At first Upepo was nervous of cars, bikes, loud noises and people, but by taking her out of the compound for short intervals on a harness once she had settled in, and again by giving her lots of cheese treats while out walking, she’s now the one pulling me along. Even matatus no longer scare her.
It’s not all been an easy ride however. With her new-found confidence other behaviours we don’t like have emerged. She jumps up, and thinks the sofas are hers to climb onto (not good with wet, mud caked paws) but we are trying to teach her she only gets attention from us if she’s sitting or has four feet on the ground. This is definitely work in progress.
Her mouthing too sometimes hurts. She has lots of energy and nips when she wants to play. We have realised the worst thing to do is to scream and wave the nipped body part around – because she thinks that’s a continuation of the game. So, I’ve told the children to try (as hard as it is) not to yell and to stand still, to turn away and to wrap their arms around themselves. When she’s calm – they pet her. She doesn’t get any attention for behaviours we don’t like.
Upepo was sterilised. We don’t need to add to the problem of unwanted pets in Nairobi by having puppies (Fonzie is already sterilised but I’ve heard other dogs can easily find a way in to the compound if one is on heat inside).
I’m also worried about the number of stolen dogs in Nairobi – usually used for breeding – so I’ve had her dog tag engraved with the words ‘I’ve been sterilised’ along with my phone number, just in case an unsavoury type thinks she’d be a good addition for their puppy mill.
She has been a lot of hard work, but with continual training she will be a wonderful pet. We adore her and the whole experience has been extremely fulfilling. I know we have given a loving home to a dog that would otherwise have had an awful life on the streets and we can’t imagine being here – or anywhere else in the world for that matter – without her.
My one bit of advice to anyone thinking of getting a dog is to make sure that you get good advice about training from someone who uses positive reinforcement. It works wonders and your dog will love you all the more for it. A fearful dog is not a happy dog. Oh and make sure you train the whole family – it won’t be just the dog who benefits from it.
As a boy growing up in Nyamira County, Erick Onsongo had ambitions of helping people by becoming a doctor – but he couldn’t ignore his love for animals that had grown from his time spent looking after sheep and cattle during his school holidays and at weekends.
If he was to become a vet, he realised he could help both. By teaching locals how to treat and look after animals properly, the animals would benefit – and the communities, with a greater understanding of animal behaviour, would be more tolerant of them.
After a chance meeting with Amy Rapp of the TNR Trust in 2016, whilst still training as a vet at the University of Nairobi, he knew he had found an organisation that embodied the principles he believed in, and he decided to dedicate his free time in helping the TNR Trust.
As his involvement with the organisation grew, he became more involved with the mobile clinic and along with Carla, Erick devised an education programme which the TNR could put in place to get the message out to communities on how vaccination would keep their animals healthy and sterilisation would prevent the over population of cats and dogs.
Erick is hugely excited about the official launch of the clinic in January 2019 – pending the issuance of our KVB (Kenya Vet Board Permit) – and is keen to visit the more rural parts of Nairobi – so that he can provide much needed medical care to animals who are suffering and advise locals on vaccinations and what to do in the event of a dog or a cat bite.
I’ve learned that children and dogs are not the most natural of bed fellows. Children like to pull tails or ears or give out unwanted cuddles which may make a dog feel uncomfortable. Children can’t always see or understand a dog’s warning signals showing they feel threatened – which can then result in a nip or a bite. People often forget that it’s equally as important to train children how to behave around dogs as it is to train the dog’s themselves.
Her mother was a street dog, and extremely nervous – and Upepo was equally as wary, especially of strangers. She barked at the staff constantly which became annoying.
By asking them to drop bits of chicken or cheese on the floor around the kitchen where they worked (for her to gobble them up) she slowly began to associate them with delicious treats. They are now all very tolerant of each other.
She still barks at strangers, but I don’t mind that. She’s a great guard dog – giving out lots of warnings to people she doesn’t know. But to stop it becoming annoying or developing into aggressive behaviour, instead of telling her off, I call her to me and give her some tasty chicken treats to distract and encourage her to settle under my desk and give her a tummy rub. She wants to protect me and my family because I’m the source of all things good!
And that’s the other thing…she loves my children because she’s learned they’re messy eaters and if she hangs around at dinner time, food falls from the table to the floor. My children are another source of good tasty treats – and she’s a great hoover!
Our decision to adopt a dog was not a difficult one for my family. We had recently arrived in Nairobi and our other very sociable rescue dog (rescued from Spain) was bored and lonely in our compound. We had promised the children that with a larger garden we could accommodate a new puppy.
I was desperate to find one that suited our requirements (under 6 months and female) as quickly as possible. I know that puppies can be destructive, so hoped to find one before our shipment arrived with our furniture. By then I knew (with training) I could have a puppy house trained – so no peeing on our rugs and hopefully she would be less inclined to chew everything!
Having contacted the TNR Trust to find a suitable dog – Monsoon was suggested as a match.
The strict verification process, as well as insisting on a vaccination and sterilisation programme, including a home visit, reassured me that the TNR Trust would help me adopt a dog with the dog’s best interests at heart. I’ve always believed that it’s important to be a responsible and able dog owner – or not one at all.
When Monsoon (now renamed Upepo – which means ‘wind’ in Swahili) arrived at home she was terrified and sat shivering in a cupboard in the kitchen refusing to come out. I left her to sleep until she felt comfortable in her environment and when the children arrived home, I gave them bits of chicken to give her – giving them the opportunity to interact with her by giving her treats, rather than overwhelming her with cuddles.
Luna was found trying to cross a road in April this year; she was hobbling along painfully, with a huge gaping wound to the bone on her leg. Her rescuer followed her and found her mother who appeared to be blind. Both were starving and cold, sleeping out in the open, in the heavy rains and freezing cold of Tigoni, in a shallow hole dug out in the ground. It transpired later, from a local squatter, that they had been attacked by a gang who had a feud with him and they had set alight his chickens and Luna’s three siblings. Thankfully, mum and Luna (who was around 4 months old then) managed to escape, but not after having been attacked viciously by the panga-wielding men.
The rescuers eventually gained their trust and brought them home for fostering. Even though both dogs had endured such cruelty and hardship, they were both gentle and very sweet-natured. Luna continued to recover slowly: from tick fever that she almost died from had she not been given a transfusion by a quick-thinking vet, tapeworm infestation, infection of the bone, an abscess in her foot, and a slow-healing fracture. None of that however, stopped Luna from being such a free-spirited, feisty, happy and delightful puppy that loves zooming around and giving back loads of cuddles and love to her foster family. She has now been adopted by a loving and active family where she is happily settling down with her new four-legged friends.