Wednesday, May 19, 2021

A Brotherhood Among Dogs

Our pack of thirteen dogs has its rules. Some of the rules they get from me, like "no growling in the house" but some of them come from the boss dogs. JC brought his girlfriend Marte from a dirt road next to us to the farm last summer. She came in all confidence and sureness, thinking that she was going to take over control with JC, but Calypso, who rules the house, was  having none of it. There weren't any serious fights but there was a lot of posturing and I scolded Marte for not paying attention to the pack structure. Gradually, she settled down and came to an agreement with Calypso that Marte will be a boss outside the house at night, while Calypso is sleeping on my bed ensuring that I can't sneak out. It all gets a bit Byzantine. About the time that Marte was adjusting to pack life, a new dog showed up. Peter Pan (just Peter for short, or F***ing Peter when I find him alseep on my dining room table) is young enough to be Marte's son, but we have no real idea. We managed to give him a rabies shot while he was being petted by Mariam, but he won't stick around during the day... at least not until recently. He is friendly but shy and sometimes can be petted but he's not keen on bathing as we found out the other day.

Our first clue that all was not well with Peter came when I found him asleep in a dark corner in my bathroom at about 9 am. I went to pet him, which normally is an indication in the morning that he should get a move on, but he just rested there. He'd lost weight, had no interest in food or water and simply wanted to sleep. Our vet and I conferred, and since he is wild, getting him a blood test or something was not going to be manageable, so we opted for giving him a wormer and a shower with shampoo containing sheep dip to get rid of fleas and ticks. He did not like the shower. As soon as he had finished soaking absolutely everything in the bathroom, he was gone. But he was cleaner and had been wormed. 

Peter didn't come to my house that night. Instead he went to Beit Renenet where a family are renting the ground floor to do some civilised camping with their six kids while they consider the possibility of moving into our neighbourhood. JC, as he is a bit starved for the company of children with visits to the farm being still very slow between Covid, heat, and other obligations, has adopted the children and is generally over there supervising them, coming to the house for cuddle breaks and something to eat. The family told me that he, Marte and Peter were spending the night in the garden, playing with children before they go to bed and sleeping on the grass. They had also noticed that Peter had lost weight, so we asked them to try to give him a Vibramycin tablet in a piece of meat or cheese every 8 hours, as the best bet on what is wrong with Peter is that he's contracted one of the tick-borne diseases, virtually all of which respond to that medication. They told me how they had decided to give some food to Peter the night before and that JC's behaviour was really remarkable. They sent me photos that they had taken.

In the first photo at the beginning of the post, they had put a plate on the ground in front of Peter, and JC came over to check it out. Marte and BenBen were also there and wanted to have some. But JC began growling at them to keep their distance. Peter approached the dish in an extremely submissive stance and JC allowed him access. 

While JC watched over him, Peter cleaned up the dish of food. The other dogs just lay on the grass watching them. Our neighbours were fascinated. They had expected to see a fight break out over the food but no one challenged JC at all. JC also didn't attempt to eat from Peter's plate. One would imagine that he realised that Peter really needed the food. All of our dogs, Peter as well when he comes to the house, have access to food 24/7 because we have a dog door and leave trays of kibble near the water cooler where they can eat whenever they are hungry. Lately one of the farm rats has discovered that he/she is heavy enough to push through the flap of the dog door and I suspect is coming in to snack, so I believe that I will take up the trays just before I go to bed and close the buffet. Most of the dogs don't eat at night anyway, and if Peter is going to come over, he comes earlier.
Once Peter had finished his food, the dogs all relaxed on the lawn in the coolness of the night. Our daytime temperatures are about 35 C on good days and You-Don't-Want-To-Know C on the bad ones, but because we are close to the desert and not surrounded by asphalt and concrete, the nights are generally comfortable.

The next morning Peter was still there sleeping in a semi-enclosed area next to our oven, and the family began giving him his medication in a piece of bread and cheese. He stayed in their garden all day yesterday and was clearly feeling better. 
We  also had a traveler join us on her way hopefully to South Africa yesterday. She's a Dutch woman traveling in her car with her German Shepherd companion and she'd contacted me to see if she could camp here. Her dog is a spayed female, so I thought that the odds would be good that the dogs of the Renenet garden would accept her. JC, naturally, had to inspect her first, after which Marte, BenBen, and Ursula came over. Kaira, our Dutch dog guest, is fluent in dog and has a lot of experience in meeting strangers, so she handled things very well. I stayed around talking to Saskia while they all got acquainted. Interestingly, it was Peter who was most interested in playing with the new girl. JC is fine with the visitors, but won't let either Saskia or Kaira come anywhere near the children. He is fiercely protective of children without regard to whether we have requested it or not. Probably things will be even calmer today.

