Inside Kigali’s exclusive club for dog lovers

The very idea of a dog lover’s club in Kigali seems very much hinged on this unflinching loyalty to, and love for master by what has been aptly termed 'man's best friend'. Everyone has a special animal that they easily associate with. For some it might be a cat or a monkey, but for others it’s a dog.
Members of the Rwanda Dog Lovers Association. / Courtesy
Members of the Rwanda Dog Lovers Association. / Courtesy

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself,” so goes one popular dog saying.

“The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog,” goes yet another.

The very idea of a dog lover’s club in Kigali seems very much hinged on this unflinching loyalty to, and love for master by what has been aptly termed “man’s best friend”.

“Everyone has a special animal that they easily associate with. For some it might be a cat or a monkey, but for others it’s a dog,” reckons Edwin Musoni, a young professional working in Kigali and who is a member of the Kigali Dog Lovers Club.

“No matter what animal is one’s favorite, we can all agree that animals are the perfect companions for man. For me and my fellow dog lovers, these furry and protective yet friendly animals are all we have eyes for. From their excitement when they see us, to their steadfast loyalty. In fact, on my best days, the worst, and each day in between, dogs have never failed to show their loyalty. Anyone who has a dog can attest to the trust one gets from a protective dog,” Musoni further notes.

“They always have your back, and will never let you down. The safest place to be is behind a loyal, protective dog.”

Edwin Musoni plays with his two dogs at his home. / Courtesy

Musoni first learnt about the Rwanda Dog Lovers Association from the founder, Albert Sezibera through the latter’s Facebook page.

He acquired his very first dog at the tender age of nine:

“Since then, I grew to like them. I have owned several dogs of different breeds. Currently I own two dogs; a Caucasian Ovcharka breed which is normally referred to as a Russian Sheppard, and a Dingo pariah breed that is normally referred to as a local breed. These two dogs have completely different behaviors and I know how to interact with each one based on that.”

Members of the Rwanda Dog Lovers Association get training from some expert trainers recently. / Nadege Imbabazi

The Rwanda Dog Lovers Association was formed by Albert Sezibera in 2014, “just to connect with other people who had a dog, either as a pet or for security,” he explains.

“When I was staying in the same house in Huye with my colleague we had a dog called Small. That dog was as a friend of mine and with it, I never lived in solitude.

When someone was at the gate I knew immediately because of the dog.

It knew what time I left home in the morning and if I was late, it would come and scratch at the door of my room.”

Upon relocating to Kigali, Sezibera spent some time dog less, until a friend offered him one, and he started all over again.

The idea for starting the club arose out of the challenges Sezibera faced in keeping dogs as pets.

“It was not easy to know where I could get help if my dog had a problem. Some breeds of dogs also liked to socialize, but it was not easy to meet other dog owners just for a dog walk, or just to share experiences. That's how I started the club, just to help and give value to our dogs, because some people do not know that you can own a dog not just for security, but also to protect and live with as a pet. So the club is for protection, love, and service to the dogs.”

Currently the club is made up of 73 members, of which only five are female.

Nadege Imbabazi, a photojournalist in Kigali is one among the few females in the association.

Like Musoni, she first learnt of the Rwanda Dog Lovers Association through the founder, Albert Sezibera.

She met him at a local photo exhibition and the two had a chat. Then the subject of dogs came up from nowhere.

“I told him I really love dogs but I didn’t have one, and he told me that he had seven dogs. I asked him for a dog and he informed me about this Whatsapp group for dog lovers and invited me to join,” she narrates.

Nadege Imbabazi, one of the five female members of the Rwanda Dog Lovers Association with her dog, Woody. / Courtesy

That was last year.

“We had a dog at home when I was born. His name was Simba and he was my very, very good friend. I loved him so much. I found it in the house, so it was part of the family. It’s like being born and you find another kid in the family,” she reminisces, adding;

“He was part of the family and he was really kind and of course all dogs are kind. He was very nice to me, we used to have lunch together in her plate and in mine, and we used to do everything together. That’s how my love for dogs developed.”

Nadege’s bond with Simba would only break about seven years later, when the dog died.

“I was eight or ten, and of course I mourned her. She was our family dog so I cried.

It was an emotional moment for me. Of course you don’t mourn or cry for two years like when you lose a sibling, but you mourn because you miss something, something you were used to. Absence of something you were used to hurts emotionally, especially when it was something which was alive and can move and play with you and show you love. It was a big loss.”

Because her mother wasn’t a big fan of dogs, the family went without one after Simba’s death.

“I only acquired another dog five months ago. Its name is Woody, a unique name that I got from my favorite cartoon –The Toys. It’s a German shepherd that someone gave me from the Dog Lovers Club.”

Two months ago, the association held its first get-together in Kicukiro, a city suburb. They interacted, had pet time with their dogs, before taking the dogs for a short walk to Kicukiro trading center. A few dog trainers were on hand to offer some tips on dog handling, while a vet taught some basics on dog health and feeding.

Since then, there have been more dog outings at the monthly Care Free Day in Kigali.

“When you take care of a dog you become its God,” Nadege explains:

“It loves you, it knows when you’re taking care of it, and it gives you love in exchange. What else can one ask for if you have love? In the whole world, love is enough, and that’s what the dog does.

A dog knows when you’re sad when you wife or husband doesn’t really know. A dog can’t sleep when you’re not home. It waits for you.

If someone doesn’t love dogs, I swear that person is not human. They are human without humanity.”

She adds that dogs only become dangerous when treated badly.

“If you treat it aggressively, it becomes defensive and learns to protect itself.”

“There is a lot you learn from this club, a lot of things that range from dog behavior, their health, contacts for veterinary doctors –sometimes you even get free puppies. The Caucasian one was given to me by Yves, a friend I met in the group,” Musoni chips in.

“To become a member of this club, all that is required is for you to be on Whatsapp and you just get added to the group.”

Dog festival:

Owing to the positive response from dog lovers, the association is planning a dog festival in December, at a yet-to-be-identified venue.

“The idea came through the Whatsapp group,” Nadege reveals.

“To all those people who don’t know about dogs or hate dogs, we will show them what a dog really is, and if it deserves that hatred. To those who have dogs but don’t take care of them we’ll show them that a dog can be part of the family. We will link up with vets and trainers.

A dog doesn’t have to be caged and only released at night because you want it to protect you. It also deserves to sit in the living room and enjoy life with the family.

To those who already have so much love for dogs, we’ll show them how to take care of them, because you can have love for something without knowing how to take care of it.”