Part 1

On a freezing, damp Wednesday in August 2012 Kovu arrived in Hilton.  It was a very small and scared little bundle that we took out of the travel cage of the pet transport van.  He had just endured a ten-hour journey from Nelspruit and we could not even begin to understand his bewilderment.


I just held him in my arms.  He looked at me but I couldn’t quite fathom the look.  Wariness perhaps.  When I took some chicken slivers in my hand and held it for him to eat he seemed unable to find my hand with his mouth and kept on pressing his chin down on the food.  I had to cup my hand and get the food to his mouth.  For a fleeting moment we wondered if he was blind as well?  We talked to him all the time and whispered encouragement into his floppy pink ears.  He was deaf, but we could not help ourselves.  We told him it was going to be okay.  That we loved him even before we knew he was coming to live here.  He refused his water.


When we put him onto the lawn he found the verandah pillar and lifted his leg to make the longest wee we had ever seen any dog make.  We think it even surprised him, as his three legs began to wobble with the effort of keeping the fourth in the air.  Hesitantly he began walking into the garden.  He did not sniff things; it was just a tentative walk around the immediate garden.  We tried to get his attention to give him some more chicken but he seemed to look straight through me.


Inside the house our other dogs were creating havoc trying to figure why we were alone outside with a strange dog.  We let Nala Moonbeam out.  She is the 3-year-old Boston Terrier who recently stepped into the role of matriarch.  She has a history of aggression towards other dogs.  It was a moment of truth and their meeting was likely to set the scene and tone of how this situation would play out for the rest of the pack.  At first Kovu was not even aware of this little fireball that came charging out the door.  She ran right at him and he took a step back uncertainly.  She firmly head butted him in his side and he shook himself vigorously. She kept on coming to us and then going back to check him out and to make sure he knew his place.  We on the other hand did much deep breathing trying hard to maintain a “calm assertive” vibe.  It seemed to be working and after that little head butt, he seemed to have gotten the message that she was the boss.  Nala too was satisfied that he understood.  We sighed with relief.  After about a half hour, we brought out the thirteen year old Bearded Collie.  She gave him one look and seemed to sigh thinking “Oh please …not another one!” Then it was the turn of Kwaito Kai, the two-year-old Boston Terrier boy.  Self appointed Beta dog and very much turning into the great protector of his pack, humans and his property.  They took a mad dashing run through the garden.   We laughed and we cried.  By now we were almost all frozen, but we endured and lastly we brought out our little rescued Bostie,  Phoenix the NikNak alias The Squirm (a story for another day).  Phoenix and Kai have the tendency to gang up together when other dogs come.  But our little Phoenix at age seven months was just excited to see more candidates to participate in his games.  There were some more mad dashes and lots more peeing against every bush. By now Nala was frozen and just wanted to go inside where her fire had been lit and her supper and bed were waiting.


We both agreed that the most important thing would be the successful introduction and integration into the pack.   That we as new moms, would not treat him differently due to his deafness and that at least for those first couple of hours we had to trust our pack to set the initial ground rules.  I was very difficult when all we wanted to do was hold him tightly and kiss his little worries away.


When we opened the doors to go inside the pack sort of carried him inside, to the kitchen where their supper was waiting.  They all got chicken that evening.  Kovu could not get enough and later that night we fed him a little more again.  The pack then went outside for the traditional post supper pee and poos and Kovu tagged along.  Still we resisted picking him up.  When they were all inside and finding their spots in front of the fire Karen tried to pick him up for our first real cuddles.  But he ran away, standing at a distance and looking at us wearily.  Our hearts broke but we realized he still needed space and had no reason really to trust us yet.


Apart from what we had leant about him in the last couple of months since he was rescued, we had no information of his past and what he had been through.  We only knew that he was rescued from a home where he was no longer wanted and where the owner had threatened to have him euthanased should someone not take him away.  So with heavy hearts we sat in front of the fire and just let them all be.  He was exhausted and desperately needed to close his eyes.  He did not even look at the special bed we had made for him. Instead he chose to lie down on the small entrance carpet in the doorway.  He would close his eyes and 30 seconds later he would jerk awake in panic to see if all was okay.  Finally he moved closer to my chair and lay down again.  He never slept, but kept on lifting his little head to check his environment out.


When it came to bedtime, we knew the next test awaited us.  Having three other Bosties that had free roam of the bed, this could be tricky.  We made the decision to override all the other dogs and placed him between our pillows on the bed.  The other dogs were not okay with this and none settled.  About an hour later Nala had had enough and came and pushed him down at the bottom of the bed. She lay down next to him with her tummy touching his back. From sheer exhaustion and perhaps feeling a little safer, he fell asleep.  Nala moved off into her bed and we pulled Kovu up to between our pillows.  He woke several times but would fall asleep again as soon as we settled. He slept curled up in the smallest of balls never moving.  During the night he allowed us to touch him, but we had to very careful not to startle him.  We were advised to place our hands in front of his nose so our smells would wake him.  Still we could not grab him and love him to bits.  But the first night went so very well and we felt that by all standards the first phase went okay.   Now all we had to do is to teach him the sign for “Wee wee outside!”


Yulinda Noortman