The longer I live with my dogs the more appreciation for the complexity of their social lives grows.

copyright 2021 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Living in a Dog Pack in Egypt ... Transitions to Now



I started writing Living in Egypt in 2003 when I was still living in our family home in Maadi, a nice suburb of Cairo. I had a pack of dogs at the time but I don't know how organised they were. Since about 1998, I haven't really had less than almost a dozen dogs at a time, but a dog pack is very different from a bunch of dogs. A dog pack is a social organisation run by dogs for the welfare and benefit of the dogs, and it may or may not be associated with humans. There are probably more dog packs on farms or homes that can tolerate a lot of dogs than we are aware of, just as it wasn't until about 2006 or 2007 that I became aware of the fact that I lived with a dog pack.

My education about dog packs began with the sandy beige fellow sleeping on the dog bed at the left above. His name was Finn and he was about 3 or so in the photo. I don't know where he came from but he appeared in the food tray, eating kibble as fast as he could while all the other dogs looked on approvingly. When he first came, we had Morgana, a female Great Dane, Koheila, a Dalmation, and Terra, my oldest American Rat Terrier, who were mainly in charge of the dogs. Koheila and Terra were both exceptionally intelligent dogs, especially Koheila. She was partially crippled but very vocal and would bark orders to the other dogs and would often come into the house if I was inside to announce visitors. Gradually, as Finn matured and the old ones died, he took over the pack with astonishing organisation.

Not long after JC joined us, a gardener who was also working as a night watchman in the villa next door let his children adopt a puppy from the street. This was Rocky (above). This was before we had built a wall between our land and the garden next door and the children used to tie Rocky to a small tree near the fence between us with a string that was so tight that it gave him scars which he carries today. My staff would put their hands through the fence to untie Rocky, hoping secretly that he would take revenge on the children who left Rocky covered in scars and with a short tail that had been amputated with a mattock. No amount of talking to the gardener and his family could help Rocky, but after a while the house was sold and the gardener's family left, abandoning Rocky, who promptly came to our gate where he waited patiently for me to let him come in. Finn was still young and not so pleased with the idea of another male dog his age, so when we did let Rocky in, Rocky took off to the far end of the farm by the horse paddock and ever so slowly worked his way back towards the house. It took him months to actually approach my home an over a year to be able to come inside. Meanwhile, he very gently got to know Finn and after a year or so he was Finn's second in command, his "wingman". Despite his heritage, which clearly includes mastiffs and pitbulls, and his history, Rocky has been with us for over 10 years and has never lost his temper with anyone at all. He is now, after Finn's passing, the alpha male emeritus, and all of the dogs defer to him and pay canine obeisance whenever they come into the garden or house and find him resting.

This photo of my canine supervisors was taken before Finn's death. He is trailing behind a bit, I suspect more for the ability to watch the others than due to disability. He was in quite good shape until he decided that  he'd had enough and was ready to leave when he was about 14 years old. He had also taken on the training of Calypso, the very dark brindle mastiffy baladi dog to my left. He often would correct her more firmly than the others and he was watching her carefully checking that her behaviour was correct. Additionally, and a few times to my painful discomfort, he corrected my behaviour towards her, as she was at a difficult age and was pushing boundaries, much like a human teenager. Twice when he clearly thought that I was being too rough on her scolding her for misbehaving I got a sharp nip on my butt. In the photo, Rocky is at my right hand, while Rosa our Saluki is in the middle. She was rescued from a situation where she and her brother were receiving insufficient food and care when they were quite young. Her brother had many health issues and only lived to be about two, but Rosa stayed with us until she was almost four last summer, and decamped to Germany with a lovely family with two little girls where she could be what she most loved, the pampered only dog in a largely female household. While she was here, there was a bit of an uneasy rivalry between Rosa and Calypso, both of whom felt that they owned me exclusively. Bedtimes involved quite a bit of diplomacy as both young ladies wanted to sleep under the covers on either side of me, as neither has any sort of undercoat and they both get quite cold at night.


At the same time that Finn was taking on the training of Calypso, he was also pushing to have JC, on the right, take on more responsibility. Often he would be in the garden and if someone came to the farm gate, he would bark sharply, and Calypso and JC, or perhaps one of them only, would go to check on the arrival. As Finn's wingman, Rocky was never really taken in hand by Finn before his death. I suspect that they all knew much more than we did about the transition. Finn had brought JC into the farm one day when he found the pup, who was about a year or so younger than Calypso, trying to dig under the farm gate. My initial concern with JC was that perhaps he had some Huskie blood in him due to his colouring. To my point of view, this would be less than optimal because of the abundance of thick hair on that breed, which can make life miserable in the summer. When JC was about 6 months old, I began to notice some rather odd behaviours in him. One of them, was a relatively sudden aversion to a direct gaze. Most dogs are quite comfortable with a direct gaze, but wolves and coyotes are much less comfortable. In addition, rather abruptly, his body language with the other dogs changed in some odd ways, including odd very submissive postures when greeting the older dogs, and then he taught the other dogs to howl. Around this time an Egyptian friend who is quite knowledgeable about canines was visiting and commented that JC didn't seem to speak the local dog dialect all that well, which was leading at times to misunderstandings between him and some of the other dogs. There are wolves in Egypt, most of whom live in the desert where they largely hunt rodents and scavenge near the trash dumps. I had seen them myself briefly while riding in the desert near us and this thought sent me to search for the few images of Egyptian wolves on the internet. There are not that many, but I have known friends who also had found themselves with wolfdogs due to mates between some of the village dogs living along the desert's edge and the wolves hiding out there. Egyptian wolves quite naturally do not have the thick furry coats of the wolves of the northern hemisphere and are very much similar to JC. Not having anyone to do a DNA test, we assume on the basis of behaviour that he likely is part wolf.

