Growing up, a dog was not man’s (or in my case girl’s) best friend. Dogs were unpaid members of the household that were expected to guard and protect even to the death, but not be seen especially in front of company. Dogs in our neighbourhood were the poor man’s substitute for a watchman; a job that they did perhaps a lot better than their paid human counterparts.
They were given tough sounding names: simba was popular, so was kojak and our own life saver was named Tiger and fierce he sure was. To this day, I do not recall what breed our tiger was, only that like most other guard dogs, he was big and fierce and brown. This was a typical look, with slight coat various in shades of black and brown but nobody had time for tiny dogs.
Most were kept in kennels during the day, often ramshackle tin structures sometimes with a small window covered in chicken wire to allow them to see their prey (or maybe breath). Apparently, the angst from staying in all day circling the same tiny space ensured that once released at night, they would be most hungry (literally and figuratively because not much food was provided) to attack anyone that wanted to harm their owners. The few that were kept out all day were either not menacing enough, or were the retired, death bed versions of their former selves.
I recall a time when Tiger broke through his flimsy door in broad daylight and found innocent and unfamiliar me hanging around “suspiciously” in the yard. He proceeded to give chase, while barking menacingly and for whatever reason, I ran away from the compound and 10 minutes later leaped across the storekeepers shelve to safety. He was shoo’d away by well meaning customers and I stayed there until one of my siblings who had watched the entire episode from inside the house finally arrived with the leash (and treats) for “our dog”
For reasons such as these, the process of releasing them at dusk required only their most trusted human to be present. Once released, they would stay within the boundaries of their homestead only if the fencing was sturdy enough and howl the night away. However, those who could escape, would pack together with their neighbourhood friends, as they searched for human or small animals to make a meal of. Meeting with such a pack at night was akin to walking towards a group of militias, only one that could only be bribed by a bite of your thigh or worse.
Imagine my surprise when I moved to the USA after University to find that dogs not only lived with their owners inside the same houses but were fed AND clothed too. Watching people walk their dogs initially gave me heart palpitations and 20 years later, a barking dog still stirs my heart. Learning that veterinarians were a big business, and not just to inoculate the precious and useful goats and cows like back home, but to keep a healthy check on dogs and cats was beyond baffling to me.
When I thought of my experience with dogs, it game me some empathy towards their view of me because they, like me, were cultured to see the world that way. For some odd and inexpiable reason, the darker people in society are viewed as “less than” and so even in their home countries, with their countrymen, treating such people in a discriminate manner is seen as maintaining social order, however warped that view may be. Having black and brown people cooking and cleaning after them and even (interestingly enough) raising their children is perfectly acceptable, so long as we remain in our kennels and do not request or worse still demand equal treatment under the law.
I have adopted to know that there are mean dogs who must remained muzzled , small dogs that have a loud barks but no bite, huge dogs that on first glance may seem threatening and scary (looking at you great Dane) but are super harmless and everything in between. I have found the same diversity in humans regardless of race, colour or creed and just as it takes patience and an open mind to understand dogs, so it should be with humans.
At the risk of not ending on a positive note, I can excuse those who were cultured differently and will willingly have the uncomfortable conversations to open their minds. However, I have no time for those that know all this, but still choose willful ignorance, hate and discrimination; to you all I’d tell tiger to “sika!”