13 July 2006

Nigeria: Inside The Dog Trade


Abuja — The population of dogs in Nigeria is unknown, but something remarkable is happening to dogs, and a paradigm shift may be occurring here. More people are keeping guard dogs at home for security purposes, rather than as pets, while an increasing number are eating dog meat out of a fear of malaria and attacks by 'witches'. Somehow the population of dogs has not declined, even if increasing numbers eat it as a popular delicacy. Dog meat also popularly referred to as '404' across the country, is regarded as the sweetest of all meats. It has a legend woven around it. Dogs have therefore attracted varying, if contradictory, human responses. But these responses depend on where you stand. Tadaferua Ujorha went about Abuja investigating. His report:

"A dog which loves to dominate, one which desires to be in control, and does not easily allow another dog into its immediate territory is named Villa." Umar Malusafi chuckled as he made this point, and the chuckle grew into ringing laughter as it spread around the group, which was made up of hunters.

Talaka (Hausa word for poor), he added, is the name given to a humble, docile kind of dog. Hitler is the name given to the aggressive and bellicose type. Umar Malusafi is a member of the local security outfit which patrols parts of the Federal Housing Estate, Gwarimpa. The outfit employs simple traditional methods to check the tide of armed robbery. These methods include dogs, swords, sticks, and the muscular frame and agility of the human being.

Dogs are very significant to Umar and his group. For they are first and foremost hunters, who have chosen to volunteer their services in checking robbery incidents on the estate. The group agrees that more people are keeping dogs at home these days, unlike before, and the tendency in most families is to have guard dogs, rather than pet dogs. To confirm these, members of the group stated that many house owners give their dogs names such as Saddam and even Hitler.

These are ferocious times, they seem to imply, and the names given dogs today display a marked ferocity as well. Naming among dogs is an art which also captures socio-political developments, it would seem. Malusafi adds that he grew up among dogs, and understands their needs. Clearly his happiest moment is when he is in the deep forest hunting game with infinity of dogs.

He tells Daily Trust that in November each year when the hunting season begins, it is normal for hunters in the entire Abuja area to congregate with at least a thousand dogs, and head into the deep forest on a hunting expedition. In the course of hunting, dogs receive additional training, and their sense of sight and smell are naturally sharpened. Tales of dog meat Dan Gwari is Koro from Niger State, and he specializes in the cooking of dog meat in Kado village.

According to him, dog meat is a delicacy among the Koro of Central Nigeria. Explaining why people eat dog meat, he says 'people eat dog meat because dog meat is a good cure for malaria and besides, witches cannot attack one who regularly eats dog meat.

The oil which flows from the meat when it is cooked is the protective element against witches.' He adds that he regularly goes to his village to buy dogs, and he kills between five to seven dogs everyday. The price of the dogs range between 1,500 to 3,000 naira, and a big portion of cooked dog meat sells for five hundred naira. About fifty customers patronize his kitchen each day, and the business assists him in training his three children, and taking care of family needs. But Dan Gwari adds that if fortune smiles upon him he would find a better job somewhere. His business flourishes in the semi ghetto like conditions of a part of Kado village. Ro se Chuwang is Birom from Plateau state, and she has been selling cooked dog meat for some five years now at Durumi.

She tells Daily Trust that dog meat is a popular delicacy among the Angas and Birom of Plateau State, and confirms that dog meat is a good cure for malaria. She makes ten thousand naira weekly from her sales, and this helps in sustaining her family, since her husband is late. Her patrons are drawn from the different sections of the country which include Igbo, Yoruba, and people from Plateau State. She agrees that an increasing numbers of persons are eating dog meat these days. She hints that people are turning from other types of meat to dog meat, which has implications for the survival of the dog species one would think.

On why women dominate the dog meat trade at Durumi where her shop is, Rose said that back in her village the dog meat business is governed by women, with men assisting with the killing of the dog only. It is principally an activity for the women. Indeed DanGwari at Kado village told this reporter that he received tutelage in the dog meat business from the wo men at the Durumi dog meat market. Durumi may very well be the capital of the dog meat business in Abuja.

Timothy Kuje, who was nearby while Rose was being interviewed, had just finished eating a generous helping of dog meat. He saluted the meal as the sweetest of all meats on earth. He hails from Nasarawa State, and told this reporter that he has been on a diet of dog meat since his childhood days, and he intends to do so for the rest of his life. But some would argue that there is a large question mark hovering over the dog meat industry, for sometimes sick dogs are hurriedly killed and quickly cooked at such markets. But those who run these markets affirm the excellence of their meat.

