The dog is man’s best friend… They say. But dangerous encounters with our so-called friend have left me with an aversion for our domesticated companion.
During my early years in Guyana, dogs were mostly kept either for hunting wild deer in the forested sand hills, some thirty miles inland from Georgetown, or guarding the home and other properties.
I was eight years old when my parents first allowed me to visit my cousins by myself. My uncle and his family lived at the back of a long yard. There was no ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign on the access gate. On the right of the car-width concrete pathway, a six-foot-high zinc-sheet fence hemmed me in. Four-foot-high paling fenced in the houses on my left.
I had gotten half-way along the path when a dog dashed from a yard. He ran towards me. I froze against the zinc fence and screamed. What happened afterwards is a blur.
After independence in 1966, our young nation ventured on a path of degradation. The empty shelves of the corner cake-shop and grocery stores mocked us. Water shortages and black-outs became commonplace. Home burglary, oftentimes ending in violence, and thuggery contaminated our city and coastland. ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs multiplied across the city and outlying areas. Wrought-iron frames fortified windows and doors.
In the flat above us, the couple with three young boys – ranging from seven to eleven years – owned a dog of mixed breed, the size and color of a butterscotch Labrador. During the day, they kept him locked in a kennel in the front yard, close to the gate and our front door. I’ll call him Brutus. I don’t recall his name: We were never on speaking terms.
When the following incident occurred, I was an Assistant Librarian Trainee at the University of Guyana Library, where I sometimes worked the 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. shift. On those nights, my father held Brutus while I slipped through our front door. Our neighborhood was in darkness due to yet another black-out. I was surprised to find my father (a hunter) waiting at the gate. He was somber.
Wait, Rose. Let me lock up Brutus first, my father told me. Brutus lurked in the shadows at the foot of the front stairway. After I was safely indoors, my father released Brutus to guard his territory.
The babysitter, a woman in her forties, had left the boys alone upstairs while she took care of some personal matter. When darkness closed in and the lights did not come on, the boys released Brutus. On her return, the woman entered the dark yard, unaware that Brutus was on the loose.
The attack was brutal. Blood and bits of flesh spattered the front stairs where he caught her. If my father had not intervened, Brutus would have mauled the woman to death.
I shuddered. I hated the brute. But I slept better at nights knowing that he protected us from the violence strangling our city.