a dogs tale – ‘Poor little thing!’ said Alice, in a coaxing tone, and she tried hard to whistle to it…

I am beside myself. I write on my Facebook status that I am “having kittens” because the dog that my friend wants with her in Holland, has over the past year been living around a restaurant and butcher here in Dahab (what dog wouldn’t!). Now the dog is meant to be in a taxi with me on the way to Sharm el Sheikh airport by 11.30pm tonight for a flight booked at 4am but the guys at the restaurant have refused to let me take him… I have about 4 hours left to get this sorted!

My fb friends online offer me all sorts of advice from ‘grabbing and running away with him’ to ‘getting a bedouin with an AK47’. Humorous but perhaps not so helpful if I want to continue living in Dahab.

I have been trying to avoid this situation for days, hoping that I could find Lucky Puppy in the early hours of the morning when not too many people are about. This meant going out at 1am or 5am and other times to no avail. I have promised my friend KP that I will get this dog, LP, on a flight to Europe on the early hours of July 8 – tomorrow morning. I have to take him in a taxi leaving at 11.30 pm tonight to be sure of making these connections – time is fast running out and I am up against a rock and a hard place.

In the afternoon I finally decided I had to look more openly for him so ‘Hamid went to the restaurant where he often hung out and asked on my behalf. I was told to speak to “a russian woman called S” – she would “tell me where he is”. Both ‘Hamid and I spoke to S and I explained what I wanted to do. We had a brief discussion, she intimated that she did not consider LP to be her dog- he was a street dog, so if I wanted to take him, she would not stop me. Great! Now I just had to find him. This was about 2pm and very hot so LP was probably sleeping in the shade somewhere. Unlucky finding Lucky Puppy.

Early this evening I again went on my own and found LP lying just inside a restaurant where he often hangs out. The young guys there told me I had to speak to S if I wanted to take him.
“I already have spoken to her. She is OK about it.” They kept insisting I had to speak to her again. She had said to them “the dog was not to go anywhere”.
“OK. Where does she live? I will go speak to her again.” It was close by so I went but she was not there. Someone phoned her for me. I  spoke to her and the message I again got from her was “well he is a street dog so if I want him you can take him”.
I went back to the restaurant. “S says it is OK with her.”
“No, no. We have to speak to S.”
“Well if you feel like this, why didn’t you just come with me?! I don’t have her number. You phone her!” Blank looks. “Well come with me and you can get her number and talk to her.”
They speak to S on the phone and seem to agree that she says it is OK if I take LP. We return to the restaurant. LP by this time is locked out the back so they open the door and LP bounds out all excited at being free again. This enthusiasm is not a good look for what I am about to do but I put my dog’s collar on him anyway. The men start getting agitated and one phones “his uncle” the butcher who has been feeding LP “kilos of meat”. One holds LP by the collar while on the phone. This is not encouraging.
“My uncle says he can’t go anywhere. LP stays here. You can talk about it when he gets back”
“What do you mean talk about it when he gets back? Where is he?”
“In Cairo.” FFS  Why ‘are they’ always ‘in Cairo’ when one needs something? What is so attractive about Cairo except traffic and hoards! ?What now?!
I start trying to argue with them. “I can’t wait, LP is booked on a flight to Europe this evening.” I am also aware that my friend KP has made a 10 hour road trip to Germany to collect this dog. She is already waiting…
“He is our dog. We have been looking after him for years.”
“Yes, I can understand how you feel. But if he is your dog why don’t you keep him off the streets. Why didn’t you get help when he has been fighting and cut his eye?” I know I am on shaky ground here – my dogs roam the streets on occasions without ill effect and the dog is well fed.
A bedouin enters stage left, “What is going on here?”
“She wants to take LP.”
The bedouin tells me, “You know LP is my dog.”
I know he has claim to him because LP was born in or around his camp at the back of this restaurant and grew up there. “Yes, I know he was born in your camp. But my friend KP, you might know her, she loved this dog from the beginning. He always hung out with her at he dive centre. She wants to take him to Europe to live with her,” I plead. I probably look like a crazy dog lady but the truth is I prefer cats. And horses.
He shrugs, obviously thinking it over and says “Well let her take the dog.” He walks off stage right, leaving me to it. I watch as one of the guys takes the collar off LP and I stand there, not knowing what to do or where to go next. I decide to leave it at that point and try to find ‘Hamid to see if he can/will help. I walk off stressed and dejected.
So what am I fighting for?

My friend KP lived in Dahab with her daughter and son for a number of years. During this time a puppy was born and KP fell in love with Puppy. She lived in a small two bedroom apartment with a small garden with her two children and up to 5 cats. I say up to 5 cats because, cats being what they are, come and go but essentially they all lived together in happiness and harmony. Puppy was born a street dog and he loved his freedom on the street but he also loved KP so he would often forsake his freedom to stay in the garden with KP and her family. He was never coerced to stay and he never wore a collar. And so this continued over a number of years.

