When the head of the Deutsche Bank in South Africa heard he had to move to Singapore, he was left with a dilemma. What to do with his English Pointer, a well trained working dog that he took out every weekend to hunt with his falcon. People who love dogs know very well that you can’t leave your loved one with a stranger. So, when a mutual friend introduced us, the owner of Betty, told me that I have to meet him at 6 a.m. for five consecutive Saturdays to go walk with Betty so he could ascertain whether I was a worthy new caretaker. We went out every Saturday and Betty found a new home.
The first thing I did with Betty was to regularly go jogging. She was so obedient that I even went riding my mountain bike- with her on the leash, attached to my handle bars! That went well until the day she thought we should go past the lamp post on the left and I thought we should pass by the right side… it would have been funny if the fall wasn’t so painful! Needless to say, the bike riding became jogging again.
Betty was well trained to hunt with a falcon and I was always entertained when I threw a rock in the grass to see how she would freeze, focus and then change angles so that she investigates the sound approaching against up-wind. Betty, like many English Pointers showed the naturally elegant traits of a thoroughbred. Once a friend and I were sitting at a restaurant next to Chicamba dam with Betty laying next to us. A wild falcon was circling and to our amazement Miss Betty jumped up and started ‘working’ the field shadowed by the wild falcon. It was amazing to see the two of them working instinctively together. Betty was an interesting mix of a fearless worker and adventurer on the one hand and also a real domestic lady and comfort seeker on the other. Betty was such a little lady that we renamed her ‘Miss Betty’.
In 2002 when I moved to Mozambique, Betty came along. All papers in order we travelled the 2000km via Maputo in my red Stallion bakkie. We settled in a town called Manica. It was Miss Betty paradise. The scent of wild quail and guinea fowl would always be the triggers that make her genetic disposition explode with a shivering intensity. Above all this was a working dog. She could hold a point for 20 minutes with intense discipline. Being trained with a falcon, she was unfortunately a bit gun shy, and her fear of loud noises was most apparent during thunderstorms. During loud thunderstorms Miss Betty became a house dog.
Miss Betty was an extremely intelligent little Pointer. On a weekend visit to a Colonel’s house where she visited her three GSP friends she discovered a way to escape the confounds of the yard and explore the adjacent veld. None of the GSP’s ever found a way out, but Miss Betty started by working in the opposite direction of her exit point. She climbed into a tree, jumped onto a shed, walked onto the roof of the house, down onto a another wall and then jumped off the front wall. The Colonel and his family was in disbelief, 40 years with very smart dogs, but never have they seen such a manoeuvre!
In the town of Manica, Miss Betty learnt to ‘speak’ her third language. She was raised by the falconer in English, learnt Afrikaans from me and now had to learn all her commands in Portuguese. Wait… Wag… Espera… was followed by Eat it… Eet hom… Comer… She was so good that the local English teacher took her into the English 101 lecture and proved to the kids with various commands that Miss Betty understood more than 10 words in three languages! The same house that functioned as the English School was where she performed a few of her miracles. When a grass lawn was planted everybody had to walk on a specific path laid out with spaced concrete blocks. I started placing her Eukenuba on those blocks and reprimanded her if the diverted of the path. Reward for doing it right and stress for trying to take a short cut. Very soon Miss Betty would first finish the path route and then made a left turn to he destination, even without the food, she would show the kids not to take a short cut over the grass. She did this even when nobody was around and people would peek through the windows from inside the house to see this for themselves.
English Pointers love to run and Miss Betty loved to swim. Chasing geese in the dam was one of her most futile yet stubbornly persistent hobbies. She once kept going for two hours and I learnt that a swimming Pointer cannot catch a duck or goose on a dam. She would easily run 30km of dirt road and once ran so far that when she got home all the cushions of her paws were raw. For a few weeks she struggled to walk and we all felt very sorry for her as she tip toed around looking like a cat with sticky tape around her paws. I had an old farm motorbike and Betty with my command of ‘UP’ would give a mighty jump onto the bike seat and sit neatly on the seat between my legs, up straight with her front legs standing on the petrol tank. It was quite a scene for the local villagers to see the Afrikaner and his dog drive by like that.
