How old does a puppy have to get before it stops being a puppy and starts being a dog? I learnt many years ago, from a scene in All Dogs Go To Heaven that 1 dog year is equivalent to 7 human years – I suppose this is calculated based on their life expectancy and ours. So, is 2 and a half dog years – nearly 18 human years – around the time when a puppy stops chewing mince and starts gnawing bones? As far as I know there is no ceremony or rite of passage, as is the case in most cultures, where this important transition takes place. Neither do they receive a driving licence or an ID that allows them drink freely or join the army. So what signifies the change?
I already told you that I have 3 puppies, all over a year old, at my parents’ house. One of them, the oldest has barely grown an inch in the last sixth months – she’s a Heinz 57 (mystery breed) so we don’t know whether this is as big as she’ll ever get.
The other, is also an unknown breed but she has been growing – taller, wider and furrier – and surpassed her older ‘sister’ months ago. The youngest, the one that’s part Labrador, is huge! When she first arrived at only a few months old, she was already close to the size of her elder ‘siblings’ who were probably 6 months her senior. Now, if she stands on her hind legs she can just about reach my shoulders – and it doesn’t look like she’s stopping any time soon.
Oddly enough, the most vicious of this small pack is the smallest and the eldest. She enjoys terrorising guests, plumbers and electricians, school children walking past the gate – just about anyone who shows any signs of fear. Visitors who do not flinch are rewarded with her respect – everyone else is chased off with an evil-sounding bark and the occasional nibble at one’s sleeve or trouser leg. So far, she hasn’t really bit anyone – although a few have been injured in their desperate run to avoid being her first victim. The other two dogs are much more friendly but still happy to join in a good chase if they are so led.
This evening, all three are locked up. There was a gufata irembo taking place at my house. This is a traditional Rwandan ceremony that takes place before another ceremony – the gusaba - which takes place before another ceremony – the wedding (I’m sure you’ve heard of that one). Gufata irembo literally translates as ‘to take the gate’.
Now, correct me if I am wrong – I not yet as knowledgeable about Rwandan traditions as I would like – but, I believe this ceremony is the first official meeting of the would-be bride and groom’s families.
The representatives of groom’s family visit the home of a bride’s family and, in effect, make the groom’s intentions known. This first step, could be described as getting your foot in the door, while leading up to the actual proposal which takes place during the gusaba - which is another entirely extraordinary event in itself.
Anyway, as my parents’ were hosting a gufata irembo that evening, the dogs were locked away – it would take a unusually adamant groom to take our gate with those three guarding it.
Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder of Shaking Sun Ltd, a multimedia company.