Friday, January 13, 2017

When is a Canaan not a Canaan?

Perhaps the first of a number of factors that needs to be understood is just what a dog is and this is well described by Coppinger and Coppinger in their latest book “What is a dog” and so I will not expand here other than to point out that the Coppingers estimate on best available figures that a mere 15% of dogs live under human control, even fewer of these being “pure”, with some 850 million living free world wide with varying levels of human contact.

What is a breed? Modern Breeds have only existed for the last couple of centuries as a result of human interference in nature to bend dogs to human uses or for a particular look. Regardless of where they originated they are mostly found in isolated homes
 of the worlds richer people in north America, Europe and other “developed” countries. This in all cases leads to a genetic bottleneck in registered breeds. Strictly speaking, far from being the “ancient” breed claimed for Canaan dogs the “pure pedigree” Canaan is one of the most recently registered breeds, as the stock they came from were never selectively bred. All modern breeds at some point came from natural stock or by mixing already selected “breeds” that, if we go back far enough, come from such landraces.  It is wrong to suggest now that these landraces are mixes of modern breeds. The reality is quite the opposite.

Dogs do not know boundaries drawn up by people, mostly very recently in the middle-east. Evidence in recently re-discovered rock carvings at Shuwaymus in Saudi Arabia, believed to be Neolithic shows 2 dog type – sighthounds and typical Canaan like dogs.  They are seen with people hunting Aurochs, lion and other animals.  Dogs spread around the world with people and were clearly in this whole region long before the time of Moses, who some claim introduced these dogs to Israel. There may have been dogs that accompanied his group as they wandered about for 40 years but by definition they would then be Egyptian dogs. Looking backwards where do todays Canaan breed come from? Simply by capturing a small number of the landrace of pariah dogs found living free in the whole region today, even if the ones captured were only from Israel and Jordan.  Menzel who initially established them as a breed recognised 3 different appearances in the dogs she saw and selected the ones she preferred. Therefore there is no reason at all that all the free living dogs should look identical.

There have been and still are many introduced modern breeds in Israel whereas in Saudi Arabia away from the major cities of Riyadh and Jeddah very few if any such dogs exist. Those that do are generally owned by expats and live in fenced compounds and are taken out of the  country again when the  expat leaves, so if anything the free living dogs are less likely to have any genetic feedback from modern breeds. They are likely to have most of the genetic material found in modern breeds simply because these real natural dogs are the stock modern breeds are derived from.  Breeds do not create new genes  but rather eliminate some. Apart from Saluki like sighthounds, that are less common, these dogs are NOT “mixed with breeds” since as I said such breeds are rare and don’t survive well  free in these areas. Sadly many people from the “developed” countries see things through eyes used only to seeing “breeds” and make the same mistake, thinking free living dogs derive from “breeds” when the opposite is in fact true.

To say that “the terrian over there (Saudi) is not the same like israel/jorden (Jordan)/sinai. Much harsher in saudi.” shows lack of knowledge of Saudi. It is a large area with anything from sand dune in the “empty quarter” to fertile farming areas. The biggest single dairy farm in the world is in Saudi.  None so blind as those who will not see.

Commercial genetic tests used to determine breeds in dogs of unknown mix are of little value other than to make money for the one company doing this. They are sold under various brand names but all are under control of MARS. Other companies were sued out of business under copyright laws and MARS refuses to publish any data to show the effectiveness of breed identification. There have been many examples published of impossible results, including totally different ones from the same dog tested twice.  Copied from the companies own site “It is not designed to validate the purity of a purebred dog, and test results should not be relied upon as official certification of your dog's genetic make-up”.   They DO claim Canaans on their list but my advice to anyone would be save your money or give it to a dog rescue group.  STR markers have been looked at on a number of these dogs of the Arabian countries by a top Veterinary university in the USA and further work is ongoing at another institute and it is planned to select some for a full genome study. This is NOT aimed at identifying their ”breed” since “breeds” are in sense a modern anomaly.  As would be expected there were markers present that are found in modern “breeds” – not because those breeds have mixed with these dogs but because those markers in modern breeds came from the worlds natural dogs. In establishing breeds genetic material is lost not created. Some markers found were not on the data base at this veterinary university. There was NO evidence of wolf hybridisation.  Hybridisation is of concern in efforts to preserve the rare wolf population in Saudi but to date no dog DNA has been found in wolves studied. (Unpublished data from personal correspondence with a past director of the wildlife department.)  

Are Canaans introduced to the “pure” breed in Israel only from remote areas? May be so but Just look at a map of the size of Israel to see how remote such areas are in that country  compared to many areas in Saudi.

After seeing many photos and videos and my description of the behaviour of the dogs I had in Saudi Myrna Shiboleth told me that if she had seen them in a ring she would have considered them to be at least “very good” examples of Canaans. At a talk she gave in Israel on Canaans she included this photo of one of my dogs from the Asir region in Saudi and commented that they may exist in Saudi. They do and in large numbers and are widespread.

 Another dog I posted, without details, that originated in the Eastern province of Saudi, but now lives in Hawaii, drew comments from breeders asking who she was as they would like to breed with her.

