|(Original unedited image via Pintrest)|
I. Went. Camping.
I know, right. Me, of the 3-star-is-camping Brigade. Me, the person who gets fridge magnets as gifts that say “I love not camping”. Me, of the why-do-we-have-to-holiday-like-refugees society.
I know what you’re thinking. It must’ve taken some persuading on BK’s part to get me to go camping, but here’s the thing: he wasn’t even involved in this particular camping expedition! Crazy right? And here's the even crazier thing: I LOVED IT!
I’ll back up a bit and explain. I recently offered my services to TEARS, an animal welfare organisation in Cape Town. At one of my first meetings with them, Luke, their Animal Care Manager said “Hey, We’re having a Sleepathon in October. You should totally come and spend a night in the kennels.”
Had he known me better, he would have known better, but as it was, I felt it would show a complete lack of dedication on my part to turn down the offer. So while my mind was saying “Hell no!”, I heard my mouth say “Wow! That would be totally awesome!”
And so it was that I found myself at TEARS in Lekkerwater Road on Saturday afternoon with: my duvet (I’m not the sleeping bag type), two camping mattresses (clearly made for people half my width and half my weight), pink-bomb painkillers (it’s all about pain management at my age) and a six pack of Smirnoff Spins (my “natural remedy” for peri-menopausal insomnia).
I’d arrived early to lend a hand with the preparations. This mostly involved me flitting from one group of volunteers to another saying “Need a hand with anything?” I eventually found two awesome old ducks involved in food preparation (I know right, the irony. I hate cooking almost as much as I hate camping) and I think did a rather splendid job on the roll-cutting end of the assembly line.
For those who have never been to TEARS, it’s set amongst a whole bunch of trees, so the light that shines through is dappled and, at that time of day, golden. My favourite. The dogs had all been fed over lunch instead of in the evening (as they normally are). This was to curtail the pooping business. The dogs were all pretty excited but in a fun small-barking kind of way, not in a loud what-the-heck-are-you-doing-here kind of way. Life felt good.
As I walked through the facility, I was amazed by how spotlessly clean all of the kennels were. I swear, they are neater and cleaner than my home (which isn’t that hard, actually.) At almost every kennel I thought, Oooh, that’s a cute one! I hope I get to sleep with her/him. (Just as well I wasn’t allocated to sleep with the puppies or else I might still be there.)
I was eventually led to a kennel with two dogs, a boy, Zeke and girl, Neytiri. It took a few tries to get the girl’s name right, but she didn’t seem to mind me getting it wrong. On the contrary, there was lots of affection and licking regardless of what I called her. It was suggested that I don’t leave my bags and stuff in the kennel just yet because the dogs are inclined to get overly sniffy and scratchy when they see new stuff and may sniff and scratch my mattresses and bags to pieces. Fair enough. I get it. It’s a dog thing.
I was unreasonably excited to see that they were serving Old Brown Sherry and hot chocolate at the Bow Wow Bar. Alcohol mixed with sugar…they must have known I was coming. I was equally excited to see that they were serving dinner as I didn’t realise that dinner was included. Olympia bakery had donated ciabatta rolls that some marvellous people were serving up with delicious fillings. I inhaled mine and thought of making a T-shirt, which would say WILL CAMP FOR FOOD.
At this point, dear Reader, you might be wondering why I have this obsession with animals – or, as my Facebook timeline will attest – with dogs in particular. (My sister said to me, Li, I’m not looking at your Facebook posts anymore because it’s all just dogs, dogs, dogs.)
So here’s the deal. I’m at the stage of my life when I really want to help others where I can. And, while dogs may poop in public, they’re not nearly as full of S%$T as what humans are. There are no “Dog-Harvey Weinsteins”. There are no “Dog-Hitlers”. Dogs don’t kidnap. Dogs aren’t cruel and mean. Dogs aren’t demanding. Dogs don’t say they’ll come to your party and then cancel at the last minute because something better has come up. And, helping dogs doesn’t spawn spinoff problems in the same way that it can when humans are helped.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that humans shouldn’t be helped. Of course they should! But humans can help humans, and there are already a lot of people doing just that. But, here’s the thing: animals can’t help animals. Animals can’t set up their own clinics and hospitals. Animals can’t take themselves off to be sterilized. There are no animal police who can step in and save the day. You get my drift: animals need humans.
But back to the Sleepathon. After dinner and a short movie about the work that TEARS does, it was off to the kennels to hunker down for the night. Every person was issued with a goodie-bag which had info on “your” dog, dog treats, and a dog toy. Zeke and Neytiri immediately sniffed at the bag of treats and I showed the same restraint with feeding them as I do with myself when I have chocolate in the house. In other words: no restraint at all.
Zeke “discovered” the tennis ball and proceeded to chew it to pieces. Like literally, to pieces. He then discovered the rope-toy and alternated between delivering it to me and snatching it away when I tried to hold it. He wins at persistence.
I should point out that TEARS is situated alongside Masipumelele. And let me tell you, those folk sure know how to party. They’d obviously heard about the Sleepathon and decided to a “Lionel Ritchie” and keep us up and awake with the dogs. All. Night. Long.
Pfsssst. That was the sound of me opening up my first Smirnoff Spin.
Zeke: Here. Rope. You take. No! Don’t take. I take. Here rope. You take. Give back! Tug, tug, tug. And again and again. I can’t tell a lie. Zeke sorted out my stiff shoulders in no time.
Neytiri must have been pre-menstrual or something because she would not let up with the treats. Who am I to stand between a girl-dog with cravings and her treats? My lack of restraint would bite me in the bum at around 3am when Neytiri did an impressive poop (I’m guessing they put a lot of bran in those treats.) Thank heavens she had the modesty to do it at the other end of the hutch.
After a few more rounds of tug-of-rope, snack-treat-snack, and pfsssst, we curled all up and went to sleep. Zeke found his way into the crook of my knees and Neytiri slept on my bag near my head. I’ve never felt safer and more loved.
I should mention that Lola, two kennels down, won the unofficial prize for being the most barky. Her human won at shushing. Sam in the kennel alongside, won the prize for the most humpy, and his humans won at saying “Sam. Dis genoeg. Sies. Dis onbeskof” *
Even for a non-camper like me, it was pretty awesome. In the morning, all the Sleepathoners felt bonded in our mutual stiffness, lack of sleep and, to be a sop, in our common love for these furkids.
And now BK knows that he doesn’t have to persuade me to go camping anymore. He just needs to bring along Old Brown Sherry and make sure that there are dogs at the camping site. Preferrably shelter dogs who know a thing or two about cuddling and unconditional love.
* Sam. That’s enough. Gross. That’s rude.