biology zoology blog benno meyer rochow my feral friends

My Feral Friends

What can I possibly mean by feral friends?

When we lived in Jamaica we observed exciting things through the window of our house: humming birds, lizards, banana thieves sneaking into our garden from the nearby gully, fireflies, cattle egrets and … feral dogs! The word “feral” has nothing to do with ‘ferocious’ or ‘feline’ (= cat-like), but describes any domesticated animals that has reverted back to a wild or semi-wild state.

The dogs in our garden were truly feral: they had neither owner nor pedigree and they were thin, but free. What was so fascinating about them was their family life. The female, whom we referred to as “The Old Lady” never barked. She was a strong, powerfully-built brown dog with black vertical tiger-like stripes, a stubborn character, not at all shy, but rather cryptic nonetheless. Only at night would she emerge from her daytime resting place under the hedge and go ‘walkabout’. Her male partner, whom we termed “Shiro”, was a white loner, who liked and trusted us, but not many others and who barked at anyone who approached our garden or came near the fence. He was ready to fight any dog at any time, but was ever so gentle with our baby daughters, who could pull his ears, sit on him or even touch and examine his teeth. Shiro was a wonderful dog. Caught a few times by neighbours, watchmen, and campus guards and even shot at by the police, Shiro always managed to escape, even from a cage he was once held in. The “Houdini of the dog world” we used to say. And he always faithfully returned to his “wife”, the Old Lady, and our garden.

Three not fully grown black daughters completed the family. When the Old Lady gave birth to a new litter, the three older black daughters, one of whom we had called “So-Shy”, stayed around: Shiro, the boss, of course too. Half of the newborns, unfortunately, drowned in a terrible tropical storm, although the Old lady tried to carry them to drier ground. When the surviving young were old enough to chew and eat meat, but could not yet leave the den, I sometimes watched the Old lady carry home from her nocturnal foraging trips lumps of meat and bones, even regurgitating extra meals for her pups. Her extraordinarily shy and secretive teenage daughters usually accompanied her at night and on one moonlit night I actually witnessed how the Old lady attacked a fully-grown sheep, silently assisted in this endeavour by her three daughters, forming a circle around their potential prey.

Shiro’s stomping ground was UWI’s campus where he was seen regularly and sometimes even stalked other bitches on heat. But he was never far from his family during the day, ready to protect them (and us). During our time in Jamaica, we saw this dog family have three litters. We managed to find owners for most of the young dogs and adopted one ourselves, which we called “Kuro”. Although the Old Lady did mate with other dogs, she and Shiro remained a pair and even after four years one of the black daughters, “So-Shy”, still hung around there as well. Assuming that the ancestors of the common domestic dog lived somewhat like these feral dogs in our Jamaican garden did, it is obvious that dogs and humans were made for each other. What perhaps sometimes human dog-owners don’t realize is that in the eyes of a dog, the master is just another odd-looking and a rather bossy member of the family. Sadly, the wonderful Shiro died from a small wound he had sustained during a fight with another dog and which then got infected. But I’ll never forget him.

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2019.
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