian states. – Photo by Peripitus

A HAPPY and prosperous Chinese New Year to all readers and friends in Sarawak and Sabah from an elderly ‘dog’.

Yes, I was born in the Year of the Dog and will have a new grandson, as well as a dear Malaysian friend’s grandson born this year, although those two babies will be many thousands of miles apart. Hopefully they will have a better horoscope than mine.

It is said that a person born in the year of the dog is “loyal, just, and fair but can be selfish and headstrong”. Age, I might add, has mellowed me but a stubborn streak may emerge when challenged by idiotic comments from unthinking people.

Life with dogs

An old family photo of me, as a one-year-old child, shows me sitting on my grandmother’s lap with my family-dog, an Irish red setter most appropriately called ‘Paddy’, affectionately licking my feet!

From that day onwards, dogs have been an important part of my family life. With the demise of one dog in the household, another appeared. Each brought its loyalty, affection and yes, stubbornness at times.

There was ‘Monty’, a springer spaniel that my parents adopted from the Isles of Scilly, and then another ‘Paddy’ who was a crossbred spaniel/black Labrador and who absolutely loved our young children.

When he travelled on a train with my widowed mother for 10 hours to our then family home in the north of England, other passengers would ask her, “Why do you allow that dog to sit on a seat?” Mum’s apt reply was, “You’ve paid for your seat and I’ve paid for two seats!” End of argument.

It was my biggest mistake in life to blindly adopt a Lakeland collie from a rescue centre. A highly intelligent dog, I only found out later that he had been kept on a seaside hotelier’s roof as the hotelier claimed he smelled of sheep. Poor ‘Shep’ was not socialised and as a two-year-old dog when we took him into our household, only lived another two years.

He bit me savagely on two occasions within a week and had to be ‘put down’. I cried all the way back home from the vet’s, for I felt that I had failed him. Later, a very loving Irish red setter ‘Gemma’ responded to all school bells eager to lick the pupils, but sadly she died through sniffing inappropriately used herbicides by the school groundsman.

Our penultimate dog was ‘Bruno’, a rescue puppy of crossbred parentage, who was most faithful and loyal to not only my family but to the whole school community and especially two Malaysian girl boarders. He lived for 15 years. One day, one of the school’s boarding houses was invaded by teenage local lads and the young security guard called for my back up. He and I were taunted with their abuse and they asked us, “Where is your guard dog?”

I ushered them out onto the street, nipped into my house, put Bruno on his lead and told them that if they did not disperse, I would release my dog. Bruno, the gentlest of dogs, responded by snarling and growling at them in a way I had never heard before. Suffice to say the boys fled in fright!

Holly lies on the grass basking in the sun.

‘Holly’ – the Velcro dog

Holly is no newcomer to thesundaypost for she has been mentioned in several of my columns. Again, a rescue dog, we adopted her six years ago when she was four and a half years old. She was spayed and is a Hungarian pointer, a Vizsla.

She had lived in an urban environment up until we took her home. The most intelligent of all dogs I have ever owned, she understands a vocabulary of over 500 words and talks to me by whining. Whilst she is anti-social with most other dogs, her loving nature propels her 24kg to leap up on visitors to the house, planting her forepaws on their shoulders and licking them furiously!

She likes her nightly cuddle in an armchair and leaps up onto my lap to bury her head beneath my chin. She works like clockwork, knowing when exactly she needs feeding, walking and at night-time when she needs her ablutions. She has brought much joy and excitement to my family, even allowing our youngest grandson, almost two years of age, to sit with her in her bed and to prod her.

Holly’s sniffer nose and hunting ability comes to the fore when released from the lead and she has often caught grey squirrels and chased deer that have outrun her.

Why the Velcro dog? She follows every member of my household in their movements from room to room almost sticking to their legs. I pity any burglar attempting to break into my somewhat remote house for her paws will be first planted on their shoulders before she licks them to death!

Free ranging dogs

These are classified into two groups: urban and rural. The latter, kampung dogs, are neither wild nor feral, for they tend to be smaller and are seen alone or in pairs as opposed to a pack.

Ecologists believe that African and East Asian village dogs were the earliest to be domesticated. Often, we may misuse the word ‘feral’ as opposed to ‘stray’ when referring to free ranging urban dogs. Stray dogs are those usually lost or abandoned by their owners. Such dogs in the UK and Malaysia are easily ‘rounded up’ and placed in dog rescue centres, which are charitably financed.

Truly feral (from the Latin ‘ferus’ meaning wild) dogs have always lived apart from or escaped domestication. These animals are increasingly becoming urban dwellers and scavengers, hunting for food opportunities in packs.

Usually they scour urban rubbish bins, especially those in alleyways behind restaurants. Sadly, they are liable to attack cats and domesticated dogs and even those dogs’ owners. Their survival instinct comes to the fore and their viciousness is recorded.

India has the highest number of such dogs, amounting to many, many millions, and there, millions of people are attacked each year, resulting in at least 20,000 people dying from rabies.

A New Guinea singing dog howls melodiously. — Photo by RG Daniel

Truly wild dogs

Perhaps it was because I was born in the year of the dog that I have ‘snapped’ at people who have made idiotic and ill-conceived remarks in past years in formal meetings that I have chaired. Yes, some have described me as “a bit of a wild dog”.

One truly wild dog is the Australian dingo (Canis lupus dingo) which, behaviour-wise, is not unlike that of the European wolf but even more alike to the New Guinea singing or highlands dog (Canis hallstromi).

The latter is so called because of the melodious nature of its howl and trill! Today, in New Guinea and in some Australian states, these dogs have been classified on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as ‘vulnerable’.

Through DNA sampling, it has now been proven that during the Quaternary Ice Ages, when sea-levels were very, very low, these dogs migrated from Southern China, via Southeast Asia to New Guinea and thence to Australia using ‘land bridges’ across the seas.

Dingoes are found in all the Australian states but north of a line, roughly from Perth in the west to Brisbane in the northeast, there may be found the pure gene dingo populations. In the southwest and east southeast regions, most dingoes are hybrids, having bred with feral or stray dogs. For fear of dingoes attacking cattle or sheep, the South Australian state government set up ‘dingo proof fences’ and this system was followed in other states. Apart from lambs, dingoes tend only to scavenge dead cattle carcasses.

Rabies

I was once savaged by a German shepherd dog with 32 bite marks on my back as a nine-year-old child. I remember being given an anti-tetanus jab in a local hospital. Those bites came from a free ranging dog whose owners were forced by the police to have the dog put down. More and more people throughout the world need to be more responsible for their pet dogs.

To see pet dogs in Southeast Asian and European cities encaged in garden compounds by day, as their owners are at work, to be released at evening time to climb through gates and wander the streets to do ‘their ablutions’, frankly appals me.

What diseases can these dogs acquire from mixing with other strays and feral dogs? Have they shown any signs of wounds on their evening or daily escapades? Has its behaviour changed? These are the questions that, ostensibly, only the dog owner can answer. All pet dogs should be inoculated each year by a vet against infectious diseases.

On Dec 31, 2017, thesundaypost article ‘2017: Rabies outbreak’ wasn’t a surprise in Sarawak. In summary, this outbreak, starting from July 1, 2017 to the end of December, recorded 843 cases of dog-bites within a 30km-radius of the centre of Kuching. To date, six dog-bite victims, sadly, have died of rabies.

I rarely walk in Kuching but when I do, I bring a stout walking stick, and when walking my dog in England always bring a spiked walking sick with me to hit off other stray dogs or those whose owners cannot keep their dogs on a lead. Dogs keep us all fit and enliven our lives and I would never be without one! Happy New Year!

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