After the Year of the Dog, life settled into a peaceful routine – outside were three Rottweilers and inside were two ancient cats. Sleeping inside, but spending much of his time outside with the Rotties, was Scampy, the most adorable dog we had, up until then, ever owned.
He was small even for a miniature dachshund and he had a pronounced overbite, giving him the cutest bucktoothed appearance whenever his upper lip was drawn back. Because of this undershot jaw, his muzzle was much sharper than is usual in a daxie and this, together with his beautiful doe eyes, gave him a rather delicate, almost feminine look. His coat, though fine, was also the most beautiful red-gold colour. In a nutshell, he was gorgeous!
But there was nothing girly about his character.
He was a feisty little guy, brave and fearless, like his mother, but with one major difference.
Scampy knew his place and he never tried to dominate any of the Rottweilers.
Wolfie was top dog – no one messed with him. Scampy adored him and would leap up at him and kiss him on the lips with the greatest affection. For the most part, Wolfie accepted these lavish demonstrations quite tolerantly, but if he was not in the mood, he just growled. Scampy would then back away quickly and turn his attentions onto Lulu.
Lulu accepted him too, always greeting him with a wag and several loving licks. If she happened to have a bone and growled, Scampy would once again back away smartly.
But Tessie (she was seldom called Tessie Bear once she had graduated from puppyhood) was his playmate. With her there were all sorts of wrestling and chasing games, and she was very gentle with him, though there were times when she sent him flying with her boisterousness. But he was game for anything.
The only time we were nervous was when Tessie had a bone. But as it turned out, it wasn’t Scampy who had to be careful of Tessie. It was Wolfie!
I would occasionally give them all a nice meaty bone to chew. Lulu and Wolfie would take theirs off and settle down on the grass to enjoy a good munch, but Tessie became transformed.
She would immediately drop her bone and skulk over it, changing from a playful, overgrown pup into a paranoid, suspicious wolf, convinced that Wolfie had designs on her bone. With eyes blazing and teeth bared, she would dare him to just try anything.
What was particularly amusing was that Wolfie remained quite unconscious of the threat to his life and calmly continued gnawing his bone!
She never took that sort of umbrage at Lulu or Scampy. We came to the conclusion that because Wolfie was top dog, Tessie knew instinctively that if he wanted her bone she would have to give it up. Fortunately, he never did.
Scampy soon became an all-round favourite. Unlike Schnudie, he loved us all. And we returned it in full measure.
He was such a character!
He loathed flies and chased them down with great determination. All we had to say was, “Scampy, where’s the fly?” and he would chase around madly, searching for that pesky insect. In fact, to him “fly” meant “insect”, so crickets and beetles were on his list too.
On one never-to-be-forgotten occasion, when he had eaten something he had caught in the house, he made it clear that he urgently needed to go out. It was already dark, and we were settling down for the evening. We let him out the back, and he made a beeline for the longish grass growing around the edge of the semi-circular back stoep. He started at one end and, with grim determination, he rapidly ate and ate and ate, till he reached the other end. It was quite hilarious to see, and how his stomach could hold all that grass was a marvel!
We noticed that after that he avoided stink bugs, so we came to the conclusion that stink bugs have their own way of avenging themselves!
Scampy was also a wonderful soprano, and he would treat us to an aria whenever we arrived home. We would drive through the front gate and then pull up at the gate between the front and back gardens. When one of us got out to open it, the Rotties would stand back calmly, their tail stumps waving gently, while Scampy leaped up and down at the gate, delirious with excitement, and howling the song of his ancestors with hysterical fervour. We enjoyed it so much that we would sing with him and he would be just about beside himself with joy.
The Rotties accepted him fully as a member of the pack. And it was very clear that he was convinced that he was actually a Rottweiler, just a much smaller one. (One of Tasha’s friends decided he was a Ratweiler!)
Tasha gave them Red Indian names (perhaps I should be politically correct and say Native American, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it) – Scampy, of course, was Runs With Rottweilers; Wolfie, quite naturally, was Chases Shadows; Lulu was Hunts To Kill; and Tess was Guards The Bone. And if you had seen me keeping out of the way of their loving exuberance whenever I went out in the morning, you would have named me Waltzes With Dogs!
Living in a rural area has the wonderful advantage that you are exposed to the local wildlife. We were thrilled on the few occasions we saw a duiker come down to the dam, and I was delighted when otters visited the dam. We even once saw a polecat one night when we were returning from an outing to Piet Retief! It was the first time I had ever seen one and I’ve never seen one since.