In some areas Miss Betty was just a normal dog. She could bark at people at the gate, she loved to play with other dogs and even one minute after feeding could make you think she hasn’t had food for two months. After a bath, she somehow knew she could try to sneak into the house. She would stand next to me and softly place her chin on my leg. She sometimes stood like that for 15 minutes, and I loved it. The end goal of all her conniving and scheming was off course to sit on my lap. Once on the lap she would curl into a little bundle and act like an invisible little puppy, the oddity of her actual large body ignored in favour of a construct that would allow for prolonged state of lap sitting bliss.
For a while we saw that eggs went missing from our chicken coup and we suspected human thieves, since we never saw a broken shell in the coup. And here is where Miss Betty the egg thieve became famously infamous. Once we saw her open the gate, but once she saw that we saw she simply turned around and walked away. The breakthrough came when a group of five of us were sitting in the garden and I saw her circling towards the coup. In a calm voice I told my friends to keep talking and not turn their heads towards the chickens. We saw her walk in and take one egg in her mouth and she walked right past us, got onto the little path that became mandatory habit and went to lie down in her box. Later I went to check and found the unbroken egg under her blanket! We went to bed that night and in the morning I saw the shells in the box, a midnight treat while the humans were sleeping. Her box or bed was also the scene of another mystery: we used to argue about who tucked Miss Betty in on cold winter nights and with everyone saying they didn’t we were left perplexed. Until we saw how the dog pushed the blanket onto her body and kept turning in a little circle until it was even, then with a twisting turn lied down on the edges of the blanket, tucked in perfectly as if a human helped her.
Then, while out of town for work a huge thunderstorm broke out and the next morning as the rays of sun started to dry out Manica, the local youths saw that Miss Betty was gone! The whole town knew her and everyone started looking. Posters and regular broadcasts on the community radio station was met by literally hundred of people going around looking for Manic’a celebrity dog. We could only assume that she jumped out of the yard and started running in fear of the lightning and thunder. The possibility of theft was also an option, knowing her fear of storms, we figured she ran, and no one knew where to or who found her. Knowing how Mozambicans treat their dogs, I was terrified of how Miss Betty’s life might end or play out. I was distraught and cried, more sad than I have ever been over a lost loved one or broken romantic relationship! I felt responsible for not being there. Miss Betty was gone. A week became a month and a month almost became a year… all hope was lost.
I was in Mutare, just across the border of Zimbabwe when a Land Cruiser with two English Pointers reminded me of Betty and brought back so many memories. As I was stroking the two Pointers the owner showed up and I apologised for touching her dogs without permission, explaining that I too had an English Pointer, and that she went missing just under a year ago. I mentioned that I stayed across the border in Mozambique. The woman looked to be in disbelief and asked if it was a bitch, I said ‘yes’.’Is she terrified of lightning?’ the woman asked and I said ‘yes’, now cautiously curious. She proceeded to tell me that she knew where my dog was and that a Zimbabwean expat farmer found her 50 km from Manica and not knowing who she belonged to kept her! I received a cell number and directions, and went straight to the farm. Arriving there I met a pleasant young man who confirmed the story. They gave her a new name and calling her Miss Betty came out of the farm house. We were about 100 meters away, but she stopped and started at my red Stallion bakkie with a curious look on her face. I shouted: ‘Betty come!’ and she sprinted towards me. The embrace, yelping and excitement was the stuff of movies were made of and I halted the euphoria with a strict heel, and she immediately sat next to my left leg. ‘UP’ I said and she jumped into the Stallion. “Ok, it’s your dog” the young Zim farmer said.
Arriving in Manica the town was in joyous disbelief and the story of the prodigal bitch had everyone talking as far as Cape Town and Colorado. Miss Betty lived out her life with me in Manica and eventually passed away at age 11 of tick fever. Her death was indeed terribly sad and seeing her becoming thinner and thinner, weaker and weaker was heart breaking. I asked a local friend to bury her. I couldn’t look at her body. The idea of seeing Betty dead was too much.
As is the case with great people, in death, we we celebrate life. In the case of Miss Betty, a life well lived, by an amazing little English Pointer.
Below: A true lady, never lied with her face on the ground
Below: Excerpts from my diary when Miss Betty went missing