I was eight when I had my first dog. Her name was Daisy. She was a well-trained, purebred German Shepherd we got when she was already about a year old — and I found that weird. I thought people could only get puppies because adult dogs were already too aggressive to familiarise themselves with new people. I thought all dogs were aggressive. Daisy wasn’t. I didn’t know anything about dogs.
My family had just moved into our own house, and she was the perfect companion to help us settle in. My dad got her for security; she was my friend. The first time I played football in the compound when she was in her cage, she barked relentlessly like there was an unseen intruder she wanted to attack. Once I let her out, she dashed towards the ball and picked it up with her teeth, deflating it. It was a Health ball, so any small piercing and it’s gone. But at least I knew she liked balls. I couldn’t afford a leather ball, so I knew to hide my balls when she was out of her cage. Many times, I failed and came outside to meet a deflated ball. We eventually got a leather ball and some tennis balls for her, and we played fetch.
When I wasn’t being a busy nine-year-old, I’d be out brushing Daisy’s fur, or petting her, or racing with her, or stealing her snacks to feed her even though my dad complained it was finishing too fast. One time, I got into trouble for taking her on a walk alone. “You’re too small to walk her on your own! What if she dragged you, and you lost control?” But Daisy would never do that to me. In fact, there were times when she’d naughtily run out of the compound when we opened the gate, and all we had to say was, “Come back”.
Lassie was different. We got him about two years after we got Daisy, again, as an adult. I think my dad realised Daisy was more a pet than a security dog. Lassie was a security dog. But apparently, his owners couldn’t control him, and they were looking for a way to get rid of him.
Lassie was the definition of what I imagined an adult dog to be before I met Daisy, but even crazier. His eyes turned neon green when he got angry — which was all the time. The vets had never seen anything like him. Nobody could control him. Nobody could be within 20 meters of him when he was eating. He bit our tenant. He attacked me. He attacked everyone in my family except my mum. The vet stopped taking care of him because we couldn’t get him to wear the muzzle anymore after a few trips to the clinic. It took two people to lock him in his cage every morning: One person distracting him with a long stick through the cage’s opening and the other person locking the cage. Over the years, he lost teeth in this process, but I swear, that was the only way to lock him up. Once you said, “Lassie, cage”, he’d just go in there and start growling, ready to attack whoever dared to touch the lock. It took us a few near-missed bites to invent the stick method.
When Daisy died about three years after we got her, I cried. And whenever I remembered her for the next few months, I cried. She lost a lot of blood during childbirth, and the vet did something to complicate her situation. My parents were angry. The only survivor from her litter — we named him Survive — died two weeks after her.
At this point, I was obsessed with dogs. All I did on the internet was read about them. YouTube, Encarta Kids, Wikipedia… everywhere I could learn about dogs. All I watched on DStv was Animal Planet and Nat Geo Wild. I knew how different breeds were formed, how to train dogs, what not to feed them, everything. I had a book where I wrote a list of all the dog breeds I would have as an adult — Golden Retrievers, Dobermans. In secondary school, I flaunted my knowledge at the slightest convenience. Like I said, I was obsessed.
As the years went by, we got more dogs. Many more. So many I lose count when I try to recall. At different points, we had four to five dogs. People stopped walking near our gate because of the loud barking they’d hear when they made too much noise. Children would knock and run away, just to hear the sound of multiple angry dogs.
For about a year, our vet was out of a house and office, so he and his client’s dogs lived with us. I could get back from boarding school and meet seven dogs I’d never seen before in my compound. And being around them only made me love dogs more.
By the time I turned 13, people were moving on with their lives, and home was almost always empty, so we sold the dogs we still had. I even moved to a different state for school. My love for dogs was still strong, though. I still dreamt of getting a dog the second I became independent. I joked to my friends that once I got my first apartment, the first thing I’d get, before a couch, a bed or a TV, was a dog.
But I didn’t get a dog in university like I thought I would because I didn’t even have my own apartment or enough money to buy or take care of a dog. My projections began to get a bit more realistic: Maybe I’ll get a dog when I japa; Maybe I’ll get a dog when I start a family.
Apart from the year I spent out of Lagos for NYSC, I’ve largely been at home since COVID hit. I work from home, and I’m not the most social person. So I’m considering getting a dog. Not strongly considering, just consistently. But dogs are expensive to get and maintain, and I’m no Dangote. And I’m busy.
So when my dad brought Jack home five months ago, you’d imagine I’d be happy. I wanted a dog, and now I was getting one. Nope.
I’d met Jack before. Sometime in early 2021 when he was a puppy. He was my dad’s pet in Abeokuta, where he worked. But my dad turned 60 and retired in June . He left Jack with his neighbours for about a month and came home to rest. By the time he returned to pack some of his stuff, Jack was a skeleton. He’d been poorly treated, beaten and malnourished. I don’t think he planned to bring him home, but he couldn’t leave his dog looking like that, so he put him in his car and drove to Lagos.
The first thing I had to do when I saw Jack was clean up his vomit because he’d gotten carsick and puked all over the back seat. He was skinny and weak. I pitied him, but I didn’t accept him. All my life, when I dreamt of having my dog, I didn’t think I’d have to nurture him back to life. I thought of choosing my own dog breeds, getting them as puppies, naming and training them into the image I had in my head.
Jack is a “local” dog that feels more like a responsibility than a pet.
He’s afraid of everything. I know he’s been through a lot, but I’ve fed and petted this dog every day for five months. I’ve never beaten him. I don’t shout at him. Why does he still run away when he sees me, or when he sees anyone or anything. We have a farm with six goats, and sometimes, we let them into the compound to do some gardening for us. Jack runs and hides when he sees the goats.
Maybe if I was younger and had more time on my hands, I’d have the patience to nurture him out of the headspace he’s currently in. But I don’t have to care this much, right? I could just do my daily responsibility — feed him, give him water and call the vet to check on him. But every day, I’m annoyed at the situation. I’m annoyed I actually, finally, have a dog after such a long time, and it’s a dog that runs away when he sees me, that doesn’t understand he’s a pet. It feels weird and wicked to admit this out loud, but I wish Jack wasn’t here.