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.
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.
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.
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.
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.