One regular source of amusement at the farm is the canine contingent of the family. Nominally, the family has three dogs, but the neighbour’s dog, Jacob, makes himself at home here more often than not as well.

The oldest is Kira, a curly-haired black lab-like dog, who reminds me of the typical geriatric dog. Her joints ache, she sighs and groans in her sleep, and she’s generally napping underfoot most of the day. Occasionally, she’ll join the volunteers at their work for a few hours, tagging along for a walk to the banana field or the water source, but you can see the exertion takes its toll on her. She’s still a young dog at heart, though – she will watch you working for hours, wagging her tail and begging for you to throw a stick for her to chase. Her cataracts and aching bones don’t have the power to diminish her joy in life; I can only hope to be as happy when I’m old. Kira is sure to bring a smile to my face whenever I see her.

While Kira is only occasionally around while we’re working, Jacob is a more constant companion. This infuriates Ingo to no end, because Jacob is NOT HIS DOG and shouldn’t be here at all, let alone at our heels throughout the working day. Ingo often admonishes volunteers for being too nice and welcoming to Jacob, and reminds us regularly that we’re supposed to be mean to him. This doesn’t stop Ingo from throwing scraps of meat to the dog when we’re butchering animals, or from feeding Jacob alongside the others. Jacob is a pain, though, in that he occasionally will grab a chicken or piglet by the neck, or chase the geese around the yard. Consequently, on virtually every trip to town, Ingo loads Jacob into the back of the jeep and drives him home to the neighbour’s place. Jacob makes the 5km return journey on foot within a few hours, and by the time Ingo gets back from shopping, Jacob is waking up from a nap in the kitchen to greet him. The longest we went without Jacob was a little over a week, after one of the horses fell off a cliff and died. Jacob found the carcass and returned to the house, reeking of death and stinking to high heaven. After that incident, the neighbour kept Jacob tied up on a short leash to keep him home. This morning, though, on our way into town, Ingo dropped by the neighbour’s place and let Jacob off his leash (“It’s cruel to keep him tied up like that!”) and when the dog followed us several kilometers into town and caught up to the car, Ingo let Jacob come along for the ride. No doubt when I get back tomorrow, the dog will be napping comfortably in the kitchen, where even Ingo might admit he belongs.

My favourite dogs on the farm, though, have to be Tank and Dozer, the six-month-old Great Dane puppies. They’re huge, stumbling over their enormous feet as they flollop around the farm. Tank is the bigger of the pair of brothers, and seems to be the dominant puppy as well. He’s honey brown, lanky and gawky, with wrinkly cheeks and jowls. He’s the smarter of the young dogs, which isn’t much of an endorsement – both are as thick as two short planks, with the memory of a goldfish and the attention span of a gnat. Tank may not remember “sit” or “come” for longer than a few moments, but at least he’s figured out how to get into a hammock by himself. His ebony-coated littermate, Dozer, is thinner, more submissive, and significantly less bright than Tank. Training Dozer takes an endless repetition of “sit, sit, sit!” before he eventually puts his rear end on the ground, and moments later he’s distracted by Tank pulling on his ear and you have to start training him all over again.

Silly puppies, all floppy ears and nipping teeth

Silly puppies, all floppy ears and nipping teeth

The pair of them together are an endless tumble of floppy ears, whipping tails, and oversized feet, nipping and wrestling each other all over the farm. They’ll follow us to the top of the mountain, tripping over their own feet and faceplanting in the dark soil. Dozer sometimes forgets to follow us down the mountain again, and has to be fetched when we realize he’s been left behind again. A few of the volunteers have taken on the task of trying to train Tank and Dozer. It’s a daunting task, because the slightest distraction makes the dogs forget everything they’ve ever been taught. With close to a dozen volunteers around, plus wandering pigs, chickens, cats, and other dogs in the vicinity, there are always distractions at hand. Even in a completely silent field, Tank will run to the top of the cliff to look out and see what everyone else is doing, rather than coming when he’s called. While Tank and Dozer aren’t the swiftest to pick up on these things, the family’s two-year-old daughter is much quicker. Hand her a cookie, and she’ll march up to the nearest dog and repeat sternly, “Sit! Sit! Sit!” before sharing. She’s even been known to say it to the occasional volunteer who wants a cookie, as well. It goes to show that even volunteers on vacation are trainable. Only time will tell for the dogs.

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