Jul 10, 2008

Blog Gone to the Dogs


Dog Days in Belize

Those of you who read our blog regularly will know that Buddica is the newest addition to our family. We now have three dogs and so much of our life revolves around them that we felt that we should dedicate this blog to our dogs and some of the dogs we know.


Midas came with us from London. Her mother was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and her father was a Hungarian Puli. For those of you unfamiliar with those breeds, here are a couple of pictures.

The dog on your left is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. This one looks very like Midas's mum. The dog on your right is a Hungarian Puli, sometimes called a 'rasta dog'. Anyone who knows these breeds and knows Midas realise that she is much more Puli than Staffie.

Midas's pedigree was in the free advertising paper in London called LOOT. She was born on a council estate in Peckham, South London and she seemed so sweet when we collected her. She quickly became known as 'Feral Sheryl' and 'Prawn of Satan'.

Years later, we bundled her into a plane and flew her first to the USA, where she spent some time on St. Simons Island getting used to the heat and used to the sea. Then we brought her to Belize. She stayed with us at the remarkable Jungle Dome near Belmopan, where there happened to be a couple of dogs that also came from South London. They taught her the ropes and then we brought her to San Pedro.

Midas rests after a hard day

Midas is the spoiled one in the household. Her life revolves around hunting swimming, diving off of docks, finding dead disgusting things to roll in or eat and catching crabs and lizards.

She sleeps in our bed at night and generally gets what she wants. If she doesn't get it quickly enough, she whines and whines and whines until you start to understand why people shake their children to death.

Midas's favourite spot for catching ticks

Midas entertains tourists and locals alike by jumping off of the docks and into the Caribbean Sea. She is fearless and often swims alongside sting rays that are much larger than her. Sometimes we swim with her and she loves that. Midas is very friendly, sweet and obedient and extremely irritating. She often stinks and has to be hosed down every day. She is weirdly intelligent and often looks like she is trying to form words. That can be frightening.

We don't just want to bore you with just our spoiled dog's lives, so we want to tell you a bit about how other dogs live here. Most of our neighbours have dogs. In our small neighbourhood of about 12 houses, there are just as many dogs. Some of them are kept under control, but most roam the neighbourhood turning over rubbish bins, fighting with other dogs, getting run over, shitting everywhere and mating with anything that will stand still long enough.

Many, in our neighbourhood, are owned by foreigners (not Belizean), who seem to think that this is OK. Obviously, we have moved here from a country obsessed, anally retentive and ridiculous about its dogs to a country where people value other things. We have no doubt that most people here can't quite believe how we behave with our dogs. We pick up after them, keep them on a lead near the road, brush them and walk them regularly. But there is defintely a change we have observed about the way many people keep their dogs here and if the local grooming parlour is anything to go by (it is called Pampered Paws and it always very busy) then people are starting to change the way that they keep their dogs here. There certainly are a bunch of different breeds appearing here. We saw an adorable pair of French Bulldogs just the other day. We've seen Weimeraners, Pit bulls, Boxers, Sharpei, Chows, an Elkhound, Pugs, lots of Chihuhuas unsurprisingly, a Visla, Greyhounds, Italian Greyhounds, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermanns, Schnauzers, Yorkies, a Schipperke and a whole bunch of other dogs since we've lived here. The local cross breed is known as a "pot licker'.

There are two dogs that live at the Town Board lot, which is very near to us. They follow the garbage truck every day on its rounds. They must be two of the healthiest, handsomest dogs you'll see on the island. They run, eat and shag all day. No doubt they have fathered hundreds of puppies. It doesn't appear that anyone owns them, they sort of have a symbiotic relationship with the garbage men it seems. They guard the truck at night and get to follow the truck all day.

They may not have very long life spans as heart worm is virulent here. Dogs, in general, don't live long and not many people know about or can afford heartworm treamtent. In fact, Octavius, our first beach dog, had a bad heartworm problem when we took him in.


Octavius looked like he was 10 years old when we first met him. He didn't move much and slept all curled up on the doorstep of one of the beach condos we were living in at the time. They seemed to leave food and water out for him. The tourists that had been living in that condo turned up on our doorstep on the day before they left and asked us if we could feed him. They pushed $50 in to our hands and we weren't about to say no.

Once we started to feed him, we began to realise what a mess he was. All four legs were red raw and sore from some sort of skin problem. His ears were being eaten by flies and he seemed generally unwell. We were living in a small one bedroom condo - for you brits who aren't familiar with condos, it is just really another name for a flat - with our dog Midas. We were not in the position to take on another dog. But we also knew that the local humane society, SAGA http://ambergriscaye.com/sagasociety/ , was under a great deal of strain. So we decided that we would pay to have him castrated, get his vaccinations and then put him back on his beach.

We'd done some research and discovered, much to our surprise, that he was only about 18 mths old. He had been brought to the condos as a puppy by one of the security guards. He and some of the maintenance staff sort of watched him and did everything they could to encourage him to be a guard dog. Much to their dismay, tourists started feeding him. In their eyes, this made him useless and he was pretty much abandoned to make his own way with the tourists.

Many dogs here are excellent beach ruffians. They know exactly where to go to be fed and which swimming pools are easiest to drink from. They know which security guards to avoid but most of all they know that all local men on bicycles must be driven off of their beach by any and all means possible. The cutest of these dogs get adopted by tourists and flown home to whatever country they are visiting from. Some less fortunate and perhaps less attractive dogs, such as Octavius, just don't have the energy anymore to be charming.