Yet another male dog in Oman attracted people interested in breeding with him.

So far as “baludi” or to use the more common spelling, baladi is Egyptian Arabic and used in relation to dogs, describes common or general (not breed) dogs. Quite possible the same ancient stock again but with a greater chance of being mixed than those in Saudi. Ruth Corner who spent time working with Myrna and played a major role in introducing Canaan dogs to the UK  before living in Egypt, so was as capable as any at recognising a Canaan was convinced these were the same dogs in Egypt.

It seems strange to me that people walking down a street in the “developed” countries are able to point out dogs of certain appearance and call them, for example, a Border collie or German shepherd etc. and no one would tell them they are not, even if the dog had no pedigree papers, yet the same people cannot accept the dogs in Saudi as being referred to as Canaan yet no one I know of claims to have a pedigree record or wants to have them judged in a ring against breeders dog. I for one prefer it that way.

These dogs may be rare among breeders who wish to keep it that way as it adds to their potential value but they are far from rare in surrounding countries.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Getting Roxx home

The process of getting Roxx home was not without some glitches. I was contacted by someone who advised me that Roxx would never accept being in a travel crate. He had spent some time in a place where he had been placed into a crate overnight and had destroyed it. Of course he had never experienced being left in a crate previously so had been desperate to get out. Fortunately the K9 friends instructor at the time took over his preparation starting with an open wire cage then covering it with blankets and even sitting in it with him until he knew it was a safe place to be.

Australia has some of the strictest quarantine regulations in the world, quite rightly as a number of diseases do not exist in Australia, Rabies being just one of these infections of dogs. There are two basic requirements as far as rabies is concerned for dogs entering Australia, vaccination has to be up to date and the dogs blood has to be tested for rabies antibody to prove that the vaccination has been successful. At the time Roxx was adopted regulations meant he would not be released until 6 months after  blood was collected for a satisfactory rabies test.  I approached a number of companies for quotes on handling the relocation and initially accepted a veterinary practice. There were communication problems with them from the start when trying to get an appointment, but this was arranged and the blood drawn. They then refused to send it away for testing claiming that they did not have Roxx’s vaccination records even though I had myself sent them this. Lack of such a certificate does not in any case prevent the sample from being tested. Later they claimed that the vaccination record was not acceptable and would be rejected in Australia, also nonsense. I found them to be extremely arrogant and the owner even accused me of attempting to undertake a “dodgy relocation”. Eventually the owner admitted to the kennel that they were mistaken and blamed the staff of the veterinary practice and apologised but they never made any attempt to apologise to me. As an experienced microbiologist and with colleagues working in Australian biosecurity I understand the requirements well. It seems to me that certain vets in Dubai are not answerable to anyone and are used to being able to tell clients who have no microbiology background anything they like and expect to be believed without question.
I decided I had no option but to start the process again. This time choosing a company registered with IPATA the International Pet and Animal Transport Association which the vet was not. This time the company I used handled it all well with me looking after the Australian side of things. However the vet hey used for the veterinary requirements again demonstrated arrogance and took offence at my asking if he had given Roxx the required Frontline treatment. I needed to know this since I was handling the Australian side of things and he had not recorded this on the kennels records. As a result he refused to sign the required official documents stating that he had done this! The lady at the relocation company put in a big push to get this done and I was up all night exchanging many emails with all concerned until he eventually signed it off.

So Roxx said farewell  to Saskia and began his trip to Australia on the non-stop flight of some 14 hours to Sydney.

Waiting to board the early morning flight at Dubai.

At the time Roxx needed to spend 4 weeks in quarantine in Sydney and I flew down to visit him not knowing if he would recognise me. He certainly seemed to be happy to see me and the kennel staff were clearly animal lovers and taking good care of him.

Finally on the 25th November 2013 Roxx was collected from Sydney quarantine and flown to Brisbane airport then driven to me at the ferry terminal by Jetpets for the ferry ride home.

Happy to have a home at last, under-weight, but he soon regained it and was fascinated by the picture  of Digger on the wall.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Finding another desert dog

In April 2013 I at last had an opportunity to combine a number of separate options into one trip, to attend a symposium on Canaan dogs, a visit to South Africa, a visit to Dubai to attend the K9 Friends shelter fund raising ball and of course most importantly to choose a desert dog. Dates all seemed to come together ideally.  It was a great trip, meeting new and old friends and a thoroughly enjoyable ball at Raffles Dubai.

K9 Friends puppy ball 2013

The shelter itself is an excellent facility with over a hundred dogs in air-conditioned kennels. I was shown a number of beautiful dogs, each and every one of them lovely and deserving of a home. I found it impossible to select one dog so discussed it with the senior instructor and would have been happy to take any dog they seemed to have had trouble homing for whatever reason. The suggestion was that I take Roxx who had been there for over 3 years. Of course the various other volunteers all had their own favourites but I decided to spend a bit more time with Roxx. I had some one on one time with him in one of the exercise areas and he was a little unsure at first but seemed to warm to me. When I threw any of the toys in the yard, he quickly collected them and placed them neatly back in the toy box. Back in his kennel that he shared with another dog he reached out to me through the fence and I went and sat in the kennel for a time hoping that the longer I spent with him the better the chance that he would remember me after the long journey he had ahead of him. And so the process began. The paper work for adoption was completed and I once more I would would have a Canaan type desert dog in my life. 

