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Understanding Brazil: Dogs

By Ricky Skelton
Barbara Woodhouse, a famous British dog trainer, once said that there was no such thing as bad dogs, just bad owners. Brazilians seem to love their dogs, much as Gringos do, but I think the relationship is somewhat different. In Britain, a dog is usually treated like an extra, junior, member of the family. In Brazil, there are essentially two types of dogs, having different places within the family. The first, and most obvious, is the pet that is really a guard dog. They come in various sizes of large, from Alsatian to Rotweiler to Great Dane. They live in an outside yard about the size of a tiger's cage and they behave in much the same way as a caged tiger. They can smell you coming for miles and the first bark alerts every neighbouring dog, which join in the chorus for hundreds of yards ahead of you up the road. Something similar happens with the automatic lights in office buildings. (This makes it impossible for the straying Brasileiro to sneak home late at night.) These dogs are not ones to make friends with, even if the owner introduces you. The introduction serves more as a warning to behave yourself. If staying at somebody's house, it is best not to get too drunk and stumble into the dog's area by accident. They've been waiting for that moment for years.

The other type is epitomised by the ubiquitous Poodle: Yap-dogs. In cities with many apartment blocks, dogs aren't required for security, so people can keep the breeds that aren't trained to kill. Their function is somewhere between a stress-ball and an earring, only for higher maintenance. Especially when the dog is taken to one of the many grooming salons for a shampoo and set plus coloured ribbons (green and yellow ribbons were very popular during the World Cup.) It is very thought-provoking seeing somebody carrying an expensively laundered dog from the salon having spent more money on it than most people earn in a week, especially in São Paulo if they have to carry the dog past people with little food and no home or money. I find it quite obscene but it's not my place to point out these things.

What never fails to make me laugh is seeing these over-pampered dogs wearing t-shirts. As if having fur wasn't enough in such a hot climate. The four little booties covering the paws is an occasional treat to see, but even better was the dog I saw walking the streets of Higienopolis wearing a frilly mini-skirt. Seriously. On a larger scale, it would have been the type of Lycra outfit worn by an older woman while doing gentle aerobic classes. I wish I'd had my phone to take a photo for the "Photo of the Week".

I have experience of dealing with this type of dog while house-sitting one of those breeds with no nose (very difficult to smack when the dog barks all night...). In a house of lazy students, the dog didn't get out much so I decided to give her some proper exercise. I'd asked the owner if she liked going for walks. 'Sim! Ela adora caminhar!'. Twenty minutes in, the dog collapsed on the path and flatly refused to go any further. I wasn't going to drag it, and no way was I ever going to carry it, so after a few minutes of stand-off, we headed for home. Next day, she came back from the salon (carried, as it was raining) with two little pink bows on her head. That was the end of our walking relationship. Never again.

Somewhere between these two types are the biggest losers of them all. The Huskies. These noble blue-eyed beasts have enough energy (& fur) to pull sleds thousands of miles across arctic tundra through snowdrifts without complaining. Yet here they are cooped up inside small apartments, sometimes also having to suffer the heat and the ignominy of a t-shirt. People sounds surprised when they hear that a Husky left alone in a flat destroyed all the furniture. I might start a Free The Huskies campaign. Feel free to join in. And if you find you've released a killer by mistake, worry not. Just run. The dog will collapse panting long before it gets its claws into you.

Previous articles by Ricky:

Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil - The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo - always a bad thing?

10/31/2006


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