When Finn decided that he was done with living it was a shock to us. He'd been fine in the morning but by mid afternoon he was clearly tired and not really interested in interacting with anyone. He was of a good age, and also a dog who, unlike Calypso who loves a car ride, had no intention of visiting any doctors. We have a canine vet at the other end of the farm and when Finn caught him leaving his clinic after a tough evening trying to perform a blood transfusion on a young dog carrying a plastic bag with some bloody rags in it, Finn decided that the vet was clearly The Enemy and not to be tolerated. Having a clinic onsite is great, but any time someone had to visit the vet for some stitches, for a spay/neuter, Finn had to come along and check out the clinic. He would then wait outside the door until we emerged successfully and walk us home. If he caught the vet on his own, he was definitely not welcoming an I was always relieved that we never lost a dog on the operating table. There were a couple of dogs who had to be euthanised in their old age with catastrophic issues, but for that the vet came to the house and somehow Finn understood the gravity of the situation and made allowances. 

Finn chose to lie down on the lawn near one of our mango trees and essentially stopped paying any attention to any of us. The dogs would come individually to check on him, but there was little response. He did not give any signs of pain or distress so I just let him be. He died in the morning and the entire pack watched the gardeners dig a deep grave in the corner of the garden near a pomegranate tree where he liked to jump the wall to go greet visitors. The dogs were all extremely quiet for a few days, didn't even bark at people arriving at the gate. No one howled for almost ten days. We were all curious as to how the pack was going to take the passing of the leader.  Gradually, Rocky began to quietly take charge and direct Calypso and JC who would spend a bit more time together than they ordinarily would. Both of them became more solicitous in their greetings of Rocky as well. None of the dogs questioned the change in the power structure. Oddly enough as well, none of the dogs jumps over the wall from Finn's grave.

copyright 2021 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Watching Peter Domesticate Himself

 One of the things about Corona has been the fact that the focus of life has changed enormously for everyone. People I would never have expected to have baking skills have been turning out some astonishing loaves of sour dough. One family got an egg incubator and hatched a few duck and chicken eggs that they got from the farm. I have found myself paying more attention to the social lives of my dogs this year as the pack at the farm seems to have attained some sort of maturity. It was formed initially by the incomparable Finn, who passed his authority on to JC and Calypso, with Rocky acting as regent. One of my fantasies in creating the farm was to have a space where I could do some of the ethological studies that had interested me in graduate school. I must admit that between my own busy life and a certain level of human myopia, it wasn't until Finn was getting on that I realised that I had a self-determining dog pack to look at.

Last spring, a friend of mine was looking for a couple of dogs to live with his sheep and goats at his new farm. He'd managed to find a livestock guardian dog that someone had mistakenly brought to Egypt as a pet later realising that the dog was going to be far too massive for a garden. Someone had brought me a baladi pup at the same time as I'd gotten our Great Dane pup, and while they were great friends while young, the baladi was one of the really deeply feral dogs who, while he could be very sweet on occasion, was not at all focused on relationships with humans, and was only really polite with dogs much larger than himself. He and Fulla, the guardian dog got to know each other on neutral territory at a nearby boarding kennel and have become a perfect match. She is a lot larger than he is and he is happy living with his enormous lady friend where he doesn't have to interact with people all the time.  We rarely re-home dogs, but this one worked out.


Later this summer, two of my male dogs began jumping over one of our garden walls to frolic in the dirt road by the farm with a female baladi dog. Eventually, almost as if they were offering her protection, they coaxed her into coming into the farm and joining them. For a street dog she was in good shape, not too thin or too insect infested, but she has gotten quite sleek in the past few months. She seemed to be accustomed to humans around her and was easy to handle, so we gave her all her shots just to be sure, and Marte settled into life at the farm. At least this way, the boys weren't jumping out of the garden, a feat that was not inconsiderable since the walls are about 3 meters high. When puppy season started, Marte's behaviour changed and the boys, all of them, were all much more interested in her, despite the fact that all of our dogs are neutered. We had courtship going on at all hours and all over the farm. There were plenty of times when I was quite relieved that we had no child visitors to observe the festivities. It was time to check to see if Marte had been spayed, which it turned out that she had been...partly. Someone had removed the uterus and left the ovaries, which were in turn rather inflamed and one of them was encysted, making Marte quite grouchy. Life returned to normal of sorts once her plumbing problems were sorted, except for Peter. Peter was a totally feral baladi dog that had been consorting with Marte outside the wall and began coming into the farm while Marte was experiencing a false heat.


