Tuesday, May 12, 2009

dog days

We were reminded again today of the tortured relationship people in this country have with dogs. Our first experience of this phenomenon occurred back in 2006.

We were on vacation near a game park in our province, Eastern Cape, staying at a lovely guesthouse on a large citrus farm. One day, we decided to take a walk around the premises. One of the farm dogs accompanied us. As we passed by a farm worker, a Xhosa man, the good-natured dog suddenly turned into a snarling beast, yapping at the man while guarding us. It was an awkward moment, and one which would be repeated once or twice more that same day. We came away appalled by the phenomenon of what we called “racist dogs”, undoubtedly reflective of the training of their owners.

We also have a dog, having acquired her from the time she was six weeks old. Marley (named after the children's book, not the movie), is good-natured, loyal, and gentle with our children. She also barks incessantly at visitors—in particular, though not exclusively, at black South Africans.

Today, as we opened our gate to leave for school and work, Marley dashed out. At precisely the same moment, a local domestic worker, a Xhosa woman, was passing by. True to form, Marley pulled up a few feet away from the woman, barking. True to the pattern, the woman began to shriek and make flailing, defensive motions with her arms, which, of course, only intensified Marley's response. She quickly returned when we called her.

The scenario is maddening. We're sick of the seemingly inbred color-consciousness of South African dogs. We're also annoyed by people's (sometimes near-phobic) reactions to our dog, knowing that if they would remain calm and suppress their defensive, and to a dog's eyes, threatening, posture, Marley will back off.

Today, I called our pastor. “I am fine,” he said, “except that two weeks ago, I was bitten by a dog. I didn't take it seriously, and now I am sick. I'm at the clinic getting some injections.”

I don't know the whole context. And, once I witnessed the pastor's three-year old son whipping a mangy, rural mutt for sport. Clearly, there exists a tortured relationship in this country between people and dogs. But perhaps this latest bite is one further reminder of the lingering brutality of a deeply racist past.


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