14. Dogs and Cats

Our dogs

No tale of the farm would be complete without mention of the various dogs and cats with whom we have shared our lives, and more sadly, the dogs and cats that live around us in the neighbourhood.

We arrived on the farm with our beloved Staffy called Jessie and our Burmese cat, Jiminy. They were a wonderful pair and the best of friends, and they lived for many years, eventually dying within a short time of each other. After Jessie we took a friend’s sweet Golden Retriever, Cally, who lived with us for five years before dying of cancer. With her, we tried a number of mostly rescue dogs who for one or another reason, rather distressingly, didn’t work out. One drowned in the swimming pool, one attacked the neighbour’s sheep and had to be rehomed, one died suddenly and one had to be put to sleep following uncontrollable epilepsy. We settled eventually with a wonderful German Shepherd called Ziggy (for Sigmund Freud) who was the darling of everyone, including people who were scared of dogs. When Ziggy was eight, we bought another German Shepherd called Ellie, to keep him company. Tragically, one day both dogs chased sheep on the neighbour’s farm, and without compunction he shot them both dead. We were devastated and took a long time to recover.

A year or more later we took a deep breath and got another German shepherd called Carl (for Carl Jung). And soon after this, some friends, who were immigrating, left their beloved Pi with us. Pi was a Staffy cross Labby, and like his good mate Carl, he was a sweetheart. For many years we were very happy with this dog contingent, although both Carl and Pi had a habit of running off into the mountain. This was very stressful for us as they could easily be away overnight, and we worried sick that they would come to harm. Once, a member of our staff found out that Carl was chained up outside a workers house on the other side of the Paardeberg, waiting to be sold. We got there just in time. On another occasion, a barking Pi was found up the mountain, after two days stuck in a crevice.

But perhaps the most distressing and terrible experience for us was when, after a dog jaunt up the mountain, Carl returned but not Pi. We waited a week for him and put flyers all over the Paardeberg, but eventually we concluded that he was lost to us. Both Johan and I lay awake at night, picturing him sold or lying somewhere injured.

Imagine our surprise when, one morning, three weeks after he had disappeared, Pi appeared at the gate absolutely emaciated, his paws raw, his fur raggedy, but his tail wagging. He had, we think, been lost in the huge mountain and had taken all this time to find his way home. Luckily, it was winter, and he had at least had water to drink. We were all overjoyed, but I then made the mistake of feeding him meat which was too rich for him. As a result, he developed hyperlipidemia and went into liver failure. For at least ten days, it was touch-and-go. But he pulled through and lived another five years before we finally put him to sleep after he severely declined in function. It was the end of a dog era, as some months after this, Carl died of renal failure. Inevitably, a chronicle of one’s pets is a chronicle of loving and losing them as a result of their shorter lifespan.

Blue and Cherry

After Carl and Pi we again took a break of a year. Our next and current dogs are Cherry and Blue. Cherry is a Rottweiler and Blue a Great Dane. Cherry was raised by humans after her mother died during her birth, and she is the friendliest dog imaginable. Blue is a regal looking fellow and calm of nature. He has the habit of staring intently into one’s eyes as he slowly waves his tail from side to side.

Our Cats

After the death of Jiminy in 2010, two feral kittens arrived in our lives. Bounce, a multi-coloured tom literally came to our back door one day. He had a very sweet nature and bounced like a ball when he ran. Fitz, a grey tom, was found, with his eyes still closed, by a little girl on a farm walk. Fitz had the misfortune of being dragged around in a blanket and fed with a bottle by four little girls who were on the farm during their summer holidays. Whether this was the reason or not, Fitz became fierce if anyone dared to pick him up. He would also lie in wait for us during the night, leaping out to claw at our feet as we went past him to the toilet. This behavior, among others, caused him to become known as Osama bin kitty, the terrorist. A particularly worrisome behavior of the terrorist was that he would steal food from tables during functions. Apprehending him was no mean feat and usually involved me getting scratched to pieces. Eventually, I got wise and bribed him with food. Needless to say, we were very attached to Osama, and he did mellow some in his old age, allowing us on occasion to stroke him.

In 1915 Bounce disappeared and was never found but Osama led a full life until his death from cancer at a ripe age. Which brings me to our current cat, a ginger queen called Suzie Creamcheese who has been with us since 2009. She is very delicate and very dear, and she sleeps with us on our bed.

Dogs and Cats of the Neighbourood

Dogs in the Joubertskloof Valley have been a continual stress to me. I drive past emaciated dogs tethered on chains too short and rope collars too tight, and I just have to intervene. This I do by talking to dog owners, and if this doesn’t work, bribing them with dog pellets. On one occasion, a dog was wound up tightly to a pole in the burning heat, and when I asked the teenager of the house to please untie him, I was sworn at fiercely. I saw red and just untied the dog myself and brought him home. No sooner had I arrived at the farm, than the farmer on whose farm the dog was, phoned me and berated me for taking an animal off his land. Eventually I had to return the dog, but I gave him a collar and long lead and bribed the owner with food. As a result of this escapade, for a while at least, I became known as die hond dief (the dog thief), which various people shouted while waving their hands angrily at me as I drove past.

Of course, puppies are continually for sale in a rural areas, and no matter how many I have found homes for, another litter appears. At some point, I realized I was in fact subsidizing everyone’s income with dog sales and I stopped finding homes for dogs. Instead, I arranged with the S.P.C.A. to do a number of sterilizations in the area. Sadly, the saga of abused dogs continues, and sad stories abound. The last was a mass shooting by a farm manager of all dogs in the valley, not on chains, after sheep were attacked by a dog from the area.

When it comes to cats, there is a huge feral population, many with F.I.V. (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). One can barely drive a kilometer without seeing tabbies and greys, gingers and calicos running along the roads and darting into verges. I think their population is kept down by illness and starvation but every now and then we are overrun with cats on the farm, and we institute a drive of capturing them and taking them to be spayed or neutered. Our lovely vet gives us an extremely good price.

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