Peter was interesting. He was very polite, never caused any trouble with the other dogs, and although he never showed any interest in getting to know the humans here, he also showed no aggression towards us. Most of the time he would come at night, play with our dogs and Marte and then leave. Again, the sense from the other dogs was that they were offering the protection of the farm to Peter, to the extent that one morning I found him fast asleep on one of the dog beds in the living room. He took off quickly when he awoke to see me there. The girls told me that usually he would sleep near my house and raise an alarm if any of them came over for something at night. He seemed to feel that I needed an extra level of protection.

Lately his visits are more frequent, and he's taken up an evening residence on my back porch overlooking the garden. Occasionally I hear a warning woof from Calypso and BenBen who guard me at night while snuggling under the covers of my bed and I suspect that Peter has come to the dog food dishes that are in the hallway outside my door. The girls have told me that they have seen him scooting out the dog door if they come in early which makes it seem that he has been comfortable enough to join JC, Marte, and Rocky on the living room dog beds. The young dogs sleep in the girls' house for the most part. Mariam, who is our official dog whisperer, has been gradually working on getting within petting distance because if he is going to be hanging around our dogs, he needs to get a rabies shot at some point. We aren't terribly concerned about vaccinations for corona, lepto, and parvo because he is about a year old and if he hasn't died from these things yet. he isn't likely to. But getting a rabies shot is important for him and our dogs as well.

While Marte was at least partially accustomed to human company, and I've had the experience of taking Rocky into the pack from a totally abusive situation, Peter is our first completely feral dog to come to us as an adult, and it is fascinating to see how this is going to work out.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, December 18, 2020

They Are Talking But Are We Listening?

 One of the things that I was intrigued by in graduate school was how communication could work between humans and animals. Sadly, I was studying at the University of Waterloo where the social psychology department was entirely given over to the game playing, semi deceitful variety of lab experimentation. There were no animals involved with this and I had serious doubts as to whether these studies really were telling us anything about human beings as well. This didn't make me a lot of friends in the department and I ended up leaving with my MA and my sanity, to go teach in community colleges and raise a couple of kids. When my children were still in elementary school we moved to Egypt as I'd had enough shoveling snow on my own in Toronto while their father was spending most of the winter in Alexandria. Not long after we moved to Alex, a family who had children at the French school with our children offered us a baladi dog, telling us that they were sorry but she simply was too stupid to deal with. When we went to meet her, we found that Pepsi was being kept on a balcony while an extremely annoying little poodle was living in the house. The family was upset that when they let Pepsi off the balcony to go through the living room and down the stairs to the garden to pee, she sometimes did it in the living room. Personally, I didn't think that this was a mark of stupidity but it was clearly a statement of territory.  Pepsi turned out to be one of the smartest dogs I'd ever met. She settled right into our home, which had a garden and we all adored her.

If we were out for a while and came home, she always greeted us with a call of "Haroo", which was remarkably similar to our "Hello", and when my husband and I had to go out at night and would leave one of his employees to be at the house with the kids, Pepsi would station herself just outside the children's bedroom doors, so that whoever was there could go to the front door, the kitchen, or the bathroom, but there was no way in hell they could go near the children. Best babysitter I'd ever had.  When she vanished one day after a move of houses, we were all devastated and spent weeks searching for her. After a month or so one of the baladi dogs at Smouha Club gave birth to a litter and I promised the children that we would take one of her pups. The day that we went to pick up a husky little brown female we found that someone had taken the mother to their farm and the pups were scattered throughout the stables. We found a white one with a black face and took her home despite the fact that we had wanted her sister. When we saw her sister a few days later, the contrast between the clean well fed pup and the hungry dirty one was too much, so we took her home as well with the spoken intention of finding a home for her. Like many people I had never had more than one dog at a time in my life. That was my introduction to pack life because Stella and Milligan were with us until their death many years later and following that I would never consider having just one dog.

It's been twenty-five years now that I have had multiple dogs living with me and over time our relationship has changed. I have recently been wondering if the change had something to do with changes in me or changes in the dogs, or whether I'm just beginning to notice the changes. One of these changes has been the increase in vocalisation between me and some of the dogs living with me. One of the first dogs, other than Pepsi, to do a lot of talking to me was Koheila, a rescued Dalmation who likely had been imported from the Ukraine and landed up at our home in Maadi and then moved out to the farm with me. She would come and tell me when someone was at the front door, would greet friends coming to visit with vocalisation, and so on. At the time I was amused by it and I noticed that it seemed to be quite purposeful, but it was just Spots being weird. When the pack was firmly founded by Finn at the farm, Koheila was still around giving orders and chatting with the other dogs and myself, and not too suprisingly, Finn became a very verbal dog himself. In his later years he would sometimes argue with me about actions I might take with dogs in the pack if he disapproved. It was never disrespectful, but his intention was very clear. His vocalisations would run the gamut from affectionate mumbles, to warning growls, to sharp barks of concern if he wanted my attention right away.