Some of the other dogs I considered

Formal introduction to Roxx
Naturally in the exercise yard Roxx was more comfortable with someone he knew than  me
Reaching out to me from his kennel
Contact made
Will you take me home? How could I not?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The gap years

After the loss of my dogs in Saudi I took some time to come to terms with the reality that I would not be able to return to search for them. Visas are not issued to casual visitors and without a relative, company sponsor or suitable conference in the area that I might attend it was simply not possible. Even companies attempting to promote group tours under supervision found it difficult to obtain visas for potential tourists and halted efforts to promote tours.

I became interested in a welfare dog shelter in Dubai that I had chanced upon while looking for somewhere to house my Saudi dogs during the process of getting them to Australia. Australia did not accept dogs directly from Saudi Arabia due to poor rabies control in Saudi so they would have needed to stay in an acceptable place like Dubai for 6 months. It seemed to me from the photographs of dogs available for adoption that some of them were probably also Canaan dogs, picked up off the streets.  I noted a number of them as such and had some contact with the kennel, K9 Friends, Dubai. I transited through Dubai a couple of times on trips between Australia and South Africa but only allowed a few days hoping to be able to visit the shelter with a view to adopting a dog. Unfortunately I discovered that without a pre-arranged appointment I was unable to visit. One of the dogs I noticed among those advertised as available for adoption and that looked like a Canaan was this one – Roxx.

Meanwhile I was considering a possibility of working in Nigeria with a South African pathology company or Ghana with a South African accredited one. The Company in Nigeria sent me all the papers we thought were needed for me to get a visa to visit them including a letter signed by the Nigerian director inviting me to visit and guaranteeing my financial situation and accommodation for the time I would be there, and a copy of the company registration in Nigeria. I duly submitted my visa application and passport to the Nigerian officials in Canberra. There was a charge for the visa, a charge for processing it and an additional charge for rapid processing. They insisted on using a postal order as the method of payment so I obtained one to cover the 3 costs and included this in my application. I also included, as required, a copy of my return ticket the company had sent me from Nigeria.

After a couple of days I attempted to phone Canberra to check all was in order but found it impossible to get connected. On the website was a message saying that they were experiencing problems with phones (something rare in Australia unless bills have not been paid) and an “alternative” number was given. When I checked this “alternative” was actually the same as the initial one listed. When I finally managed to get a call to them I was asked which of a list of departments they mentioned I wanted. Before I could answer the lady then said that anyway it did not matter as they all go to her anyway! When I asked about the progress with my visa application I was told it could not be processed because they needed 2 separate letters, one inviting me and a second separate one guaranteeing my financial status by the company for my time there. Then I was told that they also could not process my application because it was not a Nigerian company. It was and a copy of the company registration was included in my application. The company letter head said that they were associated with the South African pathologists at the head office in Cape Town. Also they said they could not process it because they needed 3 separate money orders for the 3 payments. I had no option but to call the lab in Nigeria and inform them I would not be able to travel on the booked flight unless they could do something to sort it out. The Ghana Company, after saying they would send an air ticket as soon as I had a visa and health certificate failed to do so

Meanwhile I had been planning to break my trip in Dubai to visit the kennel with a view to adopting one of their Canaan like dogs and they had invited me to give a talk on Canaan, which I had agreed to do. With my determination to get another of these dogs coupled with the thought of having to cancel an already advertised talk I decided a break in Dubai was something I could handle so made my own arrangements to go ahead with that.  The talk went well and helped raise funds for the shelter. My intention then was to adopt Prince, a dog that had been used to publicise my talk or failing that Tiger who had been brought in to the auditorium at the end of my talk to show the type of dog. Yet again difficulties in getting things done by remote control while back in Australia resulted in someone else wanting both dogs as individuals wanting dogs had developed attachments to them.

Work in Australia continued in a position that took me to a number of outback towns in the Northern territory but the need I felt to have another desert dog in my life remained and I was determined to get one. People still working in Saudi were still unable to spot my dogs although of course even if they had found their way back they would certainly not have approached anyone.
Prince in the flyer
Prince in the flyer

A section of the auditorium at K9 friends


Jesse one of the many K9 friends dogs


Some of the other dogs at K9 friends 



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wild Canaan dogs of Saudi Arabia

Written By Duncan Schroeter
Original version published in Desert Tracks
French version translated by Isabelle Demortain for the Franch Canaan Club

This is a tale of an all too brief contact with some truly special dogs; dogs that I now believe to be three wild born Canaans. I had previously worked as a microbiologist on a number of contracts in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Bisha, Khamis Mushayt, Jeddah and Riyadh and travelled to other areas of the country and also to other countries in the region. I was always aware of the presence of dogs in the region, scavenging around the outskirts of towns and often saw them further out while on cross country walks, near permanent water and popular picnic areas. Often they were in ones and twos but occasionally in packs of up to a dozen. While out walking we sometimes came across dens dug into the side of a wadi with puppies in them. I have seen dogs bark at, but move out of the path of Hamadrayas baboons that inhabit the red sea escarpment area. In some rubish dump areas dogs and baboons move freely in close proximity of each other.

