Namibia is at once incredibly beautiful and incredibly unforgiving. To live here, especially in rural areas (which is a vast majority of the country) creatures, including us humans, must adapt. The environment offers challenges found in few other places on earth.
For instance, in the Namib Desert, one of the oldest and harshest deserts on the planet, you can still find animal activity. I’ve seen ostriches, springbok and scrub hares. I’ve seen the tracks of these creatures and those of other animals I didn’t recognize. But there are tracks that even a purblind urban kid, like myself, can immediately recognize, those of dogs.
While the African Wild Dog’s population is under serious threat and is considered endangered, the average mongrel can claim no such protection. Dogs are everywhere, and if I had to guess I’d say that dogs are the second most populous mammal in Namibia, right behind humans. (By way of reference, there are approximately 2.3 million people in Namibia, which has an area a little larger than Texas, and Texas has 10x the population.)
You find dogs wherever you find people, and their lot in life is intricately tied to the humans they live around. In the town of Okahandja, for instance, where homes are surrounded by walls and barbed wire, dogs, at the very least, serve as living doorbells (they bark only when someone approaches the gate of the compound), but more often they are kept as burglary deterrents. You’ll find far fewer strays in Okahandja than you’d find in Arandis, where walled homes that corral dogs are the exception.
As with the humans they live next to or live with, dogs adapt. In Okahandja they seem quite content to stay behind their gates and bark in exchange for a daily meal. In Arandis, they’ve accepted their station as second class citizens and eek out lives subsisting on whatever food is discarded, which is often very little. In homesteads in the north dogs are part of the typical farm menagerie. There are strays, but it seems that most dogs have human homes.
In the more expensive areas of Swakopmund and Windhoek one can identify several recognized dog breeds, but in the outlying ghettos, dog lineage is as mixed and varied as the ingredients in a pot of beef stew. I’ve seen Rottweilers, Pitbulls, Shitzus, and more than a few Schnauzers. One of the more impressive breeds I’ve seen are the Rhodesian Ridgebacks. They are a medium to large sized animal with brown to rust colored fur and a distinct tufted ridge of fur running the length of its back.
The Ridgeback isn’t the only dog in Namibia with that distinctive fur feature, however. I seen short legged, long bodied pooches with a crop of unruly hair starting at the shoulders and running along the spine. I saw one such canine while in the East Kavango Region of Namibia. It was in a primary school. The dog wandered in among students and adults as if the school were its home. It stood glancing up at the adults, tail wagging lazily, waiting for notice, but getting none. At last it turned and ambled away looking sad and dejected.
I asked friends about their observations of the relationships between dog and man in the areas to the south. One reports, “Keetmanshoop is more similar to Okahandja. I thought the dogs I saw were strays at first, but after closer observation realized they all have owners and a place to come back to, they just aren’t kept inside the gate all day.”
Further to the south, another tells me, “The dog population in Oranjemund is pretty large. Most, if not all, of the dogs are domestic pets. Rarely do you see any strays or wild dogs. There is a pound or kennel where you can house dogs while on vacation or pick up new ones. Oddly enough, there are a ton of mini dachshunds! Nearly every house has a beware dog sign in Afrikaans and Oshiwambo!”
And to the west I’m told, “Luderitz is completely divided between the town and location. In town the dogs are fenced in and bark at anything that moves.
In the location there are stray dogs and dogs that sit outside of house but they rarely make noise.”
Adapt, survive, and if you’re lucky, prosper. It’s a dog’s life.