My current pack was largely set up and formed by Finn. I rarely have gone out to look for a dog to live with us. Most of them have arrived at the front gate and been invited in by the dogs. Rocky was one dog who came to us as an abused adult when the night watchman at the villa next door was fired and abandoned him. He lay down in front of our gate for three days, never leaving, and overcame my concern that he might be a danger to the children who visit us. Finn's successor, JC, was attempting to dig under the front gate when Finn pulled him in and introduced him to the pack. I thought that was a bit odd at the time, but I have learned that it didn't scratch the surface of oddness. I can joke that there is a sign only visible to dogs outside saying "Safe Haven" or something similar, but I've begun to think that it is more complex than that. Just lately, JC and Rocky began jumping our 3 meter brick walls to cavort in the dirt road in front of our farm with a beige female baladi who seemed to have been dumped here. Eventually they coaxed her into the farm but there was some friction between Marte, as we called her, and Calypso since they are both highly dominant females. After a few months she appeared to come into heat, but a vet exam had indicated that she'd been spayed so we did some ultrasounds that indicated the spay had been incomplete and one of her ovaries was encysted and congested. Once her plumbing problems were sorted she's become more relaxed. This is the first time that the dogs seem to have actively recruited a newcomer. JC and Rocky's attachment to Marte is extreme as well. 

There was a male baladi that lives in our road in front of the farm, we call him Peter, who was very interested in Marte when she was going through her false heat, to the extent of jumping the wall to come into the farm with her. Oddly enough, there were no fights among the males. All of our dogs are neutered but it doesn't at all mean that they don't enjoy sex if a female either is in season or thinks that she is, as in Marte's case. After we had Marte re-spayed, we didn't see Peter again for a while until some of our goats gave birth. That evening the goats were put away in their shed and the girls were woken by the sounds of dogs fighting outside. Marte had invited Peter over and they were headed to the goat pen but the other dogs disagreed with this course of action and attacked the two of them. The goats were fine and Marte and Peter took off, but the worst thing you can have at a farm with animals is a livestock killing dog. The next day I asked a friend to take her over to another agricultural area about 9 kilometers away and I gave him a bag of dog food to feed her with. However, he dropped her off only about 3 kilometers away as reported by a friend who saw her shortly after. I was quite annoyed about this but I told my staff that she would be back here by morning, surely, and she was indeed. She also seemed to understand that she had broken some serious rules and modified her attitude significantly.

So have I taught my dogs to do all of these things? No. Definitely not. For the most part, I let the dog pack train the dogs. Once I have taught one of the older dogs about housebreaking, the younger ones watch and learn. As the young dogs watch the older ones informing us about things with vocalisation, they try it themselves. This afternoon while I was chatting with a friend at my kitchen door, Calypso walked up to our water cooler and took a drink from it by pushing her nose against the lever and letting the water run down her tongue to her mouth. I was astonished. Apparently our Great Dane, who has learned how to open the kitchen door with the handle, also does this. Perhaps dogs are smarter than we thought they were, and also I suspect that letting them live in a natural pack offers them much more chance for social learning. The friend I was chatting with suggested that I look up an article written about some research on wild kangaroos to see if kangaroos ask for help from humans when they need it, despite the fact that they don't live in proximity to humans. They do in fact solicit assistance from humans much the same ways that dogs might. I have noticed this with my horses as well. They lived in paddocks in one large herd and two smaller groupings, and very frequently they will approach one of us to show a cut or scratch or some similar issue that would best be solved with primate fingers.








copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, December 11, 2020

Gone to The Dogs


I realise that I went to the dogs years ago. I have had over a dozen dogs at any given time since about 1997. That's a long time. At first we were a normal family, sort of. We started with one baladi dog in Alexandria, and when she vanished one day we collected a pair of sisters from Smouha Club. We stuck with two dogs for a while when we moved to Cairo, until my daughter and I went to Greece on a spring break, and we found Molly sitting in the snow on a mountain. From the face she looked like a Golden Retriever and from the butt she looked like a Corgi. We brought her home, telling my husband as we took her off the luggage carousel that we had another baladi dog, but a Greek one this time. Then came the Rat Terriers.

My husband had built an enormous grain discharge terminal in Alexandria that was wonderfully computerised. Because Alex can be pretty wet in the winter, he built special tunnels to keep his computer cables dry. The rats loved the tunnels and enjoyed filing down their teeth on the computer cables, so I was instructed to find a green solution to the rodent problem. I found American Rat Terriers, a small working breed (meaning they don't have to look like anything in particular) that specialised in hunting rodents and other vermin. We started with a pregnant female and a young male figuring that since they were totally unrelated, Bluto could work as a stud for both Terra and her daughters to be. The only problem was that she had three sons in her first litter so we had to get a couple more females. In no time at all, RatBusters (we registered the kennel) had an easy dozen dogs to add to the three already there. Some of them went to the grain terminal to work and some stayed in Maadi with me. When my husband died, I had a pack of six males in Alexandria and a pack of six females ready to go to Borg el Arab to the soy bean crushing plant there. And I still had some that stayed with me along with a variety of homeless hounds that wandered through.