Khamis Mushayt lies close to this escarpment, at high altitude, and is relatively remote but with a rapidly growing population. There are very few domestic dogs, imported by expatriate workers and kept in isolation on housing compounds.

Saudis in general consider dogs as dirty and believe that if they touch one they must wash 7 times before praying, and so they have little to do with dogs. Perhaps this is a result of an historical awareness of the danger of rabies. This does not mean dogs are singled out for maltreatment and there is in fact a Muslim teaching about a man who was thirsty and climbed down into a well to drink water. Having quenched his thirst he returned to the surface of the well where he found a dog panting for water. He went down again and filled his shoe with water and brought this up for the dog. This scored him points in heaven. Then again it has been pointed out to me that Saudis mostly wear open sandals – is this insurance against having to go down the well a second time?

Some younger Saudis living in places such as Jeddah, known for its relatively cosmopolitan relaxed outlook, and who have lived for a time overseas, have recently started keeping dogs and walking them in public. However the “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the official name of the religious police” have now banned pet stores from importing and selling dogs on the grounds that keeping them is contrary to the nation’s custom.

I had often wondered what the origin of these desert dogs could be. Local people I spoke to were not sure but referred to them as “wild” though more correctly they are “pariahs” and they thought that the dogs had always been there and that sometimes the Bedouin keep them. Traditionally Bedouin have travelled the region with scant regard for borderlines drawn on maps and this plus caravan trade in the past perhaps explains the widespread distribution of this type of dog.

Soon after I arrived on my most recent contract in mid 2004, for the second time working at the Armed Forces Hospital in Khamis Mushayt, there were reports of 2 puppies on the housing compound. A South African believed she saw them arrive in her back garden. The mother it seemed brought them in through a gap in the external compound wall and had them in the rear yard of her villa, below a retaining wall. The mother jumped up the retaining wall and the larger pup managed to scramble up but the smaller one could not. Thinking that it was stuck the South African grabbed it and lifted it over the wall. It was so scared it froze, trembling, and the mother ran off leaving both pups behind. The mother came back after a couple of days – saw her pups were OK and left. The conclusion was that the mother had decided it was time they fended for themselves.

The two pups were then seen on the compound a number of times and I eventually saw them when they took up residence under a raised prefabricated house, diagonally opposite the villa I was housed in. There were two of these prefab houses on compound, originally used by the builders of the compound. They were very wary of people and ran for cover whenever anyone walked past. As a number of people walked or ran around the compound for exercise this meant the pups initially hid until 10pm and the human traffic quieted.

I had no intention of getting involved, mainly due to an awareness of strict quarantine requirements for importing dogs to Australia, but could not sit by and watch them go without proper food or water. At first I had little food in the villa for myself as I found it easier to eat in the hospital cafeteria while settling in. I tried taking some bread over the road and then retreated some distance to watch. They very furtively crept out and took it. I left water in an empty ice cream container. The local supermarket had no dog food so I bought a packet of dry cat food and as the pups could not read they seemed quite happy with it. Dog food availability in supermarkets is spasmodic in smaller centres and is presumably only bought by crazy expatriates. A few other people on the compound put out some food scraps and made brief attempts to encourage the pups to come for this, but they stayed too close, perhaps to keep the numerous compound cats from eating the food, or perhaps expecting a reaction of pups more used to people since birth. No one else managed to get the pups to take anything.

It was plain to me from the start that all the pups knew of people from their experience, and from what they had learnt from the mother, was that people chase dogs so should be feared. I gradually, over some weeks, coaxed them to come to the front door of my villa to eat. I fed them initially from ice cream containers and, as they ate, the containers would slip closer to where I sat very quite and still on the door step. This meant the dogs creeping closer to me. Every time someone walked past they would bolt for cover and if I so much as lifted one finger they would back off. They were so scared of people. They would even back-off from Billy, a large ginger compound cat who I was told was previously resident in the villa and considered it his home. If the wind rustled the palm tree they would likewise back-off. I sat on the front doorstep for hours every night and slowly they started to trust me more and would come out of hiding whenever they saw me, though they still ran when anyone else passed by. The larger white pup was always the first to come out of hiding but would then hang back until the smaller golden one started to eat. Occasionally when all was quite they would sleep outside my front door rather than under the house.

The pups would now show themselves when they saw me, even before dark, and one evening someone I had not seen before walked past shortly before dark causing the usual run and hide reaction. A very haughty English voice accosted my eardrums with “What’s wrong with those dogs? Have they got rabies or something?” I wished her a good evening, introduced myself and assured her they were simply scared of her and so running away. I later found this was the English school headmistress who had just returned at the end of school holidays, and wondered if the school kids were as terrified of her as the pups were. As a school kid I think I would have been.