This was when the Rottweilers totally lost their calm demeanour.
One morning we woke to find the three of them circling below a part of the overgrown hawthorn hedge which surrounded the backyard. They must have been there for a large part of the night, for the ground below the hedge was churned up and the dogs were hot, panting violently and flecked with lather. I went to see what was causing the excitement and to my surprise saw a cat up in the hedge. Within seconds it struck me that it was a strange looking cat, and suddenly I realised it was a genet! I became as excited as the stupid dogs. It was another first-time sighting for me.
I called the dogs and with reluctance they followed me to the upper garage where I closed them in to give the poor genet a chance to escape safely. However, it didn’t budge so I eventually put the dogs in front. At sunset it was still in the hedge. We let the dogs into the kitchen until our bedtime, by which time the genet had (at last) made its long awaited getaway.
We also had a large number of scrub hares around the property.
Our first experience with a scrub hare was when Barry found a tiny baby in the rough on the golf course in Mhlambanyati and brought it home. It was far from where the warren was known to be and he was concerned it would be easily found by a predator. It was so cute we fell in love at once. He became Honey-Bunny and we spent a great deal of time and effort raising him. We even made a hutch for him outside when he got too big to stay in the house, as we were not sure that he would be accepted back into the colony on the golf course.
But Gambit and Purdey had other ideas. French Poodle or no French Poodle, with or without their fancy coats, they were hunters too and poor little Honey-Bunny broke his leg inside the hutch in his terrified efforts to get away from the maddened dogs, who had immediately tried to break into it. Despite a leg cast and careful treatment (back inside the house), Honey-Bunny died and we learnt another of life’s lessons: Wild animals cannot easily be domesticated.
And now, in Iswepe, we were to learn another.
Even completely domesticated animals are wild at heart.
There were various warren entrances in the front garden, which we thought were disused, until one day, one poor hare did not get out of the garden or back in its burrow in time. In spite of my hysterical screams at them to come back, those demented dogs hunted it down and killed it in a frenzy of blood lust – with Scampy being the most ferocious. His ridiculous teeth, however, prevented him from inflicting any damage, but not from want of trying, I assure you. (Years later, after many episodes of “The Dog Whisperer”, I realised that my screams, far from deterring them, actually spurred them on.)
I was horrified and quite overcome with disgust. I could barely look at them for two days. But then sense prevailed and I accepted that they were just being dogs. As loving and wonderful as they all were as pets, they were animals – and predators at that. (The episode quite cured me of looking at my dogs as “furkids” or “furbabies”.)
They became used to the cattle which so often grazed around our property, but on one occasion an unattended flock of goats came past and those dogs almost went beserk. Ditto when a herd of pigs appeared out of nowhere and walked down to the dam. Thank goodness both goats and pigs had the sense to find another route to the dam, and we did not have repeat performances.
However, there was one large pig – I never discovered whether it was a boar or a sow – which persisted in periodically making an appearance, and then slowly ambling all along the fence to the dam. It completely ignored the dogs. The same cannot be said for the dogs, however.
Once I heard Scampy barking hysterically and went out to see what on earth the performance was about. He was outside the yard and was snapping at the heels of the pig! The stupid creature, instead of running off, just kept turning around on the spot. Meanwhile, the Rotties, still in the backyard, were digging furiously in their attempts to get out under the fence to join Scampy. I shuddered to think what would have happened if they had succeeded and I had not come out. I had to race to the back gate and run round to the side of the property before I could catch Scampy. I scooped him up and then chased the pig off.
Honestly! You’d think it would have the sense not to come walking where there were three ferocious dogs with blazing eyes and slavering jaws!
We found the hole in the fence in the front garden which Scampy had used and closed it up. The fencing was old and in some places had rusted enough for a determined dog to break through. The Rotties were also forever digging at the back, probably to get at the hares, but fortunately the ground was rock hard and the fence at the back, being in a better condition, had thus far remained intact.
Towards the end of August, just a few months after Katy’s final departure (See Feline Felonies), we had a most frightening incident in our house. Our kitchen caught alight!
The weather had warmed up so much that we had stopped making wood fires in the stove in the kitchen. I had even gone so far as to spring-clean the kitchen, including washing walls and curtains. Then we had an unexpected, very cold snap and Barry kindly made a fire to warm up the kitchen for us before he went off to work.
Sometime in the middle of the morning there was a series of loud popping sounds followed by crashes coming from the kitchen. I found the kitchen filled with smoke and the wall tiles, which lined the nook in which the wood stove stood, were exploding off the walls and then smashing into smithereens on the floor!
Barry had not noticed the cardboard box I had placed on the upper section of the stove next to the chimney pipe (not intending to kindle any more fires) and it had caught alight and set the piles of newspapers next to it ablaze.
For a few horrified moments I froze. Fortunately Tasha is not a freezer like me and she quickly filled a bucket with water. I took it and successfully doused the flames. But what a mess!
The maintenance team from the factory were in and out the whole of the following week to retile and repaint. There was no place to keep the Rotties but the upper garage. The vegetable garden would have been ideal but for the fact that it was right next to the outbuilding where the toilet facilities were for the workers, and the dogs made no bones about the fact that they would very much like a piece of these insolent intruders.
Finally, on Friday, the workers finished off quite early and I was able to let the dogs out just before lunchtime. Scampy also wanted to go out and I let him out of the house into the front garden. Regrets are futile but I ended up wishing with all my heart that I had forgotten to let the Rotties out of the garage and that Scampy had gone out at the back.
Tasha was watching a movie and I was writing at my computer. We heard nothing.
Barry came home at half past three and wanted to know where the Rotties were. We searched the back garden first. All the gates were closed but there was no sign of them. Then we heard barking but couldn’t make out where the sound was coming from. We lived in a shallow valley and the sound bounced around with an impressive echo. As we dashed to the front garden, it sounded as though the barking was coming from the forest on the other side of the dam. I immediately assumed they were chasing a duiker. Barry rushed out of the main gate and down to the dam. And there they were, in the dam.
It was horrible.
Later we were able to figure out what had happened.
That idiot of a pig had obviously followed his usual route down past the southern fence to the dam.
Scampy had just as obviously found another hole through that fence. The escape route the Rottweilers used was a mystery until we found a very small hole they had made in the fence at the back, where there were also clear signs of frenzied digging. The hole was so small that we could not believe they could have got through without injuring themselves.
From the paw prints and the hoof prints in the mud down at the dam (the water level now very low after the dry winter) we could see how they had brought the pig down at the right hand corner of the property. It had got up again, run past the front of the property towards the left and then entered the dam, possibly to try and swim away from them.
Not far from there was the old broken dam wall which was usually submerged during the rainy season. And there Barry found them.
The pig was standing against the wall in shock while the Rottweilers savagely attacked it. Its head and legs were very badly mauled. Barry had to actually beat them off, using his fists and kicking them smartly in the ribs to get them away from the pig. Eventually he succeeded and drove them back into the yard. He then phoned the security guards to come and shoot that poor pig.
Of Scampy there was no sign.
Barry searched for him and then found him in the dam. Floating. Just his little legs showing above the surface of the water.
He waded into the dam and fetched him.
Tasha took Scampy, who was stretched out in death and stiff as a board, his tongue out and his eyes protruding. He was covered in scum from the bottom of the dam. We could only assume that in the frenzy, the Rotties had stepped on him and held him down, squashing the breath out of him.
Tasha took a towel and tenderly dried him, rubbing off as much of the scum as she could. Barry fetched a spade and dug a deep hole, just a metre away from where Katy lay. Then we buried him – the sweetest, dearest, most adorable dog we had ever had. He was only three years old.
I was filled with a sense of unreality, of disbelief and deep, deep shock. Had it really happened? Was this just a very vivid nightmare?
I did not feed the dogs that night, and for the next twenty-four hours I moved around in a daze, dry-eyed and with a tight feeling over the pit of my stomach.
The next night when I went to feed the dogs and automatically reached for Scampy’s bowl, the reality of loss hit home and a flood of grief was at last released.
This was the downside of having a pack. They are excellent protection – everyone gave our property a wide berth (excepting for naughty school-children) – but dogs are hunters and hunters are killers.
And Scampy was the worst of the lot.
That poor stupid pig had died because he wasn’t scared of the dogs. And our darling Scampy had died because he wasn’t scared of anything.
I cannot even begin to describe how much I missed that dog.
I missed his little buck-toothed smile. I missed the snuggles we had early in the morning when he would press his cold little nose against my nice warm feet and then lick my feet with his little warm tongue. I missed seeing his little nose sticking out from under his blanket in his basket. I missed his joyful greetings. I missed having him on my lap while watching TV.
Of all the dogs we have had, if it were possible to get any of them back, and I was allowed only one, it would be him.
Precious, precious little dog.
Submit your review