Cycling along the beach here can be a hazard. Colette has been bitten on her bike and we often have to deal with dogs chasing us. Belizean workers, who cycle every day back and forth to work, are at war with the stray and beach dogs. The dogs attack them and chase them and they in turn, either develop amazing cycling techniques to avoid being bitten, threaten violence or use violence. We watched one of our next door neighbours puppies grow from a newborn, timid, sweet little thing that wouldn't say boo to a goose into a certified, paid up, expert bicycle chaser. We often here the kerfuffle as she attacks passing cyclists, sometimes followed by yelping as the biker hits target with a kick or a stone. We hope she doesn't get chopped by a machete as this often happens to dogs here that chase bikes.

We discovered that Octavius, who used to be known as Blackie (but somehow we couldn't bring ourselves to walk around calling our dog Blackie), had also been a top cycle chaser in better days. He didn't seem to have the strength when we met him.

Octavius is a handsome beast

It took us several weeks of feeding him before we could get him into the house. We ruined the process slightly as we had to put drops onto his ears to stop the flies from eating them. Well, Colette managed to get the drops on once and he wouldn't come near her for days. We tried to get him onto a golf cart but he panicked and he screamed if we tried to put a leash on him.

So, the vet offered to come over and put him under at our place so that we could load him onto a cart and get him into the surgery. We'd put some weight on him and he was looking better, so he was ready for surgery. This was all planned with military precision. Oh well.

Octavius disappeared. A week went by and we were sad and giving up on him when he reappeared. He was thinner than he'd been before. He was covered in wounds, one in particular completely punturing his top lip, but he seemed strangely content. Clearly there had been a bitch in heat somewhere and he'd had a good week.

So, we set about getting him back in shape for surgery and the day finally came. He went to the vet with balls and came back with none. He spent the night in the condo and then he seemed to want to stay. He wasn't a very attractive dog at the time, with oozing sores, missing teeth, a wonky eye and very bad breath and we really didn't want another dog. So we told ourselves that he should go back to living on the beach and we'd keep an eye on him.

What we hadn't reckoned on was that now that he was strong and healthy, he was more than capable of taking on any cyclist or jogger that happened to pass. And the more time he spent with us, the more this territorial behaviour began to extend to any situation we found ourselves in. He followed us everywhere, for miles, waiting for us for hours outside shops and restaurants. He was quickly becoming our dog and he was a huge liability. Even if we didn't want him to be our dog, anyone who saw him with us who had a complaint about him reckoned that he was ours. After all, we fed him - that pretty much makes you a dog's owner in Belize.

Eventually after complaints from neighbours and our own common sense kicking in, we realised we had to make a decision. Either he was our dog or he wasn't. Now that he was known as a cycle chaser, we knew they'd have problems finding a home for him at SAGA, so we resigned ourselves to keeping him.

Putting him on a leash and keeping him in the condo exacerbated his aggression towards certain types of people and his territorial behaviour, but we decided that managed properly, it would be very good security for us. His reputation was well established and he could be frightening and formidable.

A not very scary, sneezing Octavius

It has taken some time, but he is now an absolute babe. Other than the white hair everywhere, he is a perfect house dog. He is a very frightening watch dog and we know he will bite. Now he doesn't have to be put away when our friends come round. The new house and big garden have relaxed him and given him confidence. Either way, having a good guard dog is not a bad thing. Dealing with the heartworms was unpleasant and worrying, but after coughing up blood and worms for a few months, he shows no symptoms anymore. The bad breath is about the only thing we have to suffer.

Octavius - From Homeless to Housepet

So we're just settling in to our new home and Colette arrives with another dog. This one, covered in ticks, scrawny and hyperactive, seems to be the dog that she fell in love with. It is easy to work out why.

Buddica shows off her 'flat' command

Buddica has now been spayed and has all of her vaccinations. She is learning how to walk on the leash, but she is so strong that we are using a great tool called the Halti Harness. She is learning the basics but has shown a great propensity and enjoyment for trick training. She is extremely smart and takes great pleasure in working out how to do the things she is being taught not to do. For one, she isn't allowed in the bedroom. So she slowly works her body past the boundary to see how far she can get.

One paw in the bedroom

She is not supposed to get on the furniture.

Does this count as furniture?

The other dogs are supposed to be acting as role models.

Were you trying to relax?

But her new tricks are so cute, that she is hard to resist. (and for those interested, Colette is using a clicker for the tricks)

Buddica attempts tap dancing. Tightrope walking is next.

Buddica demonstrates enthusiastically how to do two tricks at once
Praying and waving

For those of you who haven't seen a dog pray before, here is another chance

For those of you who prefer waving, here is another chance to see that

People often ask us if the dogs get along. Having a puppy in the house has been great for all of them. They all play for hours in the garden and wear eachother out. It is hilarious to watch and gives us endless entertainment and laughs. Buddica does steal the toilet paper and she rearranges the garden every night, but the pleasure that we and the other dogs get out of her balances it all out.

Midas and Buddica putting the world to rights

Three dogs and eleven coconuts

But we must remind you that our dogs are loved, beyond reason and cared for. Not all dogs in Belize are so fortunate. Below is a picture of a little dog saved by the SAGA Society in San Pedro. Unbelievably, the people from whom she was rescued wanted her back. Obviously that never happened. So, if you are ever feeling like helping, get in touch and we'll tell you how you can help dogs in Belize.