About 4 months after my arrival a single one bedroom villa, which was to be my permanent accommodation, became available for me. By now most residents knew of the dogs and there was a surge of people starting to call for them to be removed or shot. The house they hid under was actually being used by a male Zimbabwean nurse and his family. When I got to know him he was a likeable character but he was understandably unhappy with the pups being under his house as they kept him awake at times. I pleaded for them to be left alone and started erecting a fence around the back garden of my new villa and said I would take them as soon as I had a kennel built to protect them from the sun. Comments were along the lines that I was mad, they are wild dogs, and I was asked a number of times how would I catch them. I said I had no intention of catching them but intended gaining their confidence so that they would come of their own free will and because they chose to. Of course I was just laughed at.

Meanwhile after I had moved I continued taking food up to the villa I had initially been housed in, to feed them where they were more confident. I was warned that traps were set around the house they hid under by “Preventive Medicine” a department that seemed more interested in getting rid of cats on the compound than they were about rats and cockroaches at the hospital or about the regular stinking lake of overflow from the compound septic tanks, and numerous other problems with a potential for causing health problems. Fortunately the pups were too wary to be caught in the traps.

As soon as the kennel was ready I went up to the old villa at about 10pm one night, when most residents was sleeping and no walkers were about, and called to them. They followed me to my new front entrance where I gave them a biscuit each. The single villas were built in pairs with a common front porch off which the two entrance doors were situated. My new neighbour, who had expressed reservations about having dogs nearby, as she fed a number of compound cats, happened to choose this moment to open her front door. The pups fled for the cover of the prefab house, but having seen them the neighbour seemed to loose her concerns. She was a good neighbour and later cared for the dogs when I went on holiday.

Next day I called the pups for dinner at dusk and they came and ate at the front of my new villa. The following day, while I was getting the food ready, I looked out of the kitchen window and there they were playing together, waiting and watching for me. They had already realised I was living in this new place now. I lead them around the side into the back garden. They were very hesitant and crouched down going through the fence door which had an overhead beam, but came, had a very wary look around, decided it was safe, relaxed, ate their dinner and started playing. They chose to sleep there that night even though the gate was open and never again went back to the prefab house. This was exactly what I had wanted and occurred quicker than I expected – I think a reflection of the intelligence of these dogs and their ability to make decisions. I closed the gate only after some weeks when they were comfortable, and to stop the complaints by the people till calling for them to be removed whenever they saw them. They slowly got more used to me and would run around me close to my heels when I walked them outside of the yard and both would rush up to me and touch their noses to mine whenever I came home. On one occasion I had them out for a run in front of my villa and a walker passed by as I was calling them in for dinner. The smaller one wanted to play a bit longer and the walker laughed and said that I would never get them to come into the yard. I said nothing as they had already been living in my yard for some weeks.

When I first moved the dogs into my backyard I had an existing fence between my yard and my neighbour and the new one between me and the next villa that was uninhabited at the time. I had not yet built a fence along the back above the retaining wall. This retaining wall was built with rocks and was too high for the pups to jump up. Walking to the bus stop for work one morning I glanced down to find the dogs on my ankles. I took then home twice but they had found they could scramble up the retaining wall using the rocks and fencing for footholds where the two intersected. As fast as I put them through the gate they scrambled up and came charging around from the back of the next villa down the road, where there was no retaining wall. On the second attempt I met the girl who had seen them arrive on the compound. She let me go ahead while she waited on the road outside my villa. Sure enough they came tearing around again but on seeing her both dropped anchor and slid to a halt then retreated.

I then built a fence above the retaining wall giving them a big enough area, while keeping them in and away from prying eyes. Initially whilst they could scramble up the retaining wall they could not get down. If they became separated in this way neither would eat until they were both together. They shared everything and I could put a bone down in the middle of the doorway and say “that ones for Digger” and put another inside and say “that ones for Matey” and Matey would walk right over the one in the doorway to get his.

I built a stairway up to the level above the retaining wall using concrete blocks. The smaller dog got the idea immediately but the bigger was as usual wary of trying anything new. After several days of the small one and me demonstrating the use of the stairs the larger one finally but gingerly tried them. Once he found he could do it he went up and down several times faster and faster. Both became very agile at negotiating the steps at full speed. Nonetheless Digger found his way through the upper level fence into my neighbours garden one night but because of the angle of the hole could not get back. My neighbour had already gone to sleep so I went to her side gate and called to Digger but he could not see the way down her twisty steps. I did not want to enter her back yard so fetched Matey to her gate and said "Go fetch Digger." He quickly found the way up and came back with Digger following.

The larger of the two was particularly keen on digging holes so I named him “Digger”. Above the retaining wall in my backyard was a growth of bamboo, the roots of which formed an interlocking network that supported the ground. Digger made a den under this that both dogs could crawl into and turn around quite comfortably.

The smaller one “Matey” was the bolder towards me and was the first to venture inside and first to let me scratch him. It was a year before “Digger” would let me scratch him even though he would touch noses with me. Once I got my hand to his chest and he realized this was a good thing he enjoyed a daily scratch and tick check and never flinched when being vaccinated.

One lunch time at the hospital one of the Aussie nurses inquired after them. General feelings still were that I was keeping wild animals. I decided to walk them up to her villa one night and knocked on her door so she could see for herself. As soon as she opened it they bolted to a safe but visible distance – I had no collars or leads as none can be had there. She asked how I would get them home again and I gave my usual answer that they would follow me. This got the usual sceptical look. I just said “Come on it’s bed time let’s go home” and they came on my heels. That was when she said called after me “Oh you’re a dog whisperer”.

