Okay, I need to talk about these dogs.
They’re known as ‘village dogs,’ and they’re not really feral, but maybe more like ‘free range’.
American Samoa has plenty dogs—every family seems to have at least one, and of course, they can be quite territorial. You’ll know of their existence should you walk by the property that one or more live on, because they will come right up to the edge of the property (sometimes beyond!) and bark their fool heads off at you. You’ll know of their existence if you happen to ride your truck down certain roads, because they will chase your vehicle until they are tired. (as if they could do something if they caught it!) You’ll also know of their existence when you go to any kind of outside eatery, because there will be at least one looking up at you with soulful eyes—all they want is your food.
I did not grow up with dogs, and I’ve never owned one in my life. But somehow, some way, we’ve managed to get adopted by five mutts. When I moved here almost a year and a half ago, there were two dogs on the property we live on—Bon, an older male dog, and Maya, his much younger girlfriend. I really didn’t relate to them too much in the beginning, because they didn’t know me, and Bon had a bad habit of barking at every damn thing, even his owners when they came home from work, and he really liked barking at me. He was a bit senile. Just the same, he got know me and finally stopped the barking at me… he began to wag his tail, instead.
Maya apparently showed up about February or March of last year, and she and Bon became very close ‘friends.’ She just started hanging out and stayed, from what Monty says. She was a very sweet and friendly dog, though she cowered a lot… we worried that she may have been treated badly. No one knows exactly where she came from.
Before I moved here, Maya became pregnant, (though not with Bon—he was a bit old for that) before I moved here. The pups never showed up, so Monty thinks that she abandoned them.
When happy, Bon would have this wonderful trot with his tail held high, just like he was a young pup. You can tell the guy was once some kind of doggie stud. Maya went into heat last year, and there were all kinds of male dogs running in and out of the yard. Bon would be there every time to protect her, and he’d get his ears chewed up in the process. I couldn’t touch him, being so fearful of infection, due to my healing knee replacement. His poor ear would be bloodied and covered with flies. Monty and I both worried that he would succumb to infection, but he carried on like a champ. We’d been feeding them both at that point, and I came to appreciate them wholeheartedly. Monty bought some doggy biscuits to feed them, and we talked about getting them dog food, just because we know that it has real nutrients that they need. We really wanted to give them both baths, because they were so stinky. This is not a usual thing where we live, and neither of them are our dogs. So we felt pretty bad for them. We don’t have an outlet for a water hose, if that’s what you may be thinking, otherwise we would’ve hosed them down.
One night, we had some extra leftover food to give them, and I noticed that Bon was missing. Maya was still around, but I was surprised to see that Bon wasn’t. Maya got all of the food, but it really bothered me that Bon wasn’t around to try to take it. That’s what he’d usually do—try to steal hers. It gets tricky to feed them, but it’s a matter of feeding Bon first so he’s good and distracted.
Still no Bon the next day—or, the day after. We were worried that maybe he succumbed to an infection in his ear… maybe he crawled away and gave up. Monty went looking for him the next morning and couldn’t find him anywhere on the property. Then Monty saw the owners and asked about him—apparently, poor Bon was accidentally run over, while sleeping a few nights before.
He wasn’t my dog, but I felt broken-hearted.
Now I have a really good idea what all the animal owners are feeling when their beloved pet passes. It doesn’t take long to build affection for an animal and to notice and love their individual quirks. I’d only ‘known’ Bon for about three months, but I really missed watching him sit in the yard smiling, a natural black ‘freckle’ on his tongue. I loved his happy trot!! And I loved the way he nonchalantly stretched, front paws together with a fake yawn, when he knew he was about to get a treat. He was trained enough to know to ‘stay’ (even if only in Samoan!) and wait patiently for his food. He was a good dog, and I still miss him. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to lose a pet that has been owned for a number of years—or decades.
The silver lining is that Maya did have a second litter last year, and she took wonderful care of them. Perhaps she was just a bit too young with the first litter, but she more than made up for that with the second one. She had seven pups, though two didn’t make it by the time they were old enough to walk around outside.
