Friday, August 13, 2004

Living in the Zoo

Blanca, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
When I rented my house in the country, I had them put in a 2 meter chain link fence with the base secured in brick. A lot of people made the assumption that I did so for security, and in a way they were correct. But it was for the security of my neighbours more than for me. You see, I have the dubious honor of caring for 18 dogs. Fourteen of them live at my house and four of them have jurisdiction over the horse paddocks. A neighbour has fewer dogs, but since his consist of a Great Dane, a Napolitan Mastiff, and a bunch of shepherd crosses, we joke that he has more by kilo, while I have more by foot.

It was never my intention to have 18 dogs, believe me. We started out with two baladi dogs, Stella and Milligan, sisters that we rescued from the stables at Smouha Club in Alexandria. Most stables here have attached baladi dogs because the dogs provide security and help to keep down the rats. As well, the baladi dogs are smart and tough, rarely needing any veterinary work, so they are extremely low maintenance.

For about five years, the household consisted of the two dogs and my son's cat who retired to his bedroom in her disgust, never to emerge again. One spring after we'd moved to Cairo, my daughter and I went to Greece for her spring break. My son was on a school trip to visit the US with some other students and my husband was, as usual, working. As we were driving through the mountains in the northern part of the Pelopennese near Patras, we spotted a small gold dog sitting by the side of the road in the snow. There was no one near by, no houses, nothing, so we stopped the car and opened the door. We figured that if she got in, she was meant to be ours. Molly (as we named her) took one look and hopped in. We went to the nearest town, found a hotel and then a vet and we asked around. Everyone told us that someone had abandoned her there, so we gave her her shots, bought a collar and a leash, and Molly spent a jolly week with us in village hotels dining on grilled octopus. The poor thing had been starving to death and it took some delicate feeding actually to get her system working again. We flew her home to Egypt at the end of the trip to the surprise of my husband, who was also a dog lover. Molly got along great with the other two and was absorbed into the family.

A few years later, my husband was having problems with rats in his grain discharge silos in Alexandria, so he asked me to do some research on rat control without poisons. We looked into re-introducing falcons to the area, cats, and rat-hunting dogs. The dogs, American Rat Terriers, finally won out, and we imported a pregnant female Terra and a young male Bluto from breeders in the US as well as two other females later. It took us a while to get the Egyptian workers to relax around the pack that we built up, but Bluto was the consummate rat killer and a sweet friendly guy as well. We soon had a pack of 6 at the discharge terminal and I'd prepared another 6 for the soy bean crushing plant that was under construction. Unfortunately, when my husband died, I ended up with that pack at home and after a couple of unneeded litters, the population had soared. I was lucky to find homes for many of the pups, but when I moved to Abu Sir, I still had 8 Terriers, Stella (whose sister Milligan died of cancer about 3 years ago), Koheila a rescued dalmation with one paralyzed front leg, Molly who had gone blind, and two baladi dogs (Ganja and Anzac) at the paddocks with the horses, Then my brother in law, who took over as manager of the silos and who never liked dogs anyway, transferred the dog handlers to other jobs and I got the 5 left in Alex. That's how to get 18 dogs.

During all of this I had also gradually begun collecting rescued parrots. I started with Ali, the African Grey male that my children bought me in Alexandria, and the next to arrive was Mona another African Grey, a female this time. Not long after I found a trio of female Cuban Amazons huddled in a dry dusty cage and I brought them home. Finally, a friend asked if I could take in Fritzi who had pulled every feather out of his body, so we moved him in next door to Ali and Mona. Mona subsequently decided that she liked Fritzi better than Ali, though I can't imagine why as he has a filthy temperament, and she sneaked out of her cage into his one day. When I moved, I was able to build the birds big flight cages, 3 meter cubes, covered with palm branches for shade, and relatively cool in the summer as they get a great breeze.

My neighbours are fascinated, especially the children. They live with chickens, ducks, geese, goats, sheep, cows, water buffalo, donkeys.... but that many dogs and a bunch of birds that talk and whistle are amazing to them. And try as I might, I have trouble telling the children that the reason I have a fence to keep my dogs in is to protect their chickens and so on. Mine are not country dogs and they would find chicken hunting very entertaining...and for me very expensive.

The other day a little boy of about 7 years stood near the fence corner barking at the dogs to see their reaction. Naturally the racket brought me out of the house, so I talked to him to explain that this wasnt' such a great idea. He looked at me with his big brown eyes and said nothing. I went back inside only to hear an even greater racket, so I went back out on the verandah from where I saw young Magdy Ibrahim climbing the fence to perch on top. At that point one of the adults came by and hauled him down. Poor kid got the scolding of his life from his mother, but if he'd fallen it could have been disastrous.

Still, every day the kids come by and sometimes just sit under a tree in the field next door to watch the parrots in their cages and the dogs chasing the hoopoes and crows out of the garden. Just like a trip to the zoo.


gonedoneoverfinished said...

I have two rat terriers, and they are in fact excellent rat dogs, better than any cat since they dont feel the need to 'play' with their prey. In my house pretty much everything is prey since I dont have any rats, but they are very good at keeping all of the insects out which is good for me! :D

Loved the story!

kozzy411 said...

thats cool

Shoes said...

Oh, I'm so jealous! I love dogs but my husband isn't a fan. I had to plead for nearly two years to get my one. Now I want another one and I think it could cost me a limb. I have a Rhodesian Ridgeback, also know as the African Lion Hound and as my breeder told me, "Ridgebacks are like potato chips, you can't have just one." Boy was she right!

Short and Sweet said...

I think its great that you live in egypt!!!! do you get to see the pyramids alot? i wuz jw

SueB said...

How delightful to hear about your dogs and birds. The pictures of the birds have been quite interesting. How about pictures of the dogs?

I am a first-rate dog lover. We have an English Springer Spaniel (our second), and I had Jack Russell/rat terrier mix dogs when growning up.

I also love birds. We had a parakeet (budgie) who lived to be 10 years old. He had quite a personality and particularly loved to sing along with horn concerti. I cried a lot when he had to be euthanized.

So, how about more pictures?!

Penny said...

And I thought my four dogs were too many! I'm impressed by your devotion to your animals.

Cracked Chancla said...

Your dogs and birds must offer great companionship. I have to cats and would like to add a dog to the mix but I'm not sure how that will work out.

Santana said...

Wow! I would love to have as many dogs as you. I just love them.

Tiffany said...

i love dogs, but taking care of them is another story. u must be doing a great job!