Then another Aussie nurse complained to the hospital about my dogs barking. They rarely barked and I always quieted them down fast if they did. Seven people living between me and the complainer said the never heard them – she probably heard other outside dogs. I was told she was depressed at the time as a Saudi doctor she hoped to marry got transferred to Jeddah and made it clear he did not want her following him. It is not considered acceptable for a Saudi to marry a non-Saudi, particularly as his first wife. Anyway I had to argue again to be allowed to keep them and was required to produce their vaccination certificates.

Neither dog needed house training from me and never took anything from the house that I did not clearly give them and were very wary of anything new. They were clearly keen to please and do the right thing and were so careful and delicate when taking a biscuit from my hand that they would sometimes drop them if I was not careful to place them properly into their mouths.

They were very good at solving problems and demonstrated excellent understanding even when still very young. One evening they were outside on the road but keeping away as there was a gardener working outside the front of my villa. As soon as he picked up his utensils and took 3 steps towards them they recognised their chance and ran around the back of the villas so as to approach my villa from the other end of the street.

One evening after work a group of four school kids asked if they could come and see my dogs. I agreed but asked them to be calm and quite. Of course they did not understand and as soon as they came into the yard one boy said “oh cool a ball” and picked up a tennis ball they dogs would play with, and threw it directly at the dogs. They were terrified at this mass invasion probably thinking they were being attacked and poor Matey shivered with fright so I had to ask them to go.

Then Matey suddenly got sick and despite the best efforts of the local vet died. He bled when he died and I feel the likely but unproven cause was poison. I was very upset. There were a number of incidents of many cats going the same way and in one period my neighbour had to bury 8 cats and other people like numbers all within days of each other. There was uproar of people complaining to the hospital and the deaths stopped as suddenly as they started. It was likely that poison would have been laid by expatriates living on the compound but it was impossible to prove who. Saudis generally will not kill animals other than for food under strict Islamic guidelines, but rather trap and move them. It seemed to me futile to do this as there are so many stray cats in Saudi cities that moving them simply leaves a vacuum quickly filled by others. I buried Matey under the bamboo and sometimes noticed Digger standing on the spot looking dejected. Was he remembering Matey?

Whenever I went on holiday I would go with a half empty suitcase and return with it full of dog stuff unobtainable locally. When I came home from my second holiday my neighbour, who had been feeding him, said Digger knew I was coming. When she went to feed him or see he as OK he always backed off, but a couple of days before I arrived – apparently coinciding with when I set off – he was trying to look beyond her to see if I was there. Perhaps he was good at estimating time as both holidays I had taken were for three weeks.

Digger did not think much of the bed I brought him from London! I noticed that after this holiday Digger seemed to have lost some of the confidence to come inside he had been slowly developing before I went away. He was now more wary of coming inside. He seemed to be scared of the curtain and would not come through the bedroom door into the living area. I suspected something might have happened and eventually my neighbour who had been caring for him told me she had thought that if she enticed him inside by putting a bone down and hid her self behind a curtain at the door she might be able to touch him. Of course he saw her and bolted and was extra wary from then on for a long time.

One of Diggers favourite toys was a cotton rope knotted at both ends and meant to act as dental floss when chewed. He used to grab one end by the tassels and shake it so hard the free end would bang against his sides. One evening I was sitting on the ground with him and he picked it up and shook it but it whacked my forehead he immediately dropped it and ran back to me and licked my head where it had hit me.

While out shopping one evening I found a cheap football on sale and thought it might make a good toy for digger. When I got home I rolled it around and he got the idea that it was something to play with but he was very wary, barking at it and approaching it but not daring to touch it. I left it in the yard and it took some days of encouragement before he would finally roll it around with his nose and chase it. When it became old and punctured and out of shape I bought a new one but he preferred the original, even though it would no longer roll. Only after it fell apart and I threw it away did he play with the new one.

I used to sleep with my bedroom sliding door open so that I would hear if there was any disturbance and could react immediately to counter complaints. My neighbour thought this was not a good idea in case a snake or camel spider came inside. I hoped one would as I have never seen a camel spider and wanted to photograph one. One night I heard a slight unusual scuffling noise and looked out to see Digger standing balanced on his back legs stretching to reach a hibiscus flower from the plant. He later used to stand up to touch noses with me if I asked for a kiss, but one day in the excitement of welcoming me home he stood up as I bent down and banged his head a bit hard on mine knocking my glasses off. He showed his usual concern for what had happened. From then he would only touch noses if I was sitting down first.

On another night I awoke to a small commotion accompanied by an odd throaty noise. I went outside and found it to be what I suspected – a visit from an elusive white tailed mongoose occasionally seen by a few residents. One word from me and Digger left it alone to scramble up the fence. The mongoose took some convincing that it was safe to go down the other side of the fence and move away.

