Sunday, May 11, 2008

Samoa Part 15: Dogs!

Once I had sufficiently recuperated from my bout of dengue, I was transferred less than a mile southwest of the mission home to serve in the Pesega area which covered a number of villages: Pesega, Lotopa, Alafua, Sinamoga, Aai o Fiti, Alamagoto, Moamoa. This new area, which nestled up to the west side of Mount Vaea where Robert Louis Stevenson lays buried, was probably the most densely populated area I served in during my two years in Samoa.

My new mission companion was an American from Arizona, Elder L. He started his mission just four months before me, thus we were both pretty green. Neither of us had truly mastered the language yet, so we studied hard and relied heavily on the Lord’s power to bless us with the gift of tongues as in Bible times.

As mentioned, the Church members voluntarily fed us each morning and night of most days of the week. After taking a tour of the area with Faapepele, one of the members, he dropped us off at the house of our dinner appointment. I jumped out of the van still feeling residually tired from the dengue and from a long day, walked between a gap in the hedge, and made my way toward the house’s front door.

A few dogs greeted us with the usual barking and baying, but I paid them little heed since I hadn’t had any trouble with dogs in Savaii. Without any warning, however, a very sharp pain seized my left ankle and I nearly crumpled to the ground. A mangy little mutt had snuck up on me unawares and clamped onto my leg.

I hobbled to the door, certain that I had sustained a significant laceration. To my surprise, when I peeled away my sock, only a small little puncture wound indicated that I hand anything wrong with me. Admittedly, I was disappointed. I figured that if I was going to be “mauled” by a dog, I might as well have something to show for the pain that I had to endure.

By the end of our dinner, however, even the pain had subsided, but for the rest of my mission I more eagerly headed the Apostle Paul’s counsel to the Philippians: Beware of dogs. I learned that I needn’t pay much attention to the dogs that made the most noise, for they really are all bark and no bite. Rather, I ever after kept a wary eye out for the sneaky, silent, ninja-type dogs which latch without warning onto unsuspecting ankles.

In our densely populated area, dogs teemed in between houses and in the streets. Dog fights were common and such scrapping did little for their general appearance. However, the dogs in Samoa aren’t particularly attractive in the first place. More than once I saw specimens which appeared to be cross-eyed and a curious mix between dog and Tasmanian tiger, for similarly were they striped.

Tasmanian Tiger

Speaking in 1907 of the dogs in Samoa, V. A. Barradale of the London Missionary Society wrote,

…The dogs are not very handsome…[and] are not well cared for…they are often half starved and lean and fierce looking, and covered with sores. There are not as many as there used to be, for a law was made a few years ago that a certain sum of money should be paid for every dog kept.…The Government told the native policemen that they could keep the money which they collected as their wages, but the poor policemen did not get rich, for the people at once destroyed a very large number of their dogs. They thought they had tricked their rulers, and they did not realize that the Government had got rid of a great number of dogs which were covered with sores, and carried disease wherever they went.

Oh, how I wished that the government would have stepped in to control the dog population! For since Barradale’s time, it seemed that no additional efforts were made to stem the scabby tide of ulcer-ridden canines, thus the population had undoubtedly rebounded and then some.

In the end, however, I learned to cope with the problem of dogs. If a dog seemed too uppity, or if I was particularly nervous, I simply leaned over as though I were picking up a rock, and the dog got the picture and backed off. Only once did I ever let a rock fly, and that was by pure accident.

While approaching a house, a large pack of dogs suddenly charged as I was picking up my imaginary rock. Only I really did pick up a rock and, in knee-jerk fashion, I quickly hurled it, completely missing the beasts. As they rushed past me, I discovered that the dogs were not even paying attention to me, rather, they were charging after something well behind me toward the road. After being scolded by my then Samoan companion, and after apologizing to the family whose dogs they were, the chagrin I suffered was sufficient to keep me from ever really touching a rock again when warding off a dog.


James said...

How is it that you failed to include the story about the time that you charged the pack of dogs that was attacking us? They all ran away with their tails between their legs.

Dan Cummings said...

I'm glad to see the Samoa series continuing! Have a great summer Nate/Squeetch.

Dan and Wendy said...


My son came down with dengue while serving in Brazil; nasty stuff.

Nathan said...

I am thinking of carrying mace with me in Samoa, specifically for the dogs. Maybe not? Rocks seem to work, but what if there is a pack of them? Machetti?