Sport turned 119 (7=17) on 5th November last year. Every dog has his day and this was Sport’s, but there were no fireworks. Not even a small bonfire. Sport is a low-key kind of Corgi-Staffie-cross. I, who turned 294 years old last birthday and am something of a Methuselah in dog terms, gave him an extra piece of biltong.
And thus it occurred to us, Sport and me, that maybe it was time for him to slow down a little. His old colleague, UmQombothi, a Labrador of much charm and little brain, had uttered his last woof in the middle of the year and being sole guardian of a 10-hectare plot was beginning to take its toll on Sport.
He had survived a number of leguaan skirmishes and a couple of rather more serious attacks by neighbouring boerboels. Each time he was perforated with pipes like a leaking porcupine and wore one of those rather fetching lampshades for a fortnight. He had been keeping various visitors in check with great dedication for all his adult life, as witnessed by the Mozambiquan spitting cobra that met its death in a swift Sporting attack to the neck and the Avis driver who lost a chunk of his calf after threatening Sport with a kick to the blunt end.
So I went to see B-B-B-Bennie and the Vets, that Lowveld institution, to take advice. They have been keeping Sport in more-or-less one piece all these years and now he was to spend his sunset years in the Karoo, I explained. He would need all the things a dog requires for a long journey and a happy retirement.
I had to wait (as one has to at every vet’s) while the vet’s assistant took a phone call from a previous patient’s owner to the effect that the previous patient (or its owner) thought it/she might have dropped R100 on the surgery floor. Had it been found? No, it hadn’t. Then there was another owner (without patient in tow) in front of me who needed a 20-minute explanation of the varying effectiveness of Top Spot, Bottom Spot, Front Line and Bottom Line (and luckily not Bikini Line).
When my turn finally came up, I allowed myself to be relieved of a large number of rands and walked out with two dead smart aluminium bowls, a collar and lead (for pit-stops on the journey), four tranquillisers (in the event that Sport should be overcome by a 119-year-old uncontrollable excitement somewhere in the depths of the Free State), the most expensive dog-food on the dog-planet (Pluto, I suppose) and a designer beanbag in olive green, scattered with pictures of giraffe, buffalo and lion and slogans, ‘African dawn, where the big five roams the land and the dust is rising from many hooves’. Ah, well. It would give him something to read on the way down.
We set off, pooch perched on the back seat, sometimes sleeping but sitting much of the time, watching the passing scenery and letting off bad smells (exactly like my 2-year-old foster-grandson on his journey down some weeks earlier). Sport did not complain about my music (who could complain about Genesis and Carmina Burana interspersed with Jon Perlman and Jeremy Maggs?) and he didn’t talk too much. The perfect travelling companion.
I made a misjudged stop to peel the clingwrap off my sandwiches, just before the Machado Toll Plaza, where Sport climbed out for a pee and a swift sip of bottled mineral water but was promptly assaulted by inch-long ants and forced to retreat to his beanbag. I then couldn’t get him out of the car for the next 500km. I stopped again at the Verkeerdevlei Plaza (Wrong Pond Plaza?) but he wasn’t budging.
Finally, at Colesberg, on a needs-must basis, he stepped gingerly off into the Ultra-City parking and was immediately buoyed to see a concrete bowl of water under a sign with the words ‘Wagter Water’ and a canine cartoon. Sport doesn’t read Afrikaans very well but, presuming this to be a misspelling of The Wagster and thus a reference to his magnificently helicoptering tail, he took it as his first sign of Karoo hospitality. This retirement thing was going to work.
Since then, we have walked the town. Sport, the farm-dog, is walking to heel (well, within a couple of feet of me and when it suits him) down the dusty streets, while, from behind every gate and fence, a huge ball of fluff and teeth throws itself at him, barking. He takes it in his stride. It feels like a prison visit. Our first game drive through the Camdeboo National Park was a rampant success. We saw six kudu, four hartebeest, a scrub hare, monkeys and six ostrich in about ten minutes. I think Sport thought that, as he was in a glass box, he must be on television and all the other animals were watching him, so he pricked up his ears and looked his best.
Eat your heart out, Jock. You can keep the Bushveld. This is Sport of the Semi-desert, resting much of the day but, no doubt, behind all the snoring of a sleeping dog left lying, is an active mind planning how we are going to celebrate my imminent birthday when I shall be turning 301.