Few cats, apart from Billy who was tolerated well so long as he did not try to steal food, came into the yard more than once, but one we called “Cheeky” discovered that Digger would not follow him inside. He used to regularly run the gauntlet and as fast as I put him out the front door he would go round the back and come in again.

Prayer call is a regular feature of life in the middle-east and Digger often used to like to join in. He would accompany the “Allaaaaaah akbah” (God is great), howling (awoooooooh – wooh –wooh). One voice in particular – it sounded like a young boy – would set him off.
Marking the end of the month of Ramadam fireworks were set off. I suspected this may frighten Digger but he stood calmly looking to the night sky and watching the starbursts.
Digger’s body language was excellent. If I asked Digger if he wanted a bone he would nod his head up and down.
Only a couple of months before the end of my contract Digger kept coming to the door crying for attention. When I went out he would look through the fence but I could not see anything and wondered if it was a mongoose again. Then one of the walkers told us he had glimpsed something inside the compound at dusk. He said it did not look like a cat but he was not sure what it was. He also saw one of the military police inside the compound apparently looking for something. This was unusual as they usually only patrolled the outside perimeter while civilian guards were responsible inside. A couple of days later I saw this scruffy and scarred little pup near a second prefab building. Again I gave her water and food in ice cream containers but had to retreat across the road and a couple of villas away before she would emerge from under the villa to eat.

Having lost Matey I decided that if I could coax the pup to join us and if it got on well with Digger I would again take 2 dogs home as originally planned. When I went to collect the ice cream container on the third day to feed her it had disappeared. I thought she had probably pulled it under the house with her but when I walked back to my villa found she had brought it back to the side of my villa. I was not sure how she would be accepted as Digger had not welcomed company of 2 other dogs on the compound – one an elderly overweight Basset and one a young female Labrador. When the Labrador was first brought to visit he ran away from her and the next time he wanted to chase her so her owner beat a hasty retreat with her. Of course the pup had no doubt seen Digger playing with me and he had been trying to tell me she was there. She was now spending some time at night looking through the fence from the next door villa yard. I intended making a small opening in my fence at the weekend but before that the neighbour came knocking on my door to tell me that there was a dog in his yard and asking me to remove it for him. As soon as we went into his yard the pup ran but I was able to calm her and pick her up.

She had a patch of hair missing from her back as if scraped off and a scar on her face.

I closed the mosquito screen door to my yard and she slept that first night in my room between cupboard and wall. She was wary but allowed me to touch her. After I went to bed and the lights had been out for some time I heard her creep out and explore the room and bathroom.

The following day I did not need to go to work and checked her for ticks, gave her a much needed bath then allowed her to join Digger. They both stopped in their tracks when they first saw each other but were then instant best friends – of course they had already introduced themselves from opposite sides of the fence. The second day I had her I went outside with a video camera in my hand. The new pup was immediately aware that this was something new and snorted at it before looking to Digger for is reaction. When she saw he was not worried about it she also accepted it.

I called her Sheba. (There is a rocky outcrop nearby that legend claims was a resting place for the Queen of Sheba on her trip to visit King Solomon.) I think Sheba had also been chased and maybe hit by a car as she was scared whenever she heard the Military Police that guarded the compound perimeter drive past. She rapidly improved in condition and was willing to try anything and explore everything but remained wary of other people.

One night while I was watching television Sheba walked inside and rested her head on the lounge suite. She rolled her eyes around looking at it before walking out. Next she trotted in and hopped up onto the lounge, had a better look around then hopped down and trotted out again. Then she charged in as fast as she could and flung herself onto the lounge, lay down against the arm rest and held her head up proudly. After that she often sat on the lounge but moved to the section where I sat – probably for the same reason I preferred it – it had a view of the back door.

One night I was sitting on a chair outside and with a little encouragement from me Sheba came and put both front legs up onto my lap. Digger found this most curious as he had never done this and moved around to the side for a better look at just what she was doing. He was plainly bemused.
Sheba did not have the same idea of sharing food that Digger and Matey had but was learning both from me and from Digger. Once he realised Sheba was gobbling down any treat she got and would then try to get his he would hold back on eating his snack or bone etc. and then not let her have it. Coupled with my help she started to understand – one each.

On another occasion I was sitting on the ground outside and said to Digger “Digger give me a kiss”. As usual he came and touched his nose to mine. Without planning it I thought I would see if I could teach Sheba to do the same. I said “Sheba give me a kiss” and touched my nose in front of her. No reaction from her but Digger reacted. He immediately went and touched his nose to hers then looked at me happily as if to say “good idea, I can do that!”


Sheba tried sleeping on my bed for a couple of nights but it was only a single bed and as I am quite tall there was not a lot of space and as it warmed up for summer she mostly slept in the kennel with Digger. At daybreak she would come and jump onto the bed and pound me with her front legs to wake me – much to Diggers amusement.

Cheeky the cat one night rushed into the lounge with a look of horror. He had picked his chance to come in but had not allowed for Sheba who followed him inside with Digger on her heels. He needed no urging from me to exit through the front door this time and did not go straight to the back for another try.