My move to the area near Abu Sir to buy land for my farm was accompanied by at least a dozen dogs. I moved about ten of the Rat Terriers who were shortly joined by another six from the grain discharge terminal because my brother-in-law hated dogs. I had our old baladi dog, Ganja, a crippled Dalmation, the Corgi mix from Greece as well, and shortly thereafter I got a young Great Dane. Our next move to the farm was quite simple and was accomplished by donkey cart for the furniture. The dogs and I just walked the 80 meters from the door of the old garden to the new front door, as we had been doing ´very day over the previous 6 months. Once we'd moved into the new house on the farm, it was a matter of training staff to close doors so that the dogs wouldn't wander and terrify the neighbours.But not long after I'd moved to the farm, a pup arrived there that was going to change my life enormously.

I'm not sure how Finn arrived, but the first time I ever saw him he was standing in the baking tray that I used for dog kibble, eating as fast as he could, his normally curly tail stretched straight out in concentration. The dog pack was standing and sitting all around him, looking on with interest but no animosity, so I decided that he clearly was meant to be here and we accepted our fate. I called him Finn after Huckleberry Finn, as he seemed very assured of himself and was obviously adventurous. Finn was the archetypal baladi dog, sand yellow, short haired, curly tail, tipped ears, and a small bit of white on his toes, the end of his tail and a flash on his chest. What was not archetypal was his size. He was much taller than any of the local baladis, and I always wondered if he had a touch of Dane in him, as there were some Great Danes in the neighbourhood, occasionally consorting with the baladi females. There was nothing of the Dane features in his face however.  When he arrived, sometime around 2005 or 2006, the pack leadership was in the hands of Koheila, the Dalmation who had an intellect that made us decide that she was actually an extraterrestrial, and Terra, the first arrival and the ranking female in the Rat Terrier pack. Koheila was not a large dog, but she took it upon herself to order the others to go attend to the gate if anyone came, while she herself would come to me to announce the visitors. Terra was a tiny dog with a fierce personality who never left my side and could intimidate anyone who came to see me if she felt that something was not right. These two ladies trained Finn well.

Terra and Koheila were getting older. Terra died at 17 and Koheila at 14, but I had time to notice that they were in fact training Finn to take over leadership of the pack as they were aging. They spent a lot of time with him, possibly conversing...who knows? They were tougher on him than others when he made mistakes. And eventually he took over as pack leader. Koheila still did the announcements and Terra owned the pillow on the bed, but they sat back from the more physical interactions with the other dogs as they aged. If Finn was out of the garden for a while he would check in with the old ladies, licking them on the face and lying on his back before them. It was clear that they still wielded quite a lot of canine power and I was getting better at watching it all and understanding. At this point most of the visitors to the farm were coming to go horseback riding, and, while they might stay for a cup of tea, they weren't staying all day the way that people do now. As the old terriers died, new dogs came to the farm to take their places. Most of them were baladi dogs and most of the time they just appeared. We did take in a couple of adult Great Danes after Morgana died, but they never challenged Finn's leadership. The male, Zook, basically ignored him good naturedly. Mindy, the grey female, became Finn's special friend and consort. They were devoted to each other. All the time there were young dogs coming and old dogs leaving, and I gradually became more aware of what a great job Finn did of keeping everyone in line. When young dogs became too excited at the arrivals of friends, he would growl a bit to tell them to relax. 
One of the things that I discovered with Finn was that he would talk to me about things. It took me some time to learn to understand what he was trying to get across to me. He disapproved of any physical punishment of dogs, not that it was often used. One time when two of the younger dogs got into a tiff, and I swung a foot at them in frustration (missing them entirely I must say), I felt a pain in my gluteus maximus that was a nip from Finn. I was shocked and stood there staring at him. He stared back without any shame at all, making his point. Conversations with dogs, like conversations with horses, are often on a level that is almost a form of telepathy. Until Finn, I hadn't really had dogs that bothered to vocalise, and he had a remarkably wide range of sounds that he used to get information across. The dogs that have grown up in his pack are extremely vocal and talk to us all the time. JC, our baladi wolfdog, came during Finn's last years and Finn chose him to take over the alpha position with Calaypso who has a mix of mastiff and pitbull in her background.  At about six months, JC's wolfy side began to appear and he taught the pack to do some very reputable howls. They also talk to visitors that they know well. Just today a family arrived and announced to me that Calypso, JC's co-chief, had come up to their care and talked a streak as they were walking in. I've learned a lot from the pooches and will probably continue to do so.





copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Sunday, December 06, 2020

A Pandemic Project In The Neighbourhood

"Y’all will never believe what I have been doing during this quarantine/vacation. I’m not sure that I entirely do, but it is something that I am quite proud of. There are a lot of people in the equestrian world who know me even outside of Egypt, and in 2012 I was asked by a friend to check out a group who were said to be helping horses in Nazlet Semman. The group went by the rather odd name of Prince Fluffy Kareem, but I found a contact for them and I tried to arrange a trip to see where they were working and what they were doing. I was unsuccessful at the time and I told my friend that I was unable to meet with them or to get more information about their activities than was on their Facebook page at the time. If she wanted to donate to them, that was fine with me, but personally I felt a little bit uneasy not being able to contact and/or visit them personally. Subsequently, I was asked by other people about the same thing, and I had no more information to pass on than I had the first time, so I could only reiterate my concerns. As time went on, it was clear that the group was very successful in terms of collecting donations, if a bit mysterious. Sometime in the last few years PFK (as it is known in the interest of brevity) announced that it had moved its animals to my neighbourhood but I didn’t really know where, nor was I in any sort of rush to find out.

Imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago, about the time the voluntary social distancing was first being put into operation, I got a call from the head of the Board of Trustees for PFK, which was registered as a charity in the UK under the supervision of the Charities' Commission. Apparently Marte, who had started the group about 8 to 10 years ago had, in the face of the oncoming viral pandemic and an audit by the Charities Commission, retired and moved back to Norway. With Marte gone, and Sherif’s English skills a bit dodgy to say the least, they needed some local staff to take care of things like the translation of receipts and so on. (In fact, Sherif is illiterate in both English and Arabic and could not even manage the receipts and such in Arabic.) She asked if I could help them find the right people since I live in the neighbourhood, but with the advantage of about twenty-five years of experience here. I admitted to being rather more than just a bit surprised, but I agreed to help them out, feeling that for a successful charity to fall on the rocks due to personnel changes would be a real tragedy.

In the past two weeks I have visited Boxland and Fluffylands 2 and 3, I’ve seen the horses and donkeys and I have worked to set up systems of feed deliveries for horses, donkeys, cats, and dogs, so that they can be easily monitored by the Board of Trustees in the UK, which makes it infinitely easier to handle the running of the rescue. We are putting in a proper bookkeeper/purchasing agent who will oversee the financial part of running PFK as per the requirements of the UK Charities Commission, which leaves Sherif free to look after horses. (In the end, Sherif proved to be completely uncooperative and we had to find an independent manager who could be trusted...which we did.) This setup process seems to be coming along very nicely. Naturally since many of the horses who have gone to PFK have been in very hazardous condition, not all of the inhabitants are in the greatest of shape, but there are a lot of horses who are in excellent condition, which is a testimony to some good care. One of the organizational tasks is the creation of a database with photos of the horses, medical histories, and origins of the horses, as well as their status as a foster, a patient, or a horse that PFK has bought.

To most PFK supporters, at times my name has been, more or less, the equivalent of the arch-nemesis of PFK. I am aware of that and as always can only respond that I was presented with a certain lack of transparency which made me hesitant. At this point, there is no longer any lack of transparency. The policies and staff being put into place will satisfy the needs of the Charities Commission who, due to PFK’s success, have requested much stricter monitoring of daily operations. At this point, I can comfortably recommend PFK as a worthwhile project for anyone to support."

This was the diplomatic Facebook story for how I spent part my pandemic spring, but the reality was not so easy or calm. The reality was that while Marte and Sherif may have started the charity with the best of intentions, I suspect that the influx of cash changed the priorities quickly. They started in 2011 in the summer before the revolution (I believe) with the purchase of a beaten up grey stallion to nurse back to health in the comfort of the stable where Marte kept a horse and where Sherif worked, and I suspect that not many people noticed them that winter. The fairly appalling name was given by a British woman who started a Facebook page for their effort unbeknownst to Marte, who initially was angered at the intrusion into her privacy. 

By the spring of 2011 there were stories in newspapers worldwide about the "starving horses of Giza" which were generating a lot of interest in the charity world. We had a number of international charities coming in to offer food for horses in Nazlet Semman, which has been home to a huge number of fairly terrible riding stables interspersed with a few decent ones since some time in the 70's and even before. PFK began with people sending tack, medication and equine paraphenalia in suitcases to be distributed to the more down and out stables in the hopes of improving the working lives of horses who generally had to carry their passengers in battered, broken saddles that injured the horses' backs. In the spring of 2012 I recall standing and talking to an Egyptian vet who was working with a charity under Princess Alia of Jordan while we watched people coming to a station near the Sphinx where a truck was parked with 50 kg bags of yellow corn that were being loaded into horse carriages. Yellow corn is mostly sugar and is truly not a feed of choice for starving horses, but most of this was going to end up being sold anyway. All along the efforts to feed the starving horses of Giza have had some serious nutritional issues. Many horse feeding stations bring green berseem clover, which is sort of like handing a starving horse a popsicle since it is 90% water. But it is easy to handle and better than nothing I suppose. The dried hay would be much better for the horses but for some reason this has never been used. PFK settled into a stable near the Sphinx and began doing clinics with some invited vets and farriers. This attracted quite a lot of attention through skillfully written Facebook posts. At the same time in Egypt, during the summer of 2012, a young Australian woman, Ashley Lotherington arrived in Egypt with a couple of suitcases full of supplies and tack for PFK. She saw an interesting business plan and opened a horrific alleged horse rescue, The Egypt Horse Project, which she milked for all the money that she could get while allowing horses to suffer in her stable. So there were two groups working in Nazlet Semman but while they were collecting donations like mad, it was incredibly difficult for anyone to visit and evaluate their work. About four years later, Lotherington moved back to Australia where she has since been charged for animal abuse and the like.

