I received some very sad news last night, and I wanted to share it with you. I’d like to tell you about a very special dog called Duma, and how we met and fell in love with him. Pour yourself a cup of tea, and pull up a chair, if you like.
In December last year, we spent Christmas in Windhoek with Richard’s mom Lissi and his sister Tanya. Their neighbours across the road asked us to keep an eye on their large dog Duma, while they spent Christmas and New Year at the coast.
I had never met Duma before. From the volume and depth of his bark, whenever anyone walked past their house, I just knew that he was A BIG DOG. So I was a little apprehensive when we crossed the road that first afternoon to give him a portion of canned food and some pellets, and to fill up his water bowl.
My fears were completely unfounded.
Yes, he was definitely large, and full of excited energy. He bounded towards us on soft paws, effortlessly crossing the lawn, looking every inch a dog that could gallop for miles across the wide open veld. But, despite his size, he wasn’t overbearing, and he didn’t leap up on us. There was no aggression in him whatsoever, just delight that we had come to visit him and to be in his company for a while.
While Lissi spoke gently with him, reassuring him that our intentions were friendly, and that we had come bearing food, he padded softly around her, his tail wagging. I noticed that his tail formed a circle, when it was up, which was quite beautiful. I had never seen a dog like that before. Lissi also didn’t know what breed he was. Actually, we thought he was a ‘Mix-pickel’, or a blend, of Alsatian, Retriever, and something else undefinable, but it turned out that he was an Anatolian shepherd dog!
Duma waited patiently, nose quivering in anticipation, while she cleaned his food bowl and spooned a generous portion of canned food into it. She added a handful of large pellets from the bag near a pile of blankets that must have been his bed. Even when she placed the bowl on the ground, he didn’t charge at it, but waited for her to indicate that it was okay. And then he threw himself wholeheartedly into the task of eating, his tail going side to side, as he pushed his nose into the bowl, moving it across the ground, chomping and chewing with gusto.
Meanwhile, I had cleaned out his water bowl, which was dirty, and filled it up with fresh water from the tap, placing it in the shade of the carport, because the blazing summer sun would have heated up the water too much.
When he realised that we were heading back to the gate so that he could eat in peace – some dogs, after all, get very possessive about their food and we didn’t want to stress him – he stopped eating immediately and followed us to the gate. His tail drooped and his head sank, and he looked every bit the dejected dog who was about to be abandoned, just when he thought we would be staying to play a while.
I stroked his head, as he trustingly nuzzled his nose into my other hand and pushed his body against my legs. I reassured him that we would stop by again a little later. But he looked so sorrowful, that it was very hard to leave.
Over the next few days, we visited him several times a day, giving him food and filling up his water bowl, and playing with him. He was a true gentle giant. His golden-brown eyes were soft and kind, and the black mask around his eyes and nose made him look very dashing and handsome. He had the softest fur, and even though it made me sneeze, I liked to wrap my arms around him and hug him. He didn’t mind at all. He was starved of affection and company, and it was the hardest thing to leave him on his own in that yard.
One day, we walked over as usual with our can of dog food, and called out his name as we opened the gate.
We looked everywhere, but he was gone. He had someohow managed to escape from the yard, by leaping over a tall vibrecrete fence, with strands of electric wire running along the top! We found the spot where he must have leapt over into the neighbour’s garden – though how he succeeded in squeezing through the gap between the wires without getting hurt was baffling. Once he was in the neighbour’s garden, their front fence was a little lower, so that must have been where he got out.
We panicked, of course.
After all, he had been left in our care!
We walked up and down the neighbouring streets, calling his name, knocking on doors and ringing bells, asking passers-by and questioning residents. One neighbour confirmed that, yes, she had seen Duma in the street earlier that day, just nosing around, looking very pleased with himself.
But where was he now? Where had he disappeared to? Had someone picked him up and taken him to the SPCA? We phoned the local office and gave them a description, begging them to phone us if they heard anything. Or had he been ‘dognapped’ by someone, was he now tied up in someone’s yard, perhaps in the surrounding townships, to be used for dog fighting, or some equally horrible fate? He was such a beautiful and strong dog, that this was quite possible.
With a heavy heart, we phoned the owners to give them the news. Much to our surprise, they were completely unfazed.
“Oh, don’t worry, he does that sometimes. He’ll come back when he wants to,” they said.
In the meantime, I had done some research on the internet to identify Duma’s breed, and we had determined that he was an Anatolian shepherd dog. These dogs are indeed bred for a life out in the veld, to roam with the herds and flocks:
“The Anatolian was developed to be independent and forceful, responsible for guarding its master’s flocks without human assistance or direction. These traits make it challenging as a pet; owners of dogs of this breed must socialize the dogs to turn them into appropriate companions. They are intelligent and can learn quickly but might choose not to obey. … These dogs like to roam, as they were bred to travel with their herd and to leave the herd to go hunt for predators before the predators could attack the flock.”
So being stuck in a yard on his own, with no company, must have been unbearable for poor Duma.
For four days, from 29 December to 01 January, we repeatedly roamed the streets on foot and by car, extending our search beyond our neighbourhood of Hochland Park into the surrounding areas, but there was no sign of Duma anywhere. On New Year’s Day, we received a call from someone whom we’d asked to keep a lookout for Duma. He had seen a large dog fitting Duma’s description running on the ‘middelmannetjie’ (the central reservation) on one of the large roads out of central Windhoek.
