The growing dog culture in Rwanda

Seven years ago, Rizah Mugabe and her husband made a decision to adopt two puppies which they named Django and Duke. Three years later, they adopted another duo, Thor and Audin.  

Born and raised in a family that adored pets, Mugabe found it a little easier for her to care and connect with the dogs from the moment they entered their compound.

She is one of the believers in the saying that dogs are man’s best friend. This, she says is exhibited in their great companionship, their tendency to love fiercely while at the same time serving as great guards.  

Mugabe notes that humans should treat dogs with love and compassion because they have a huge sense of understanding of every human emotion and communicate with clarity.

“The difference is that they cannot talk but they respond to cuddles, laughter, and pain. If there is anything that makes a home complete and happy, it must be dogs,” she says.

Chris Rutinduka, is a dog breeder in Gasogi Sector, Gasabo district. His passion for dogs dates way back and he openly admits that he cannot live without his dogs.

Mugabe is a dog enthusiast and grew up in a family that liked and kept dogs.

However, this love comes at a cost. Rutinduka explains that dogs need extra care to show you how they feel when they are unhappy or unwell.

“They lose appetite, bark less or bark more than they usually do, sometimes their ears turn white which is normally an indication that there is no enough blood circulation,” he said.

He also says that they require to be washed every week with shampoo, their nails need to be trimmed, and their fur must be combed.  

“Just like children, dogs sometimes need to be disciplined when they make mistakes. You don’t necessarily have to beat them but one can pull their ears if they make a mistake so that they don’t repeat it again,” he said.

While the culture of rearing dogs as pets was unpopular in Rwanda, Rutinduka says that Rwandans have started embracing the idea. Today, he and his friends have managed to form a group of 170 people who own dogs, and the group is known as “Rwanda Dog Lovers.”

Rizah Mugabe posing with one of her dogs at her home in Kicukiro.

Besides his love for dogs, Rutinduka says that his dogs, which include German shepherds and Rottweilers, also make business sense.

“Whenever the dogs give birth, each puppy goes for between Rwf300,000 and Rfw500,000.  It is a good way to make money,” he said.

Emmanuel Nshuti is a dog enthusiast and believes that animals need to be treated compassionately because they need love, care, and a balanced diet just like humans.

“Dogs need exercise to burn calories, stimulate their minds, and stay healthy. However, individual exercise needs vary based on breed or breed mix, sex, age and level of health. Exercises assist dogs to avoid boredom that could lead to destructive behavior,” he says.

He warns against giving dogs medication that has not been prescribed by a veterinary officer. 

For Sarah Umwiza, the idea of having a dog in her home was never an idea that had ever crossed her mind until she met her husband two years ago.

She says that while her husband is a dog enthusiast, her traditional beliefs limits her from opening up to loving the pets.

“I grew up around cows. We always felt dogs are for hunters so I personally don’t want to get anywhere close to the dog yet my husband really loves it. I particularly get irritated when I find it sitting on the couch. I am not a dog fan,” she says.

Rutinduka and his dog lovers’ group having an outing with their dogs.

Maurice Theo Uwimana laughs at the idea of having a dog in his home. He says that he does not like dogs and does not see what the fuss is all about.

“It is one of those trends people pick from movies or the internet. Why would I want to look after a dog and spend money on it? That is not very African,” he says.

Historical roots

Historically, cows are the most revered animals in Rwanda. The cow’s place in the Rwandan culture is so deep-rooted that it dates way before our forefathers. It is because of this that the idea of an animal like a dog could only be accommodated because it had other uses that were not really deemed serious enough. 

While a cow was viewed as a source of pride and could tell your standing in the community, having a dog or none in your compound did not matter to anyone.

Fast forward to centuries later, a dog is now referred to by most as man’s best friend. In many homes, the dog lives and shares the same space with its master. In fact, it is not very unusual to hear people who own dogs as pets tell you how they are a full-time responsibility because they need to be cared for, well-fed and fully loved.

Research shows that dogs can decrease levels of human loneliness and give humans a sense of purpose.

However, as more and more people adopt or even buy dogs with the willingness to care for them and treat them well, there are others that continue to mistreat them forcing them to run away and end up on the streets.

WAG Rwanda comes to the rescue

The suffering and mistreatment of these pets are what prompted Fran Klinck to start WAG Rwanda in 2014.

WAG Rwanda is a network of dog devotees that was formed to provide a safe place for abandoned or street dogs. 

The network provides food, love, veterinary care and helps find these dogs loving homes but also offer support to dog owners in Rwanda.

“The idea of providing a safe home for dogs started about five years back when I started seeing malnourished dogs roaming the streets of Kigali. As an animal lover, I would bring them into my home, feed them and get them vaccinated,” Klinck explains.

A dog is given an anti-flea bath at a foster home.

Thereafter, Klinck would find foster homes for them. Today, as a community group, WAG Rwanda has housed over 5,000 dogs since they opened about five years ago.

Through using the foster care model, about 100 rescued dogs are placed in temporary homes where they receive food, love, veterinary care, and socialization per year.

How to tell if the dog is abandoned?

Klinck stresses, if you see a dog on the street, it is important to first check if it is wearing a collar, looks healthy or friendly.

“If so, it is very likely that it either escaped or it is possibly lost. Try asking around the neighborhood if they have any idea who the owner of the dog is,” she says.

She notes, if the dog looks malnourished, sick or in generally bad condition, it is possible that it is a street dog. Such dogs need a safe place and this is when WAG needs to be contacted to offer support.

Klinck urges anyone approaching a street dog to be extra vigilant or call the police or local authorities especially if the dog seems dangerous.

What to do if you found someone abusing a dog?

If anyone found someone abusing any animal’s rights, they ought to inform the police or local leaders because article 436 of the Rwandan law is against mistreating or abusing any domestic animals.
WAG provides emergency assistance to dogs in crisis (severe injuries, rescue from abusive situations among others) and also plays a part in advocating for animal welfare and serves as a resource to dog owners in Rwanda,” Klinck explains.

Abigail Ogunyemi works with WAG Rwanda. She explains that when dogs are picked from the streets, they are spayed or neutered (their sexual organs are removed to stop them from giving birth) within one year of adoption.

She notes that the reason as to why they are sprayed is to improve community health by reducing the risk of rabies and dog bites.

Rwanda has a problem with unwanted dogs. In 2011, three thousand street dogs were culled.  

While they are an animal shelter, WAG Rwanda does not take in any dog that is brought to them.
“We do a behavior assessment. If it is dangerous, we cannot take it. We house dogs that have been fond of living with people and have been shown affection. We socialize with them, communicate properly with them through their body language. We make sure a dog is healthy and its personality is well known before we offer it for adoption,” Klinck says.

The organization does not sell the dogs and solely relies on donations to do its work.

For someone to adopt a dog, they have to be able to meet some standards, that is to say, being in a position to financially be able to care for them, feed and provide basic care, and a secure environment.

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