Time came KP had to make a decision about continuing to live in Dahab in the style she loved, despite its challenges and difficulties, or to return to Europe to offer her children more comprehensive education and different life opportunities. After much deliberation, with mixed feelings and uncertainties, she decided to return to Europe. She had little money, no job lined up and no private living so she had to leave all her beloved animals behind. I took one of the cats but the others remained in the area and took their chances with new tenants – all neutered I might add. KP knew that ‘Puppy’ – now grown into ‘Lucky’, would easily find food and already had his territory marked out along the beach and street.

Over the next months KP gradually rebuilt her life – rented an apartment, found a job or two, established her children at school, dated some men and made the most of her life back in “the West”. But she never forgot her time in Dahab and lamented her loss of contact with Lucky Puppy. Her facebook page depicts many photos of her and LP – hugging, hanging out, swimming, eating and enjoying life together. He became an obsession to her and she kept thinking of ways she could take him to live with her and her children. She fretted that when living on the street he would come to harm, either from traffic or fighting with other dogs or heaven forbid, death by poisoning which is relatively common here.

LP meanwhile, made the most of any opportunity and advantage that came his way. It just so happened that in his territory was a butcher and a number of restaurants. LP made friends with everybody, not the least the butcher who was kind to him and fed him much meat. KP asked me to look out for LP so, while I kept my distance, I would see him begging for scraps of meat or lying on the steps digesting his full tummy. He was in no way unhappy or neglected and had a very good life as a street dog.

Over the next two years KP visited Dahab often. Every time she came, LP would leave his territory and camp where ever she was staying, standing outside like a sentinal, hanging out to spend time with his beloved KP. He was the happiest dog in Dahab during these times – he trotted proudly in front when KP went walking  and looked so joyful and content – I can only describe it as love.  LP loved KP more than meat and to say this about a dog is high praise indeed.

KP finally gave in to her obsession and decided to prepare LP to make the journey to Europe. This required time and planning – LP had to get a microchip inserted under his skin. These are not always available in Egypt. LP had to get his own canine passport, his blood had to show active antibodies to rabies infections. This requires two vaccinations against rabies over a period of months and a followup blood test that has to be tested in Europe. He would need to fly with an animal friendly airline, an approved crate and government release papers…

In the meantime LP is living fine but I was taking him off periodically for injections – the butcher is aware of this but I suspect not entirely happy. He does like the dog but when I discussed KP wanting to take LP to Europe he talked of the amount of money he has spent feeding him. I said she will pay him something – she will discuss this. Perhaps the butcher cannot own up to the fact that he likes the dog which is why he talked of money. I try not to think about it, as ‘like’ does not compare to ‘love’ – KP and LP is a love story.

LP was also an entire male which means whenever a bitch came on heat, he disappeared for days or even weeks at a time following his instincts to impregnate her given the chance. This also means he was fighting to be alpha male all the time and subsequently suffered a large gash under his right eye. When I saw the gash, I was horrified – it was about two cm ripped into his lower eyelid and swollen to an ugly mess. He was lucky not to lose an eye. It was too late to make any sort of stitches but I took him the vet to get an antibiotic injection. The vet recognised him and told me “a russian woman” , the aforementioned ‘S’, had already had him attended to so I returned him to the street. Over the weeks his eyelid healed remarkably well, sans stitches.

The last time KP came to Dahab she decided to have him neutered and take the final blood test to be checked in Europe. The subject of neutering male animals in Egypt is a hot topic. Ask any male here and they will tell you it is haram – ie against the Koran’s teachings. However the local vet is muslim woman (el hamd el allah) and she says she cannot find anywhere in the Koran that supports this view. My opinion is, that men the world over, always personify the minor operation and cannot bear the thought of neutering male animals; whenever it is mentioned they cross their legs, look around wildly like a caged cat and plead “Oh, but he won’t be able to have fun!” Grow up men! Women the world over have been having full hysterectomies for years for health reasons and they still have fun. I am not advocating a return to eunuchs guarding hareems or castrati for singing (banned in 1903) but keep it in perspective! This from a country where they circumcise boy children and perform clitoridectomies on girls!” Yet neutering a dog or other male animals is supposedly haram! Get over it. The animals do.

Anyway LP was quietly neutered to quell his street fighting urges and is none the worse for it that I can see (our dogs as well). KP took his prepared blood to Europe which subsequently showed enough rabies anti bodies. KP could begin the final step to take LP to start a different life with a loving family in Europe. She was fully expecting to have to make another journey to Dahab to collect him but circumstances led to someone else offering to be flight parent to accompany him from Sharm el Sheikh to Germany. LP would just have to be delivered to the airport 2 hours prior to the scheduled flight time. KP asked me and I agreed to help.

