Am I dreaming? Here I am saying hello to a dog. The dog gives me his right front leg and we shake hands. “Meet Lucky,” says Jacob Mpatlanyane, the owner of my new friend.
“Hello Lucky, how do you do!” I say in a very quiet voice. I don’t want any of my chommies to hear me talking to a dog. The dog nods his head and licks my hand. I wish everybody was so friendly.
After I meet Lucky, Jacob calls him. “Lucky boy, come here. Etla mo. Kom hierso. Tana la. Iza apha,” says Jacob to his dog.
Now I start wondering. Can this dog really understand all this? Anyway, Lucky goes to his master and fetches a basket. Inside the basket is a note. Jacob is sending his dog to the shop to buy something.
Lucky walks up the street towards the shop. He walks into the shop and comes out a few minutes later. There is something in the basket. This is just what I need, I say to myself. I must go home and train my own dog. Then I will never go into a shop again.
And so I ask Jacob to tell me how to teach a dog to do all these tricks. “Alright, I will tell you. But you must first meet my other two dogs,” says Jacob. “I want you to meet Brixton and Breakdown.”
Oh no! Not again. I carefully look around. Good, I don’t see anybody I know. Then with a nice, friendly smile on my face, I put out my hand and say hello. But these two don’t look so happy. They are not smiling back at me.
The two dogs growl. All I can see are some very big teeth. And then one of them looks at my leg and licks her lips. I think it’s time to go home. I turn and run. I don’t even say goodbye to Jacob. I am in a very big hurry.
I run like the wind with only one word on my lips. “Voetsek, voetsek,” I scream. My legs feel like jelly and I can hear my heart beating like a bongo drum. Then I hear something else. Sounds like people laughing. I stop and look around. The dogs are nowhere near me. But every kid in the neighbourhood is there. And they are laughing and laughing. Very funny! Don’t kids do their homework any more?
I go back to Jacob. He is not laughing and I will always like him for that. Brixton and Breakdown are no longer growling. They give me a friendly smile and I smile back. I shake hands with them and say that I am very pleased to meet them. Of course, I am talking in my quietest voice again.
“Do you want to see some more tricks?” Jacob asks me. “Do you want to see them score goals like their favourite soccer player? Or do you want them to show you how we saw a car knock down a man in Jabulani? The car hit the man and then just drove off. I told the dogs to remember the accident. If the police catch the man, the dogs must show the court what happened.”
I look at Jacob with wide open eyes. And he thinks that I think he is a little crazy. He isn’t wrong.
Jacob starts talking to his dogs. “Breakdown awu sibonise ukuthi loya muntu owa shayiswa imoto eJabulani wenzani. (Breakdown, show us what happened to the man who was knocked down by a car in Jabulani),” he tells the dog.
Breakdown stands up and looks around. Then he drops to the ground. He shivers and shakes – like he is in terrible pain. Then he lies very still.
Jacob looks at me and sees that I am lost for words. He brings me a cup of tea. I take a few sips and my tongue begins to move again. “When did you start training dogs?” I ask him.
“I started training animals in 1933,” says Jacob. “You see, I was the oldest son in my family. My father trained horses and so I also had to train horses.”
Jacob tells me that he once trained a horse called Mandate. “This horse once won a big race at the Turfontein race course. The horse was 13 years old when he won the race,” Jacob says proudly.
In 1949 Jacob stopped training horses. He stopped because he thought the horses were not treated well. “If you want a horse to win a race, you must hit the horse with a whip. I do not like to see animals suffer like that,” says Jacob.
Because of his love for animals, Jacob has stopped eating meat. He thinks it is wrong for people to kill animals for meat. I don’t say anything. I can still taste my lunch in my mouth.
Jacob tells me that his dogs became famous in 1981. “In 1980 I was retrenched from my job,” says Jacob. “I didn’t know what to do. So I decided to earn my living by training my dogs. I now go around the townships and give shows. I make a few rands this way.”
I can’t believe it. Some dogs help to pay the rent. I tell Jacob about my fat, lazy dog at home. All he does is eat and sleep, eat and sleep. And he has done this since he was born, 15 years ago. I ask Jacob how I can train him.
“You must pat your dog when it does something good,” says Jacob. When he does something wrong, you must hit him with a piece of folded newspaper. And you must always make your dog stand on your left hand side. But don’t worry, I think your dog is too old. You can’t teach him anything.”
I think about my dog sleeping in the yard back home. I’m sure he would agree with Jacob. I now know that I will have to do all my own shopping in future.
Just before I go, Jacob calls Brixton and Lucky. He wants to show me how they run like horses in the races on TV. Yes, Jacob’s dogs watch TV. What else is there to say.