We drove straight out to the identified area, and circled all the surrounding streets, asking people everywhere whether they had seen a dog fitting Duma’s description. We got absolutely nowhere.
The next day, which was Saturday, 02 January, the SPCA just up the road in Maerua Park called. A large dog had been brought in by people living in Hochland Park, a few roads away from our house. They wanted us to come and check whether this was Duma.
When we arrived at the SPCA Duma recognised us immediately. His face lit up, his tail whipped side to side, and he panted with happiness. While Lissi and Richard went into the office to sort out the formalities and to get the contact details of the wonderful people who brought him back, I hugged Duma, who was just soooo happy to see us.
Then we had to get him into the car somehow, which was a little tricky, because he wasn’t used to driving. We didn’t know how he would react, whether he would panic or vomit with excitement, so I sat at the back next to him, stroking him and trying to keep him steady and calm. He was amazing. He didn’t LIKE the drive, but he sensed that we were taking him home and that we didn’t mean any harm.
He had, however, rolled in something unmentionable, and stank to high heaven. Perhaps he thought it was a perfume that would attract the ladies, but MAN, did it STINK! And now, so did I, because I’d been holding onto him to stop him falling over in the car. But, honestly, I didn’t care. I was just so excited and relieved that he was safe. A good shower would wash off anything!
When we got home, we took him straight into our yard. And we gave him a wash! Much to our amazement, he didn’t put up a fight at all, as Tanya covered him with soapsuds, rubbing and scrubbing to remove whatever decaying matter it had been that he had applied to his ruff with such enthusiasm. He stood patiently, head hanging down, while we scrubbed him clean, and then rinsed off all the dog shampoo with copious amounts of water. As soon as we released him, he shook himself vigorously, so we all got a nice little shower too.
As a reward – and a welcome-home present, we gave him a large steak bone. Although he was ecstatic, he again surprised us with his complete lack of greed. He gently took the bone from Lissi’s hand, and placed it on the grass patch in front of the house. He licked it once, then came back to say ‘thank you’ to everyone, by nudging us and giving a quick lick, and only when we reassured him that the bone was his to enjoy, did he settle down and start chomping and chewing.
We fetched his food and water bowls and pellet dispenser from the neighbours and placed them inside the covered stoep. We were planning to keep him on our property that night, rather than risking another escape.
Once he was vaguely dry, I got a brush, and brushed his thick coat. Oh, he loved it. He stood patiently, eyes half closed in bliss, as I brushed him all over, from the top of his head, all along the strong back, and down the legs, and under the soft white belly, and particularly around his ruff, where had been so filthy. He didn’t move an inch, until I was finished. Then he gave my hand a quick lick to say thank you.
You just couldn’t help yourself loving him back.
That night, we left him on the stoep, just outside the front door. Although there is a grid of security fencing all the way around the stoep, we had left the one gate open so that he could access the garden, if he needed to do his business.
That was a mistake.
We slept rather restlessly, and, when we got up very early the next morning, Lissi said that Duma had escaped, by jumping straight through/over the razor wire that runs all along their fence. It must have happened in the middle of the night. She’d been out looking for him already, but hadn’t found him anywhere. We were worried, because there was fur all over the razor wire – we could only pray that he wasn’t badly hurt.
As soon as it was a decent hour to phone anyone, we called the friendly couple who had found him the last time. Duma had apparently wandered into their yard – the only one in that street without a high fence – and simply decided that he liked it there! They had looked after him for a couple of days, until after New Year’s, thinking that his owners might be away, and not wanting to leave him at the SPCA over the holidays.
Much to our relief, they had Duma with them! He must have run straight there. We brought him home with us, and decided that Duma obviously needed some exercise! So Lissi took out the old collar and lead that had belonged to her previous dog, and we took Duma for a walk.
He was so well-behaved!
He clearly wasn’t used to being taken for walks, but he didn’t pull – except when he really wanted to check out another dog who was jumping against a fence, barking loudly at him. With his size and body weight, he could easily have ripped the lead out of my hand and run off, but he didn’t. He stayed close by our side, sniffing here and there, tail up with excitement, padding along effortlessly on his large paws.
Unfortunately, our holiday in Namibia was coming to an end. The very next day, the 4th of January, we had to leave Windhoek and head back south to Cape Town.
It was with a very heavy heart, that we said goodbye to Duma that morning. He had snuck his way into my heart, and I really didn’t want to leave him behind. I had a horrible feeling that I might not see him again.
Over the last few months, we often asked how he was. Last night, Lissi told us that he had – apparently – developed cancer, and that his owners had put him down.
His death has left a big, Duma-shaped hole in my heart.
Even though I only knew him for so few days, he was – to me at least – that ultimate one-in-a-million dog. No attention-seeking yapper, demanding to be entertained, he was the perfect combination of strength and courage, gentleness and playfulness.
I hope that, wherever he is now, if anywhere, he is running around in the open veld, splashing across streams, scrambling up kopjes, surveying his land, protecting his flock against predators, and having a whale of a time!