Bloody dogs!

Doberman caricature

Funnily, as a young girl growing up un the 90s in a suburb not too far from the nefarious Joburg CBD, I was more afraid of walking the dog in our neighbourhood than I was of the occasional paedophile/sadist/stealer/trafficker. I had a plan for that. I didn’t have a plan for the snarling black Cujos that lived on Katoomba Street. South African dogs are trained to protect. Even a miniature Poodle or a Pomeranian, or that one Paris Hilton kept in her bag – a Chihuahua! – is likely to pull on its lead to attempt a nip at your ankle.  Naturally, there are exceptions; Casey, Topsy, Phoebe, Beth, Samantha, Maxine—dogs that wouldn’t hurt a fly. Wade, on the other hand (a white Bull Terrier with skin cancer on his nose) was not a dog to mess with. Maggie and Rocky (dogs, not people) found out the hard way.

Wade was our family dog years after we moved from number 18 in Kensington. He was thick and thuggish, and harmless as long as you were white. If you were black—your best bet was to run like Forrest. The dog had issues. He was abused in a previous life; rescued from torment, cared for and rehabilitated…but emerged a racist. He bit Patience. Twice. She was a brave woman to share a house with Wade. But she had her ways, her means of survival—like the bricks under her bed to fend off the Tokoloshe. When you spend your whole life fighting to simply be, a dog bite ain’t no thing. Wade and Patience had a lot in common—GRIT. There were times when Wade forgot he was a racist. Dogs are pack animals and Bruce (who took pity on the skinny, wounded creature that was dealt a bad hand in life) was boss; Wade didn’t mess with him or us but if we were not around, Patience was boss—she was free to roam and Wade would have killed for her. But one sniff of his family and he’d have killed her. He had issues—PTSD surely one of them.

The first time I saw a Bull Terrier in London, he was frolicking in a park—no lead; his big bat ears pricked up as he leapt into the air catching imaginary butterflies. This public display of doggish exuberance reminded me of my otherness in a world where dogs don’t live on the offensive. Dogs ride the bus and the train, they don’t bark at passers-by (too much), owners pick up their poo on the pavement (mostly) and there are actual bins for it, and whilst the attachment parenting thing is, like, the most hilarious form of dog-raising I have ever come across (puppies in papooses and co-sleeping until the dog can handle life out of bed never mind out of the house), dogs live freely. In this world, Wade would have been exterminated for his aggression; it wasn’t his fault but also, he was a danger—and a killer. Maybe there should be a prison for dogs. Although South Africa does a fair job of confinement: leads, bars and the likelihood of death by poisoning (incapacitating dogs to enable theft) has got to get a dog down, no matter how much it is loved and adored.

The Cujos on Katoomba might not have looked anything like the rabid, psycho St Bernard from Stephen King’s horror story); in fact, they were Dobermans (like the ones in Up or Dean Koontz’s Intensity) but they were equally rabid. Snarling and frothing, primed to launch off the wall where they stood (yes, that would be on the wall) and hurl themselves at me and my pet Pug that afternoon in spring. It was entirely possible. I knew immediately when they had spotted us; the Cujos went berserk. I froze. And tried to think past the I-am-going-to-eat-your-heart-out-if-you-so-much-as-breathe noises that were emanating from the barking banshees above me to the right. I reasoned: a small white girl? Nah. Unless these days anyone was considered a threat (it seemed to be where the psychology of the country was heading). I was sure they were after Pug; small in stature, large in temperament—I’m guessing?

There was no way I was going to run—the Cujos were likely to torpedo straight into my throat initiating certain death so I picked up Pug (not wanting her to die either), covered her with the jacket I was wearing, grabbed a stick from the ground (you know, to poke their eyes out or assegi their asses if they came near). I proceeded past the deadly Cujo-esque Dobermans—on the other side of the road, of course. They shrieked, growled and spat at me the entire time but I made it. Katoomba: henceforth, known as Road of Carnivorous Canine—to be avoided at all costs. The dogs had the rights on this turf.

I had a similar experience years later when an Alsatian jumped over a garden wall and came after me and Pug (poor dog). There were no sticks lying on the ground this time (Croydon has no trees—not at all good for ad hoc weapon retrieval) and I figured that playing dead probably wouldn’t work so I clambered up the stone slab of a wall belonging to the nearest house and swung poor Pug up by the lead, balancing precariously whilst praying fervently that the dog would lose interest. It did, eventually. Bloody dogs.


Author & Storyteller : Andrea Zanin

Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.


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