Then dogs knocked down by cars often end up at these meat markets, but the traders there restate the purity of their work,and actually boast of its cleansing and healing powers. The questions never end here, and the answers are equally puzzling. Dog master speaks SP Daniel Makama is the dog master of the Nigeria Police. He informs Daily Trust that more people these days are keeping dogs at home, more as guard dogs than pets. One clear evidence of this, he says, is the presence of signboards which exclaim "beware of dog" at every turn. This new turn to guard dogs, he says, may be a reflection of the insecure times within which we live, and which the police force is striving to check.

He advised that people today should keep guard dogs at home, because they are man's true friend, and can warn and guide him accordingly. He added that police dogs are trained to "function effectively where crime is prevalent. A police dog is trained to apprehend a criminal who is armed. It is trained for courage, and also for agility." The dog master also stated that there is a police dog training school at Jos, and that the German shepherd, Labrador and Dobermann, are the species of dogs approved for police purposes. He also shed light on the diet of a police dog.

According to him "The police dogs need proper care. They eat a lot, and so they are put on a diet of rice, beans, meat, biscuits, tinned foods, cod liver oil, oranges, Geisha." Like Mother, like daughter Mrs. Grace Eyoma grew up with dogs around her. Her words: "I have always had dogs around me, and all my adult life I have bred and owned dogs. They are pets, but for our environment they provide security." She agrees that today more people are acquiring dogs to keep at home "people are turning to dogs. I don't know why, but there is an increase here in Apo.

So, I should think, yes, probably because of security concerns." She adds that dogs are very good companions, but that the environment does not allow people time to spend with dogs. But she added with much insight "from being kind to animals, we can be a bit kinder to ourselves." But she also said that feeding of the dogs can be an expensive business. Her words: "feeding dogs can be quite expensive. One can also spend that money on something else. It's just a matter of where you want to put it. It is really not much more expensive than raising another human being. You groom them to eat the same sort of thing, basically." Her daughter Ekpa Eyoma, a student at one of the eminent secondary schools in Abuja, also told this reporter that like her mother she has a fondness for dogs, and mentioned Alsatians, the Great Dane, and the hairy Terrier as ranking among her favorites.

She recollected with nostalgia, a time when they had about ten puppies roaming around the house. Soon Ekpa poses for a picture with one of the dogs. World of the dog trainer Tony Ebose specializes in the training of dogs. He has been in the business for twelve years now. According to him dogs are trained to be pet dogs, guard dogs and show dogs.

It takes about three months on the average to train a dog in either of those categories, and these cost some thirty thousand naira. He has however noticed a significant difference in the attitude of Nigerians and foreigners to their dogs. His words: "Nigerians don't like training dogs as pet dogs; rather they prefer training their dogs as guard dogs. Europeans, on the other hand, prefer to train their dogs as pet dogs." Tony says that he spends ten minutes a day with each dog, and that he is in great demand these days.

So these are good times for dog trainers. He is one out of three of such dog trainers who work in Abuja. He mentioned that dog trainers are trying to form a dog training academy in Abuja. But he ended with a lament "people treat dogs as if they are wild animals, but they are our companions. I advice people to keep a dog at home. When you also have your dog trained, you will enjoy it better." Those who import dogs Dogs are big business in Abuja, today, and this is tied to the growing security concerns in the city. An imported Boer bull costs one hundred and fifty thousand naira, while a locally bred species of same costs eighty thousand naira.

A local species of the Alsatian costs between thirty five to forty thousand naira, while an imported species of same costs one hundred and thirty thousand naira. A Rottweiler bred in Nigeria costs seventy six thousand naira, while one imported from South Africa costs N180, 000. Michael Nnamani, who assists in providing prize dogs for the Transcorp Hilton Security outfit, and who is involved in large scale importation of dogs, says that the business of importing and selling dogs is a thriving one. Thus dogs are clearly big business in the country today. Fi fteen years with dogs Tony Falade has been involved with dogs for the past fifteen years. He first became acquainted with dogs when he worked with a famous Veterinary Clinic in Kano and his knowledge of the dog species is simply encyclopedic.

He tells Daily Trust of the many problems associated with the dog trade. His words: "There are quite a number of problems in the dog business. The growth from the puppy stage to adulthood has various problems associated with each. In the puppy, viral infections like distemper and other virus infections prevail, and these can be taken care of by vaccinations. Usually it is advisable to vaccinate at least when the puppies are some six weeks of age. By the time the dog is three months old, you give it the anti-rabies vaccination."