So this is why I am on fb trying to get ideas and inspiration from my friends online – some of whom have already taken dogs from Egypt to Europe.
‘Hamid finally walks in the door. “They won’t let me take the dog!” I blurt out the happenings of the previous hours.
“Stay here. I will go and talk to them.”
“Shall I come with you?” I am relieved when he says, “No. You can’t help with these guys.” I am relieved. I am a coward.
I sit here and wait and watch sands through the hour glass, smoking and fretting, updating KP on the state of affairs, feeling stressed and upset. ‘Wait’ is a time bomb.
‘Hamid arrives back. I am too scared to ask.
‘They want money. xxxLe’
Silence. I am almost totally without money from some previous expenses and not sure what I can do….KP has been a very good friend to me and I know she loves this dog. I know this dog loves KP more than he likes the restaurant guys, even if I do feel a little sorry for them. If KP was here he would just walk away from them without a second glance. I have seen it happen many times despite what they say.
“OK. I still have some money in the bank. I will go to the money machine and get it. Tell them that they can have xxxLe and I will find a way to pay then tomorrow. They can have my passport as security.”
Hamid says “No. Don’t give them your passport. I will talk to them now while you get the money.”
I get the money and sit outside on the steps waiting for him to return. It is always a beautiful night here but I am too agitated to notice. It is 10.50pm when I hear a pick up stop in the dark and hear ‘Hamid’s voice. I am overjoyed to realise he has LP on the back of the pickup truck. OMG! He has the dog! He has the dog! How did he do it?
“Oh, you have him! You are amazing. Thank you. Thank you!”
‘Hamid ignores my praise, “Grab him. Don’t let him go. If he gets away he will run.” I help get LP down from the pick up. He is obviously very stressed. It is probably the first time he has ever been in a vehicle. Oh LP, if only you knew. This is just the start of your adventure. In a few hours you will be flying high in the sky on the way to your love. How can I explain this to a dog?

I hold the collar very firmly but not unkindly. I had prepared for this by suggesting ‘Hamid make a slip lead around his neck because LP has a short neck and thick fur. He has escaped from me before when I was walking him to the vets. We cajole him up the steps into the apartment where my cats threaten to make a meal of him. I lock our two dogs on the balcony and take LP in the bedroom to rest in the a/c. He looks totally bemused but resigned as he lies on the cool tiles.
“How did you get him without the money?”
“I left my wallet with ID. They wanted me to sign a ‘cheque’, but I didn’t.”
“Oh please don’t so that! You promised you would never sign one of those again. Here take this money and tell them we will pay the rest tomorrow.” There is this crazy system for IOUs here where they sign for a monstrous amount like 10,000Le even if a small amount is owed. This guarantees the police will get involved if the borrower defaults but it also means you have to trust the lender to stick to the original amount. As far as I can see, it always turns to custard.
So LP here we are! You are here! I can’t believe it. I update my fb, saying LP is chilling in the a/c. The car arrives and LP is reluctant to get back in a vehicle – a saloon with a covered back seat but ‘Hamid shoves him in as I quickly climb in the other door, grabbing LP from diving straight through. I breathe. It is exactly 11.30pm.

On the drive to Sharm LP is very hot, hanging his tongue out, slobbering all over my skirt as he sits across my knee. I don’t care. I just hug him trying to reassure him that all will be fine. He is a fine dog and he will have a very happy life playing on grass, chasing cats and birds, sleeping inside if it is cold, even playing in snow when the time comes. I tell him he has the perfect coat for playing in snow. He will be loved by KP and her daughter and other friends. I am almost crying from relief.

I was told to wait in Terminal 1 to meet his flight parents at 12.45. We are 10 minutes early. As we walk in some personel guy asks “Where are you going with the dog? Are you taking him on a flight? He needs a crate”… They have to have something to say! Well actually I was hoping to sit him next to the pilot. Do you think that would be Ok?  Sarcasm, the lowest form of wit. I am tired. “I’m waiting for someone to take him.” LP and I sit here on the metal seats watching the security police and cleaners watch us as they walk past. In places like this, at this hour no one seems to have much to do except watch and wait.

It is just after 1.00am when LP’s flight parents run in. They had given me the wrong terminal so they will walk LP over to Terminal 2. At first LP hesitates, he has come to trust me on our short car journey but within a few seconds he decides to trot beside them off into the dark. I suddenly feel very tired and just a little emotional. I doze of on the way back to Dahab.

In the morning I work early and return home to organise the final xxxLe for the restaurant guys so ‘Hamid can get his ID and wallet back. I check my fb and see a photo of a happy family that includes LP and another where he is posing on such green green grass. I think the story is over and ‘They lived happily ever after.’

But this is Egypt. The story is never over. ‘Hamid comes back many hours later, very agitated and stressed. The restaurant guys took the money and told ‘Hamid to wait while they bought his wallet. But it seems the restaurant guys have had second thoughts about letting LP go. After a short while they say they won’t give him his wallet or the money – they now say they found it out the back where he must have broken in to steal the dog.  He has to bring the dog back. Fat chance of that boys!  They say ‘Hamid has to speak to the butcher when he comes back from Cairo before they will give him his ID and wallet….
All ‘Hamid could say was, “Thank God I didn’t give them a ‘cheque’.” … to be continued

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