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I won’t let my dog watch TV anymore

Published:Sunday | November 22, 2015 | 11:00 AMAnthony Gambrill, Contributor
Anthony Gambrill

We always had Labrador dogs. The first given to us as a wedding present, I named him Cholmondley, which the English pronounce 'chumley', giving the impression that he was of aristocratic descent. He may have been, but he quickly became just another member of a rather chaotic, democratic household.

We soon learnt that being quite large and black - which he was - made some passers-by fearful of his intentions. Of course, this was far from the truth. In fact, Cholmondley was everybody's friend, which, on one occasion, didn't work in his favour.

We had taken him up to Newcastle for the weekend and on the afternoon we were to return to Gordon Town, Chum was nowhere to be found. We searched the district without avail, asking if he had been seen and letting it be known that a reward was on offer.

 

captured and tethered

 

Saddened, we returned home without our first 'baby', but hopeful that he would quickly be returned. Three days passed without a word, not even a rumour of his sighting. But we both woke up on the fourth morning with a feeling that Cholmondley was back. We threw open the shutters by the patio and there he was, quite obviously sleeping off the long trek of several miles, instinctively finding his way from Newcastle to our cottage. The only clue as to what he had happened to him was a length of rope around his neck. He couldn't tell us, but we surmised that he had been captured and

tethered before escaping.

Not all our subsequent Labradors gave us such scare, but we made sure to pick females as Cholmondley had probably fallen prey to the allure of the mating season. In time, we ourselves took advantage of the mating season and Princess, a later golden Labrador, had an authorised encounter with a male.

My wife and I miscalculated Princess's delivery date and we were abroad for her blessed event. Luckily, our two daughters were at home and created a run with a shelter for the four puppies she proudly produced. Another Labrador, Bambi, was remembered for hopping into the driver's seat any time you opened the car door.

The latest recruit is Suzie Q, another black Labrador, and she is the one to be banned from watching television. She and I will sit in front of the TV set and all too often the American programmes will be interrupted with commercials promoting gourmet food for dogs containing wild salmon, corn-fed beef, organic chicken, top-grade rice and fresh vegetables usually served in four-star Michelin restaurants. The commercials have Suzie Q's eyes popping, and it won't be long before she shrugs off her gentle manner and sinks her teeth into my leg. I just can't take that chance. Anyway, the incident led me to research dogs in Jamaica.

 

instinctive fear

 

I have determined that Jamaicans' instinctive fear of dogs probably harks back to when the British brought dogs from Cuba when they were fighting the Maroons. Faced with the difficult terrain of the Cockpit Country and with the Maroons using guerrilla tactics, the redcoats found their task difficult. Apparently, the Cuban canines, when on the trail, would wag their tails if Maroons were in the vicinity, effectively warning the British soldiers. The Maroons, it seems, have passed this dislike of dogs down through the ages.

Jamaican dogs, particularly in urban areas, have a penchant for barking in the early hours of the morning. When I was leaving my current girlfriend's house as dawn was breaking, the neighbourhood dogs would begin a caterwauling. For a while, I suspected it was just me they were snitching on. It turns out I wasn't the only one upset by this trait.

We had a diplomatic incident a few years ago when the German ambassador informed the press that he was threatening to go to the police because his neighbours' dogs kept him awake at night. The popular song Dog War captured the essence of this canine cultural characteristic. This undiplomatic outburst probably got him

transferred to Kabu.

Some Jamaicans don't like dogs in the vicinity when they are eating. When I took a stage show to the United Kingdom in the seventies, the cast gathered in a fish-and-chip shop for a meal before a performance in Peckham. When an elderly lady came in with her spaniel on a leash. The show's comedian, Oliver Samuels, sprang up and stormed out, raving about "that filthy creature", or words to that effect.

In recent years, Jamaican dog lovers have divided into two main categories: the pit bull/Rottweiler/German Shepherd owners, who, like the Maroons, fear for their lives and those who prefer chihuahuas /shih-tzus/poodles and enjoy them as handbag accessories and night-time companions sharing the top of the bed with their husbands.

You can, for instance, pay $150,000 for a Doberman or $10,000 for a 'potty-trained' shih-tzu puppy (apparently, you need to own a potty for shih-tzu puppies to climb on to). A dog-grooming service will come to your residence should you wish because pampering is obviously part of the pleasure of owning a pet. The latter are usually loyal to the extent of constantly getting under your feet or chasing your car wheels in anticipation of a joyride.

But dog-napping and stealing dogs for ransom have become popular career choices in Jamaica, particularly at Christmas, when there is always someone who would like to find a potty-trained shih-tzu under the tree.

Most dogs don't harm their owners, but if you own a gun, please take note of the recent news story from (where else?) the USA, where an 11-year-old Labrador accidentally trod on its owner's shotgun, releasing the trigger. She was shot in the foot. The dog's name was Trigger.

- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.