Shortly after daybreak one morning there was sound of scuffling going on in the yard and when I looked out there was another visitor. This time an Ethiopian hedgehog had aroused their curiosity. Both dogs gingerly reached out to this strange spiky animal with their paws but were more curious than anything else. I picked it up and released it away from my villa but about a week later the hospital civilian gate guards had it in a box and were going to take it away. They are fairly common in the area and are one of three species found on the Arabian peninsular.

My attempts to take my beautiful dogs’ home proved unexpectedly difficult. As fast as one problem was solved another developed. My intention was to export them to Dubai for quarantine to satisfy Australian regulations, via a Jeddah veterinary service which had kennels. I collected 2 travel kennels from Jeddah and had them in the yard to try and get the dogs used to them. Unfortunately I had been unable to find time to get them before I stopped work as I was doing 2 peoples work since the departure of a staff member for whom no replacement had been found. This left limited time for the dogs to overcome their suspicion of the boxes and with Digger’s experience of attempted trapping in the past he needed more time. Also vaccine requirements changed. Requested Bordetella vaccine was unobtainable in the country and a last minute change from requiring just rabies vaccination to a needing a positive rabies neutralising antibody test (RNAT) test performed in Europe, before they could travel to Dubai. These problems were solvable.

Most of the flights from Khamis to Jeddah used aircraft with cargo holds that were not temperature controlled so could not carry animals. My plan was to rent a van and drive them to Jeddah. They had never been in a vehicle so I hoped to get them into the boxes and then lift them into the van. At the same time I was pressured by the hospital to leave. They in fact had made a mistake as to my last working day and mistakenly claimed I had stopped work 2 months before I in fact had. This despite the fact that they had requested I keep working due to staff shortages. When the day came I could not get Digger into his box. The alternative was to fit a door to the kennel they both slept in and transport them to Jeddah in that but I had to leave and lacked the basic implements to fix a door in the time left. The Jeddah kennel had a number of people to help with onward shipment whereas I had only myself when it came to getting them into the airline boxes. I was forced to go and leave the dogs in the care of my cat loving neighbour who was to get a door fitted and arrange transport to Jeddah where the dogs were expected. I have since learnt that a lot of the pressure for me to go originated from an American dentist who wanted to move to my villa. He had identical accommodation except that I had a better front garden due entirely to my looking after it while he made no effort on his. He was supposedly friendly to me and claimed to like dogs.

While my neighbour was at work one day the resident from the next door villa closed the kennel door they had fitted and called Preventive Medicine to take the dogs away. She was unable to find out what had happened for some days. Then she was told they were taken to a farm but later that they were driven out of town and released at a site where food was dumped and other dogs and the local baboons came to scavenge. They had also been taken to the dentist at work so he had a chance to get them returned – he did not and later told my neighbour that he had to make a “judgmental decision and had made the wrong one”. He knew as did everyone that I wanted to get the dogs out and what the plan was to do so.

My neighbour arranged for someone to drive her to the area the dogs were supposedly taken to and searched without success. She is now home in Cape Town with a cat she took home with her. She thinks she may have seen Digger in an area on the opposite side of the hospital to where they were supposedly taken. She was on a hospital bus at the time and unable to stop but when she got back to the compound found someone to drive her back to the area but could not find any dog. Was it him? Have the two stayed together? I think they would have. Have they had pups? Quite possibly. Have they managed to find shelter from the hail storms they would certainly have experienced by now? I can only hope so. Many people on the compound were apparently upset at what happened. I am left heartbroken.

Knowing what I know of them I believe they may well have survived provided they found water soon enough, and I wish I could get there to carry out an extensive search for them. I know that even if I could get there I may fail to find them in. If I could find them I may fail to get them into a vehicle on my own. If I got them to Jeddah would I still be able to get clearance as a visitor to take them out of the country? If I could find a way to at least try I would do anything to recover them.

I remembered reading something about these dogs being officially recognised as a breed but failed to find out anything while I was in Saudi. I searched the internet for such things as “dogs of Arabia” without success. Back in Australia I now believe them to be Canaans. All the characteristics fit and the history of them and the way I got them, makes the ones I had even more special to me. If only I could at least try to find them but Saudis don’t issue visas for expats to go and get dogs from the wilds. I will continue to try and think of a way. Of course in terms of pedigree it is only by controlled breeding and record keeping that we can be sure of the purity of a breed. Sterling work in this regard has been done in Israel where Canaans are the national dog. Undoubtedly there is scope for a lot more research of naturally occurring dogs in the area. Just how widespread are they? What is their natural behaviour? There have been reports of them pairing for life. Are young males forced out of the pack to avoid inbreeding? Is that how Digger and Matey were left on the compound? Perhaps there is much to add to our knowledge of these ancient dogs before interbreeding occurs or they are allowed to die out in their natural state through pressure of human population growth or deliberate attempts to eliminate them as a rabies control measure.
They may not be on any breed register but Digger, Matey and Sheba will always be champions in my life. Somewhere I believe they are out there. One way or another, my next dogs will have to be Canaans but for now these are lost to me. I can only hope that a continual easing of visa requirements in Saudi Arabia may one day allow me to search for them.

Digger showing his curved tail

For more information on Canaan dogs go or Facebook Canaan Dogs group or the various kennel club Canaan groups.