Sometime around the same period that TEHP moved out of Nazlet Semman and Ashley left, PFK told supporters that they were opening a space for retired horses south of Giza and there were rumours that it was in my neighbourhood, but I never really pursued the search for the location. Later there were rumours that Sherif and Marte had moved into the neighbourhood and that Sherif had bought land here. The latter I laughed off since the price of land in our area is outrageous, but it turned out to be true and as a matter of fact he had commissioned a 50 box stable with a house that the Board of Trustees was entirely unaware of. It is partly built but he still owes money on it. I also heard rumours that Sherif had a herd of dairy cattle as well. In the interest of peace, I let the rumours slide. But when the Board of Trustees called on me to help, I felt that I really should. After all, they had the financial resources to do the job that Marte and Sherif had been claiming to do for years, although it was clear to anyone living in Egypt that they were not doing it. They had made it impossible for anyone with an IP address in Egypt to see the Facebook page some years back, and of course any name of someone who had been in the least bit critical was also blocked from viewing. From time to time, however, friends abroad would send screen shots to keep people in Egypt up to date.
The month that I worked with them was fraught with tension and implied violence on the part of Sherif and his brother Abdelnabi, who were quite unwilling to see their golden goose removed. They had rented a nearby stable as a commercial venture while telling the donors that Sherif had to find an outside job because the charity was paying him so little. Of course the horses for the stable had come from PFK or from PFK funds, and the charity was paying for the feed for the stable as well as the rent for the stable in all probability. There was indeed a herd of water buffalo as well as sheep and goats being stabled on the land paid for by the charity and being fed by the charity. All of the care for these animals was being done by the workers that the charity was paying to care for  horses. The brothers were not keeping any sorts of accounts and were just dealing with large amounts of cash. Within a week of my going to help sort things out, it was clear that there was a lot of major corruption. The tactic of the Farag brothers was to threaten not to feed the horses or to turn them out, or later to threaten other things. When I called their bluff on this, knowing that they were not going to do it, they waited a week or so to ask us to provide money for feed, but when I insisted on proper accounting for purchases and shipping, it was clear that the real costs were only a fraction of what had been claimed previously.

With the assistance of the local authority, the brothers were pried away from the operations of the charity and a new manager was brought in to reorganise the work on the land rented by PFK to care for the horses and donkeys staying there. Within a month or two, the feed costs were about one quarter of what they had been claiming from the board before, and all the horses were actually gaining weight. They now have, thanks to the work of the new manager, well-organised and well-trained staff whose only job is to properly care for the animals on the land and any animals who might stop by needing medical care. The manager has also arranged for one of the best equine clinics in Egypt to handle the veterinary care for the horses who arrive at the gates needing assistance, since, other than one clinic down the road, there are no real veterinary clinics in the area to care for the horses and donkeys of carriage drivers, carters, and farmers who cannot afford private clinics. Having the horses at PFK in paddocks out of doors is a real advantage for those who need time to rest, eat, and recuperate.

At the end of my month I was able to step back and return to my own projects on my farm. This was a huge relief as PFK had been taking up almost all of my waking hours for the month. I still speak with the head of the Board of Directors regularly, but now they are generally just calls to chat, thankfully, and I am in contact with their manager frequently as we refer a lot of cases to them when Rural Wellness Initiative's outpatient treatment won't do the job. But I have made it clear to everyone in the area that I have not become a part of PFK, nor will I in the future. I have plenty of work to do on my own. I am not getting any money from PFK, nor do I want any. Everything I did was to prevent the waste of a good group that, with proper management, can do excellent work for animals.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, April 03, 2020

Timelessness Isn't So Great

What day is it anyway? Without the Friday/Saturday family crowds, without the Tuesday clinics, it's too easy to forget where we are in the week. Currently the schedule for people living in Egypt is that we have a curfew from 7 pm to 6 am every day and then on Friday and Saturday any place one might want to visit is going to be closed and there are no public transport services. There is a rumor that the 7 pm curfew is going to be changed to 3 pm next week and then a possible 100% lockdown soon after. Maybe the idea has been to ease the population into this. Egyptians, like most people, are not keen on being told what they can and cannot do.

Christina and her girls discovered a gang of rats living under the aviary where we have poultry.

I've been keeping the guys who work here up to date on the news of how things are progressing because not knowing is much worse than knowing when things are not so great. I'm wondering how people are rationalising a complete lockdown in farming communities that are supplying food for people who are living in locked down cities. As well, much of Egypt depends on recyclers who are in personal contact with rubbish that may well be contaminated. The ramifications of this pandemic are mind-boggling. Still, we are living in relative comfort compared to so many.

The guys helped out on the day that everyone was making life hard for the farm rats.

The last time I spent this much time at home was in 2011, during the revolution. There was a saying that "this revolution will be tweeted" and I guess that this is going to be the same way.

Dahab schmoozing with a chick.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani