On the eastern edge of Manaba, the suburb lying between Uvongo and Margate, is a locally famous road known as Lilliecrona Boulevard. It is a level, two and a half kilometre stretch running along the coast between the Vungu River and Manaba Beach, and it provides lovely, unimpeded views of rocks, sea and sky to the east. On the western side of the road lie holiday homes and apartments.
Lilliecrona Boulevard is, therefore, extremely popular with early morning walkers, joggers and cyclists - both local inhabitants and holiday visitors.
Soon after our arrival, Tasha re-established her exercise routine and, naturally, this included regularly cycling with the dogs.
I have described the procedure before (in Rescues to the Rescue) - Pixie on the left of the bike and Bessie and Tilly on the right, as had been established in Hermannsburg - and soon the sight of a cyclist with three dogs bowling down Lilliecrona became a familiar one, several mornings a week, just after sunrise.
But cycling with dogs around a dam in a farming community is one thing; cycling in an urban area is another.
There were several hazards which had to be negotiated and it involved quite a bit of dog-whispering and retraining.
The first problem encountered was that a number of people choose to exercise their dogs on Lilliecrona in the early hours of the morning.
Now, while our dogs cannot be described as aggressive, they certainly can be, given the right circumstances. Bessie is what is known as fearful-aggressive, and she regards all strange dogs as possible threats. Pixie on the other hand is super-confident and regards all strange dogs as friends she does not know (as the saying goes), who will willingly play tag just as soon as they have decided who is going to be “it”.
With strange humans, Bessie is interested in only one thing, and that is giving their crotch area a good sniff, which is very embarrassing for her owners and very annoying for the person being thus accosted. Pixie, on the other hand, divides humans into three general groups. Those exhibiting any sign of fear must be given the Rottweiler Rush, just to confirm to them that they had better take care. Those showing aggression or any other sign of evil intent must have their throats torn out. Immediately. Those who are friendly must be leapt against and lovingly slobbered over, and as she has quantities of drool available at all times, this can be rather daunting for the person at the other end of her tongue.
All humans and dogs are therefore to be avoided on these cycling expeditions - either by speeding past them as quickly as possible, or by stopping to one side until the walkers and walkees have moved off.
Further tense moments are occasionally provided by the Manaba guineafowl, a flock of particularly stupid birds, which clearly have a deathwish. Here Bessie is the main problem as she would like nothing better than to supplement her nutrition with one or more of them. Although she is a good deal smaller than Pixie, she is more difficult to control, and when she crouches down in stalking mode, the force she exerts on the leash is considerable, and the chances of Tasha flying off the bike are greatly increased.
Feral cats are another challenge. There is a feeding point for a colony of these cats at the Vungu River Mouth, and they have unwisely shown themselves a few times. And, unfortunately, the dogs have excellent memories. Once they have seen a cat in a particular place, they live in permanent expectation of seeing it there again, the next time they pass. Naturally, this hikes up their levels of excitement. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, you do not want to be cycling with over-excited hounds.
Traffic presents yet another difficulty.
Cyclists are regarded by Pixie to be part of the pack and any cyclist passing them must be kept within the pack, so she instantly picks up speed. Passing cars, because they immediately rouse her competitive spirit, also result in an increase in speed. While all this is fine and dandy if Pixie has been lagging, it is not so fine and dandy if they are already going at a good pace!
Challenges and hazards aside, both Tasha and the dogs get excellent exercise, and she has come to the conclusion that there is no better way to exercise dogs than having them run alongside a bicycle. They love it!
Sometimes the people Tasha passed would exclaim sympathetically about the poor little daxie having to keep up with the other two, and indeed, it was a rather ludicrous sight. With Pixie weighing in at 40 kg and Bessie at 30 kg, Tilly, at only 5 kg, did seem to be hopelessly outmatched. But, although she was now nearly nine years old, she was exceptionally fit and kept up with ease. [See The End of an Era for details on how Tilly was swallow-trained in her puppyhood.] She had amazing stamina and was able to keep up a full sprint for long periods of time, and then, on reaching home, would be ready and willing to set off again!
She was not as easily distracted as the other two either (her Tilly-bird training had taught her to concentrate) and she would clearly be “in the zone”, running for the sheer love of it.
We were convinced she would be our first dog to reach a grand old age...
It is the last week of February and we have been in Uvongo for four months.
It is Wednesday afternoon and 5:00 pm - time to feed the dogs. I call them and Pixie and Bessie, who have been hovering at the back door, leap to attention. I give them their food and call for Tilly, who has not yet appeared.
I call and call, but there is no response. I search the house and the garden, without success.
Tasha joins me. She heard her about fifteen minutes before, making the excited sounds whenever she is on a Tilly-bird or monkey chase, but didn’t give it much thought because the garden is secure, especially with the super-duper hideous Tilly-tree barrier now in place.
I am at the back fence, convinced that Tilly must have got over the super-duper hideous Tilly-tree barrier and has fallen down onto the lot and is now chasing something out there. I stand at the rickety gate and whistle and call, to no avail. This is unusual. She has always come when we call.
Is it possible that she has been picked up by a monkey, or perhaps even by one of the eagles I have seen soaring above on a number of occasions?
It is now more than fifteen minutes since I began the search. Tasha goes down to the gate to check with Barry if Tilly did not go out the front gate.
It is open as Barry has been mixing concrete there and he is now tidying up. But he is adamant that Tilly did not go out through the gate.
Just in case he is mistaken, Tasha takes her bicycle and, calling Tilly constantly, starts cycling up and down our road, as well as Dan Road, which leads off at right angles just opposite our gate. She comes back confident that Barry is right. There has not been enough time for her to get far. If she had gone out on the street, Tasha would have seen her or she would have heard Tasha calling. She must be on the lot.
But why is she not responding? Is she stuck in a hole or a cleft in a rock? Has she been bitten by a snake? Did a monkey grab her and kill her? Did an eagle indeed fly off with her?
Barry opens the gate onto the lot, but it is impossible to get past the vegetation. It will have to be chopped out of the way to make any progress. But by now it is dark, and so he decides that if she has not returned by morning, he will go out and clear a way for us. He leaves the gate slightly open.
Before we go to bed, we also leave the back door open (with the security door locked) so that she can get into the kitchen if she manages to get back into the yard. If she is out on the street after all, there is a gap between the gate and the wall which she is small enough to negotiate.
I sleep badly, getting up several times to see if she is back in her igloo in the kitchen...
It is Thursday. We rise at dawn and there is still no sign of her.
Barry immediately sets about hacking at the vegetation impeding our access to the lot with a panga. It takes him about two hours to clear a way through it. Tasha takes Pixie and they go out onto the lot. She searches it thoroughly. The lot turns out to be much smaller than we realised. Beyond the vegetation at our fence, it is a flat place without any hiding places. There is no sign of Tilly.
I phone the SPCA, but without much hope. Our years of isolation have caused her to become unsocialised in the extreme. She is terrified of strangers and will never allow anyone to come near her. And, as I thought, no dachshund has been brought in.
We are convinced that she did not go out onto the road. Why would she not have come back? She has been out so often with Tasha that she knows the route and the gate extremely well. How could she get lost?
No, something has happened. I am convinced a raptor has taken her. I feel sick to the core of my being.
Tasha spends the rest of the day creating fliers...
It is Friday and Tilly has not returned.
Tasha starts taking the fliers to all the houses on our street and immediately gets news.
Our next door neighbour saw her early on Thursday morning sitting on the pavement around the curve of the road just a short distance away from us! Unfortunately, owing to high walls, he did not know that it was our dog.
For crying out loud! She must have gone out the gate! Obviously the silly little thing became so spooked on Wednesday night that she could not find her way home! And if we had just taken a walk around the block on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, instead of wasting our time hacking through a jungle to get onto the vacant lot, we would have found her!
We immediately set off to look for her. Barry and I in our separate cars head off in different directions and Tasha cycles on her bike, following their exercise route, just in case Tilly has taken it. After all, she knows the route exceptionally well.
But, after driving around our vicinity, I begin to get the most awful feeling of futility. She could be anywhere. We could drive down a road and she could appear on that road a few minutes after we pass. What if she has gotten herself locked into the yard of one of the many vacant holiday homes in our area?
We eventually come home, despondent.
Tasha is hopping mad.
On Wednesday, when she cycled up and down the road while calling for her, not even half an hour after she disappeared, Tilly must have been doing her “I am on a sniffing mission and so I cannot hear you” thing. Quote-unquote!
She continues to hand out the fliers throughout the immediate neighbourhood and on Friday afternoon finds two sets of people who saw Tilly on Thursday afternoon.
The first is a couple who saw a little brown dachshund running down a road ‘as if on a mission’, though they can’t remember exactly where they saw her.
Then, just down Dan Road, she finds a schoolgirl who saw Tilly crying on the pavement opposite their house. (This is within sight of our gate!!! What is wrong with that silly dog!) She approached her, but true to character, Tilly evaded capture and ran off down the road towards the fairly busy road which connects with Marine Drive. (Marine Drive being the main road connecting all the towns from Port Shepstone to Ramsgate.) This is not good news.
Barry and I once again head off in our cars to scour the area and search our immediate neighbourhood thoroughly. Again we have the awful feeling of searching for a needle in a haystack...
It is Saturday.
We all go out again, Barry and I in our cars, Tasha on her bicycle.
Tasha has run out of fliers but she just stops everyone she meets.
By what we will always consider to be divine intervention, she meets two young men who had been walking towards Marine Drive on Thursday afternoon.
They inform Tasha that when they reached Marine Drive, they saw a man who had stopped his car on the side of the road and was trying to prevent a small brown dachshund from crossing Marine Drive. She got spooked, rushed into the traffic, which is particularly heavy at that time of the day, and was struck by a car. She was still alive and was trying to get up but could not move. The car which struck her stopped and turned back.
Frustratingly, the two young men, on their way to watch rugby at the local sportsground, did not linger to see what transpired, and so there is no further information.
Tasha rushes home to tell us this dreadful news.
We go post haste to Marine Drive and search the area thoroughly. There is no sign of any dead dog, so we assume that one of the drivers of the two vehicles involved took her with him.
We rush home and I phone every vet in the area, but no one brought in any injured dachshund on Thursday or Friday. They promise to let me know if any dog fitting Tilly’s description is brought in subsequently.
With heavy hearts, we can only assume that Tilly is dead.
At the point where the accident took place, the road goes down steeply towards the Vungu River bridge, and the psychological inclination is to speed, whether you are ascending or descending. How can such a small dog survive being struck by a car moving, at the very least, at 60 kph without serious injury? Surely, if she had still been alive, the person who took her would have taken her to a vet?
It is Monday.
I wash Tilly’s blankets, her cushion, and her igloo, and pack away her water bowl and her food bowl.
There is a knife in my heart…
Three years have passed.
We have never found out exactly what happened to her after the accident. We put fliers up in shopping centres and in pet shops, I advertised on social media and I wrote a letter, which was published in our local newspaper, but we have never heard a thing.
It is possible that whoever took her thought she was just a skinny little stray. I took her collar off on Wednesday morning (when I bathed her after she had rolled in hadeda droppings) and had not yet put it back on. We have also never had ID tags on any of our dogs. (An oversight now rectified.)
It took me ages to get over it. It was a full six months before I was able to drive onto Marine Drive without thinking of her with that awful stabbing feeling in my heart.
It is so much worse when you don’t know for sure.
Every now and again, we still wonder if, by a miracle, Tilly was not killed and somewhere someone is having to contend with a little dachshund who climbs trees in her quest to catch a Tilly-bird.
My darling little Tillikens - the most unusual daxie we have ever known.
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