We kind of fell in love with the remaining five, when we first met them. They are not really our dogs, but rather they belong to owner of the property we live on—he decided to keep all of the pups because his young daughter fell in love with them, too. As it turns out, we take quite a bit of responsibility for their care, since the property owner doesn’t seem to have a lot of money. He feeds them mostly table scraps. Doing the humane thing, we feed them kibbles, since we worry about their health.
We even named them our own names, though the Samoan family named them differently. I’m sure they are/were confused, though they sometimes respond to what we call them. The three males are named Spot, Rufus (‘Woofus’) and Whitey (guess why). There was a fourth male, Little Spot, but sadly, he didn’t make it due to anemia. There is one female—Monty named her Punkin, after months of us calling her ‘Little Girl’.
They also have their own unique personalities, as would be expected. Spot was an absolutely adorable puppy—my favorite—though he turned out to seem to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic, as an adult. He’s the one with his dick hanging out most of the time, though he’s a very sweet, loving dog. Rufus (a.k.a. ‘Woofus’) is mischievous, always tugging on your clothes or swiping something. Whitey is a loner, and Punkin is sweet, sleek and a very fast and graceful runner. I call her ‘Propeller Butt’ because that’s how her wagging tail moves.
My sweet, soft-hearted husband has even taken them to the vet. Rufus, one of the brown dogs was near death when Monty found him one morning laying outside our doorstep. He couldn’t even lift his head, so he took him in. That’s when we learned about the particular variety of ticks here. They apparently can give a dog anemia, and Rufus had it to the point where his blood numbers we so low, it was thought that he would die within hours. Monty asked the vet if the was anything that she could do, and she suggest a blood transfusion, though she’d never really tried it before. She ended up doing it for Rufus, and he survived—and very well, too! In a very short time, he became very healthy again, and seemed to know that Monty and had saved his life. There is a bond between those two now that I think even time and distance will be hard to break.
Then there are the things that drive me totally nuts about them—there are the ‘heats’—the ‘dogs-going-into-heat’ heats. Unleashed dogs, which virtually everyone has in their yard to keep out intruders, go into heat approximately two to three times a year here. Let me tell you something… you’ve likely not seen anything like it. Strange dogs forget all of the rules and congregate in your yard, as you try to chase them out, waving whatever is handy. (I like umbrellas)
The activity continues through the night, punctuated by long, mournful howls. Then there are the fights—you can hear the teeth-baring outside your windows, and then you see the evidence in the morning; Chewed up ears, scratched faces and wounded limbs abound.
Also there are times when they are so excited to see us, they jump up on us. A gentle knee to the chest helps to push them down, then they get the message.
At the moment, the five mutts that live on the property are all bedraggled from ‘the heat’, and there is far more than one ‘heat’ here, let me tell you. There is also the temperature, which can range from a relatively comfortable temperature of about 78º (not even including the heat index) to an all-day sweat fest with a heat index of 114º. Water is a necessity, and no one needs to remind you of it, because you are just hot ALL of the time. The water bowl on the front porch is always filled.
One recent night, Monty told me in his own way that he ‘got it’… Spot came up to him, put his paw in his lap and looked at him as if to say, “This wasn’t what I expected.” At this point, poor Spot is all beat up… wounds, scratches and bite marks from other dogs—all of them competing for females—in fact, Spot was going after his own mother. Monty said (from the way Spot looked) that he imagined that what he was trying to say to him that all he really wants from his life is to run freely in meadows, and then come home to a good meal–inside the house. Poor boy… it will never happen here. Thinking about this, and it didn’t take but a minute, I know all about those expectations.
We know that we will be moving on soon… I’ll be moving back to Honolulu in November, while Monty stays behind to finish up his work here. The hardest part will be having to leave these dear animals behind, simply because they’ve touched my heart. There are not a lot of places in Honolulu that will accept dogs in a rental, and then again, these dogs would definitely not know how to handle it—they’ve been ‘Samoan-ized’—they will always expect to run free. We’ll have to hope that whoever moves into the place we’re leaving will be willing and able to help these guys out when they’re hungry, thirsty or sick. They are certainly worthy of it.
That’s all I have to say, except cheers to the animals. They teach us so much about love, if we let them.