Chauncy dog’s fox-red fur adds a touch of warmth to his owner’s New York apartment. In the winter he wears sweaters to keep him warm; African dogs aren’t used to New England winters. On the other side of the world, Boon is exploring the sights and smells of Mumbai, his pointed ears and basenji-inspired form blends in well with the local Indian breeds.
Chauncy and Boon have travelled a long way from their native Burundi. Adopted by diplomats, aid workers and journalists, dogs from developing countries are finding their way around the world at the side of their human companions.
Adopting an East African street dog is a labor of love. East African dogs are remarkably clever animals that do not train easily. Feeding a dog in a place that lacks a culture of animal care, means all meals are hand-cooked. Visiting vets from Uganda or Belgium come to town only occasionally to provide needed check ups, vaccinations and sterilization – though often these surgeries are performed in private homes.
In 2013, I found myself in South Sudan working as a development anthropologist. Juba, the capital city, can be a lonely place full of guarded compounds and ever-running generators. When I saw Olive, a little mess of fur in the street, I knew she needed me as much as I needed her. Despite less-than-ideal living conditions, I brought the pup home.
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At eight weeks, Olive was showing signs of malnutrition and her ears were so full of ticks that it took 45 minutes to clean them out. Olive also had bot flies, some of which were so large they obstructed the movements of her joints.
Despite difficult beginnings, Olive grew into a lively and loving dog with lots of energy. She loved to watch over her shoulder as she left muddy paw prints on the tile floors and even learned how to open the front door by herself.
Olive was living a comfortable life in Juba until the security situation changed dramatically. South Sudan seemed to be returning to war and shells and mortar rounds were going off less than a kilometer from our home. Expatriates had to be evacuated—no pets allowed.
Trying to remote-manage the export of a pet from a war zone is no easy feat and it took four, excruciatingly painful months to get Olive out of Juba. South Sudanese friends rallied their support and kept her fed and cared for, but she was lonely and often sat waiting by the gate as though hoping we would come home.
After a herculean effort, Olive made the journey to Nairobi where she is being papered and prepped to fly to Europe to join me. As Chauncy and Boon can attest, there is a special bond between adventure dogs and their humans. It can be difficult to understand why a poorly-paid aid worker or graduate student would go to such lengths to bring their canine companion home, particularly when their lives are built around helping people, not pets. The reality is that Olive, Boon and Chauncey remind us of how connected we are on this planet and the many ways in which protecting the most vulnerable enriches the soul. Raising an East African dog means enlisting the help of everyone around you to ensure quality of life. It introduces the care of animals to those who may otherwise never have experienced the friendship only dogs can give.
When Olive arrives in Paris she will tell a story. She will be a reminder that proves the value of even one little pup—and the impact unconditional love can have on the well being of people, even in the midst of incredible hardship.
In addition to raising funds to bring Olive home, Melyn is raising additional money for the Kenyan SPCA, working to improve the lives of animals across East Africa. Visit http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bring-adventure-pup-home to read more about her story and what you can do to help.