Our Sophie

February 27, 2009

In 1996 just outside of a small West African village my wife (though at the time we were just dating), Christie, recovered a tiny, wailing puppy in the Bush. The puppy was alone without littermates and with no bitch in sight. We later learned that when a bitch has an undesirable litter of puppies one way of getting rid of the problem was to have boys spread the puppies out into the bush as far apart as possible in hopes that they will die before the bitch finds them. In general this was a practice of people who considered the dogs to be a sort of large rat in the first place and never wanted the bitch hanging around in the first place. Among the Mandinka people with whom we lived in that particular corner of Africa, dogs are absolute pariahs who survive on the food waste and trash that is discarded over the compound wall.

Sophie from infant to adult

Sophie from infant to adult

The puppy was so tiny that her eyes were not yet open. It was much too young to have been weaned. We didn’t have anything like bottles or formula to nurse this dog. Christie bought a can of condensed milk at the little village store and dribbled it into the puppy’s mouth with her finger. I found out about the new little family member by bush letter, which is to say that Christie wrote me a letter and gave it to a passing car headed in my direction and which was eventually delivered to me. At the time I was working a couple of hundred miles away. When I read the letter I as completely stunned. I couldn’t imagine how we could possibly take care of a tiny puppy, but we did and I managed to overfeed her so that she was fat. When it was time for us to return to the USA we brought her with us.

A friend asked me what was wrong with her tail because it looks like it is chopped off in the top photo and the other two photos don’t show it. The answer is nothing was wrong with it. She had a normal tail. The top picture is just framed awkwardly and the tail is hidden rather abruptly by a tree stump that is barely visible at the edge of the picture.

West African Working Bush Dog

February 26, 2009

These are photographs of photographs I took in 1997 in The Gambia. The dog is one of three that serve as guardians for a beautiful herd of Fulani cattle. The structural conformation is very much like an Azawakh but many of the “bush dogs” in that area tend to be quite rustic and unrefined. Specimens with one or both ears erect were not uncommon, tails tendto be thick-ish and the hair was usually somewhat longer than is typical of Azawakh. The temperament is the same as typical of Azawakh. I believe these dogs and Azawakh are very closely related.

It was common practice for male working dogs to have cropped ears. I’m not sure if the primary purpose was to proactively prevent torn ears or to identify the dog as owned by someone (and therefore not to be killed).

West African bush dog protecting his cows

West African bush dog protecting his cows

After thieves, the biggest risk to cattle might have been hyenas. The bush dogs that guard herds were expected to keep hyenas at bay.

West African Hyenas, the enemy of the bush dog

West African Hyenas, the enemy of the bush dog

Memorium for Sophie

October 3, 2008

In late 1996, my then girlfriend, Christie, found a puppy literally crying under a bush in the Bush in West Africa. The puppy had been culled and left out to die. Christie scooped up the tiny creature whose eyes had not yet opened and took her home. She named her “Sophie Touray” after the movie, Sophie’s Choice, and the African family name she had adopted.

Sophie and Me Circa Early 2007

Sophie and Me Circa 1997

At first we fed Sophie condensed milk from a can by dripping it into her mouth with a fingertip. She quickly learned to lap from a dish. She survived and was strong. As she grew, I was so worried that we could not feed her enough to keep her alive that I put a ton of oil into her food and made her kind of fat, especially for a Sahel hound.

Sophie loved us and she kept us safe. Twice in Africa she repulsed burglars. She once attacked a huge monitor lizard that wandered into our house. We lived in terror that she would be caught eating a chicken and someone would execute her for that crime. I distinctly remember rescuing more than one very shaken but not yet dead chickens from her jaws.

We brought Sophie back with us to Washington, DC. Life was hard for here here. For two years, the three of us lived in a one room studio apartment and Sophie was alone most of the time as we joined the DC rat race. The dogs here hated her on sight for some reason and she learned to hate them right back after being attacked and seriously injured several times.

Sophie was a fierce creature with a wild heart. Perhaps because she was younger, she could accept new people when we lived in Africa. Once we moved to the States, she only ever accepted one new adult: her “uncle” Barry. She was so fierce with people and crotchety as she aged that we were worried when our first child was born. It was an enormous relief that she accepted the baby immediately. She tolerated eye pokes and nose honks without a single growl.

Sophie died suddenly and unexpectedly in the summer of 2007. She was 11 years old. We were all crushed. My children cried every day for weeks. Sophie was not the sort of dog that would be right for most people, but she was our loyal protector and sometimes our reason to carry on.

I miss her every day.