In Zimbabwe people like dogs, and when they get one or two, more often than not it has absolutely nothing to do with wanting companionship from the world’s most loyal pet animal — aptly termed “man’s best friend”.
environment By Chipo Masara
With the tough economic situation in Zimbabwe making people turn to heinous ways of surviving, thieves are on the prowl and are ever devising new sophisticated ways of taking what doesn’t belong to them. Such times require home owners to take security measures that ensure their hard-earned belongings are safe — and that is where dogs are mostly coming in.
While many would love to employ the services of reputable security companies or fancy gadgets like alarms and cameras that help safeguard their properties, such measures prove costly, and money is what most people in Zimbabwe do not have.
Thus, in most homes, keeping a dog or two is taken as a security measure. The dogs — preferably guard dogs — are used to guard against, and watch out for unwanted or unexpected people. Because of the high cost of ferocious dogs like pit bulls, bulldogs, German shepherds, Rottweilers, etc, many find themselves settling more for the easy-to-access crossbreeds. But whatever breed it is, it is still expected to be vigilant, especially during night time. As such, it is very rare to see local dog-owners letting their canines live in the house with them. It is simply unheard of. A dog’s place is considered to be outside, guarding the property. The luckiest the dog will get is acquiring a kennel.
For those dogs that are considered to lack the necessary cheekiness required for the guarding job, putting mustard on their tongues is believed to be an effective way to make them more aggressive and alert. But the Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Zimbabwe (Vaws) say the practice is painful and unnecessary with no effect whatsoever. They even challenge those with that habit to put just a little mustard on their own tongues and see how they like it.
Tail chopping is another common practice. Many believe it makes the dog grow bigger and vicious much faster, but it is a ruthless practice that is fast becoming unacceptable and illegal the world over as tails are there for good reasons, among them to give the dogs perfect balance.
Most dogs are forced to earn their keep and when a dog is deemed too relaxed, it is quickly pronounced “useless” and as a result met with dire consequences, often in the form of constant beatings and deprivation, mostly of food and care.
More often than not, such neglected dogs are left with little choice but to go around their neighbourhoods scavenging in bins for thrown-away food and no doubt being a nuisance while they are at it.
It is mostly after they stray that most dogs become susceptible to sexually transmitted venereal tumours (TVT) and other such ailments.
Of late, however, dogs have moved from being just “security guards” to being potential money makers as breeding dogs for financial gain is fast becoming seen as a lucrative business venture.
Not too long ago, there was a story in the Business Week newspaper about 30-year-old Brian Alfandika from the high-density suburb of Kambuzuma who was described as, “the youth who hails from the ghetto earning a decent living through dog breeding”.
The “enterprising” Alfandika said each Maltese dog (the rare breed he mostly breeds) fetched an average of $500.
Alfandika is just one of the many Zimbabweans that have suddenly come to realise dog breeding can be a source of livelihood during a time when the country is facing a serious unemployment problem.
Local animal welfare organisations, however, had no kind words for most local dog breeders.
“People should stop seeing dog breeding as a lucrative business. We currently have far too many puppies on the streets and the SPCA [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] often has the ineviable task of putting most of them to sleep,” said Meryl Harrison, chief inspector for Vaws, adding most breeders had no clue how to properly care for the puppies.
Harrison said in most cases, Vaws has discovered dogs living under very harsh conditions, prompting the organisation to confiscate them and take them to SPCA where many often have to be put to sleep as they would be infected with various infections, some of which, like TVTs, would be incurable.
She urged everyone interested in purchasing dogs to visit SPCA where they are assured of healthy dogs that would have been sprayed, vaccinated, dipped and put through all the necessary procedures.
Laura Maclean, surgery manager at the SPCA, was equally aggrieved and had this to say: “It is illegal, selfish and irresponsible and to us it is an act of cruelty that needs to be investigated. People keep dogs that they cannot feed and care for and we end up with a lot of dogs on the streets with rabies and other infections. Unfortunately the whole system is falling out of control and laws are not being followed.”
Harare (Dog Licensing and Control) By-Laws 1993 in terms of section 11 (1) states that it is against the law to have an unsprayed bitch or breed puppies within the city limits unless one is a licensed breeder.
Additionally, breeders are required to be registered with the Zimbabwe Kennel Club, among other requirements. It is, however, unclear whether many of the dog breeders cropping up in the country are fully aware of these dog breeding requirements.