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The doggie divide

13 December 2012
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

There is a definite cultural divide regarding the care of pets – it is the doggie divide. My perspective that pets are members of the family is different from my husband’s village/farm- influenced point of view.

Though in recent years, he has mellowed, even Norman the Cat feels it as the feline dares to walk between his legs and purrs while brushing against him. I am not quite sure that my husband realises that our cat does this ‘greeting’ just as an Emperor would recognise a favored servant.
Pet attitudes are another difference between my home life in Namibia and where I was raised in the USA. To be certain, many Namibian pets receive lots of love and good care. But, as an unscientific observer, I see a societal divide here.
It appears that many whites, foreigners and Namibians who have lived for significant periods abroad who have pets tend to elevate their value. They cry over them, call them their ‘babies’, allow them in the house, take them regularly to the vet, talk to them, kiss them, play with them, and generally anthropomorphize (give human traits to non-human objects) with glee.
Recently I took our pups to the vet for their 6-week puppy shots in preparation for them to be sold to various buyers. The bill was over N$1,000. One of my older Labradors needs arthritis medicine food and a tablet twice a day.
My husband often comments that he would never be able to explain to his mother in the North, spending that kind of money and giving medicines to a dog. She would never understand it. But for me, it’s quite normal. My Mom would never understand if I didn’t care for my pets in this way.
I have also observed that the quality of the treatment of pets is not necessarily a matter of money. I see Namibians with disposable income with the same kick-the-dog attitudes as a subsistence farmer in Omafo. I have seen people struggling with money work pet expenses into their tight budgets. Where there is a will; there is a way. All of this makes up a part of the doggie divide.
With my three Labrador retrievers, I believe in making sure my pets have the healthcare they need and have the quality of food that fits my wallet. I comb and brush them, wash them, make sure they have access to fresh, clean water all day long, de-worm and flea dip them, make sure they have teeth cleaning chews and buy toys for them. Playing with and walking your dogs is a great form of exercise and helps me in my weight-loss struggle.
Though I love animals, I have some limits. I don’t have dogs in the kitchen while I am cooking. I wash my hands after handling the dogs. I don’t allow them to lick me in the face or go close to our house guests (unless they want this), I never feed them food from the table and I never allow them on the furniture. Pet limits are specific to the preferences of the owner – you can’t really judge about how a person shows love to their pet.
My husband and I have an uneasy détente about dogs being in the house. That part of his village background stands, he objects vociferously to having dogs inside the house – ever.
For me, when I am working at home and trying to be productive and creative, I love having my dogs nearby. It’s strangely calming and helps me be productive. So, in my personal space areas, my dogs are there.
None of this applies to Norman the Cat. The Emperor goes where he wants, when he wants.
Adjusting cultural barriers about pets IS possible over time. When my husband thinks I am not watching, he pats the dogs’ heads and talks to them, particularly when he is in the garden and they follow him around with wagging tails. Surprisingly, he is an expert in training them and consistent at applying discipline and order. They accept him as their pack leader.
Still, I wish to apologise to the guys at LIC, the plumber, the City of Windhoek meter readers and the Boma electricians who can barely finish their work out of fear of our three large dogs. I pray that our gate never fails when the trash collectors are around – the dogs simply hate those guys. Some things will never change, even with time.
I have to laugh at myself sometimes even with my love of pets. I stand there in the store when I am buying dog or cat food wondering if my pet would prefer lamb flavor or chicken flavor or beef with vegetable flavor. Why do I do that? The dog is not going to look in my face and say: “Mom, I ate chicken all last week, can I get some lamb with vegetables tonight for dinner?”
There is one thing about our pets that sets off my husband completely. When you register your dogs at the City of Windhoek, they give you dog tags and list the name of your dog on the receipt and in the records. Our dogs are Apollo, Achilles and Artemis (we were into the ancient Greek thing…), so they would be listed as Apollo Asheeke and so on. He is not amused at the thought of his name being attached to a dog’s name.
I read a book that said that owners and dogs that stay together for a long time tend to start looking alike in small ways. While that thought is a bit scary, I have seen indications of this on a few occasions. I have seen people carrying little dogs that have the same hair style and color that they have. I have seen people with flat faces who own pug dogs, long-nosed people with dachshunds and the stiff-backed, rules-oriented people with German Shepherds. The fact that my Labradors are overweight, thump their tails to the beat of old school soul music and run around with endless enthusiasm makes me think there could be truth to the point at hand.
Cultures need to try to relax when it comes to pets. They are great and could help young people to learn responsibility for another living thing. They are excellent for the elderly who would be sitting alone otherwise. And they protect the family and the home well. There is no better home theft and fire alarm than an alert, territorial and loving dog.
Those who abuse animals need to stop. Once in the village, I saw a little girl child take a stick and beat dog in the head and throw large stones at it just because it walked too close to where we were sitting. The adults who also saw this made no reaction as if this kind of violence was OK. I put a stop to it because I believe that the abuse of the helpless is the first sign of low regard for life. That dog was God’s creation too.
The attitude of loving dogs when they are puppies and treating them like crap when they grow up is inhumane. Leaving a pet on its own when you go out of town, leaving a pet to forage for food on its own, allowing a pet to be in pain and not taking any step to assist – these are all actions done by people who need to be slapped.
Before you get a pet, look at your budget. Look at where you live. Dogs make messes and shed hair – are you ready for that? Dogs need to be trained – are you ready for that? If not, then don’t have a dog, buy a stuffed animal toy instead.