He also drew attention to the problems involved with the feeding of dogs. According to him "Abuja is an expensive city, so you have to device different methods of minimizing the cost of feeding. If you go to Hilt on, the leftover is sold there at fifty naira a kilogram. At Tantalisers and Mr. Biggs, it is also fifty naira a kilogramme. An adult dog eats five to seven kilogrammes a day, so, if you are going to feed ten dogs, you can easily guess how much it will cost."He also said that the way the leftovers are usually packed, containing toothpicks, broken bottles, and much else, is quite dangerous to serve to dogs, and could result in other complications. He added that sometimes soyabeans, millets, maize and kulikuli are usually ground to form a kind of food supplement for the dogs.

According to him "canned foods cost at least 200 naira each, and an adult dog will eat at least four, so this is not very economical." He also said that after people purchase a dog or dogs, there is the added difficulty of bringing up the dogs, which in turn has fetched him a vast clientele because of his skills in the area. He attends to at least three new dogs each day, and doing this over a fifteen yea r period amounts to much. His words: "I am in the business of retainership, when you buy your dog, I can help you out.

I come once or twice a week to groom the dog and give necessary advice on what to do, until the dog gets to an age where you can now continue on your own." He also decried a situation where dogs are handed over to cooks and the house help to look after. His words" You find out that the owner now opts to have a trainer, because if you leave the dog to the house help, they tend to kick it about, and sometimes the dog becomes timid. So the best thing is to have a trainer. After three months, the dog begins to obey commands. You can now teach it how to bark, especially at night, and this will alert you. Which are the best guard dogs?

Tony Falade explained that there are many breeds of guard dogs, which include Alsatians, Dobermann, Rottweiller, and the Pittbull. He says "Of all dogs the Pittbull, Rottweiler and the Dobermann are very serious guard dogs. We have heard of one or two incidents where a Rottweiler ate a chunk of flesh from somebody. They are very aggressive dogs, and also, they are very strong." The Alsatian is the most intelligent of all dogs. Ordinarily, the Alsatian is not very aggressive and it learns very fast.

It is quite intimidating, and there are many cross breeds of Alsatians in Nigeria. Alsatians are not native to Nigeria. Busido, the local dogs, are native to Nigeria. He added that a puppy Alsatian goes for between 25,000 - 30,000 naira today. He also said that more than half of the dogs in Nigeria were imported. The great Pittbull This is one of the must aggressive of dogs. Abroad it is used for fights, especially between dogs. Its nature is so awesome and so intimidating, that when it uses its lockjaw to grip an object, it would not release what it has held. If one struggles with it, the Pittbull would remove or fracture whatever is in the grip of its jaw, and it also has very strong dentition. Most families which have children prefer to go for the Alsatian. The Pittbull is also a rugged dog.

It is similar to the local dog, except for the head formation. If the Pittbull, Alsatians, and Rottweiler, live together, among all of them the Pittbull is unlikely to fall ill. Is your dog a member of your family? The European attitude to dogs differs from that of Nigerians in some respects. A Nigerian sees a dog as a necessity, simply to assist the household because of security concerns. They do not immediately see dogs as pets. Europeans see dogs as part of the nuclear family, but a Nigerian may not. The European would not serve left over food to his dog; rather he will cook the food himself and serve the dog.

According to Tony Falade "If a European is here with his wife and daughter, and he has a dog, the dog is part of the family. It comes into the house and goes out at will The more you love your dog, the more protective the dog is, the more it wants to learn whatever you teach it." He added that a European may will a million Euros to his dog, but such may not really work in Africa, where the human being comes first in such situations as Wills or Legacies. He added that he once came across a Nigerian whose dogs had to be vaccinated. However, one of the dogs was asleep while the vaccinations were going on.

The owner then stressed that the dog which was sleeping on his, the owner's, bed, could only be vaccinated when it had woken up. This was precisely what happened on that occasion. Recently, the first Abuja Dog Show held, and it marked a new consciousness on the role of the dog in the home, stressing its naturally friendly, rather than an absolutely culinary significance. According to Tony Falade ,the Dog Show brought together so many like minded individuals who have a stake in what may be called the Dog industry in the country today .

The industry itself has various aspects, and so many players are involved in sometimes contradictory roles. Indeed in Abuja there is one individual who prepares dog food as a takeaway meal, served in much the same manner as one would walk into any big restaurant and purchase a takeaway meal. Times are changing and this is a good season for dogs.

There is a growing corpus of dog trainers, many who make kennels, as well as those who being hunters, are part of local security outfits, and naturally work with dogs.

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