The Teeth

A lot of people in Brazil keep dogs, they are popular as pets, but also serve rather well as protection in a country where barred windows and eight-foot fences are, regrettably, the norm.

The first place I stayed with dogs was in Taguatinga, and they had two: Lugubrious Dog and Terribly! Over! Excitable! Dog! Lugubrious Dog was a large and elderly Brazilian Mastiff, and she served the role of guard dog. Though old, creaky, and suffering from some hideous ailment that, amongst other things, caused her to lactate despite never having whelped, she was still a dog with whom one would not mess. Terribly! Over! Excitable! Dog! was not a good guard dog. He wasn’t friendly in a tail-wagging, affection-begging sense, but he was so terribly, terribly excited by such things as cars, leaves, his own tail, a full food dish, an empty food dish, a food dish that had been moved from one corner of the kennel to another, and so forth, that actual interaction with a human being drove him into ecstatic paroxysms of yippy glee such that he would almost fall on his side with delight. But Lugubrious Dog had to be dealt with because, though slow-moving, she still could probably take down a small horse. A couple of meat patties were sufficient to earn her initial trust and, over the months I stayed there, she came to rather like me—largely, I suspect, because I took the effort to interact with her, rather than treating her as a noisy inconvenience. If I was sat working in the yard she would drag herself over and slump against me, oozing her elderly, diseased milk over my legs in a manner which I had to take as affectionate. Her owner, who has previously been mentioned on this blog for her rather extreme mood swings and temper, occasionally took this as a personal affront.

I’m now staying for some days in the house of an American friend in Niterói, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, and though it may be somewhat more peaceable than other parts of this violent, beautiful, paradisical hell-hole, it still is wise to have some kind of deterrent. The neighbours have an electric fence. Andrew has a dog.

Andrew’s dog is far better cared for than Lugubrious Dog and her ebullient companion, but nevertheless serves as a guard dog, and is duly protective. Technically called Tufa, he will be remembered by history as The Teeth, Meu Deus, The Teeth, and he is fairly clear about which bits of the world are his, and who is permitted in them. He is a large white dog, built like a German Shepherd, and boasts an impressive set of gnashers. He has not, I think it is fair to say, taken to me as Lugubrious Dog did.

Thus far a careful game of musical chairs has been played, with The Teeth being moved from front yard to back, or to the washing room, and variously chained or barred from accessing me; however he still exhibits strong displeasure upon seeing me, and seems to be capable of the spectacular feat of simultaneously growling menacingly and barking furiously. This morning, after having spent two days carefully working my way round him, I decided the time had come to try and change the situation a little. Dogs are, after all, pack animals, and a key part of relating with them is showing them who is boss. I therefore screwed up my courage, stood the other side of a barred gate to him and, basically, shouted him down. When I was a kid I was terrified of dogs and, though I now rather like them when they are not being needy bundles of saliva and fur, an angry dog still can cause a latent jitter to arise within me. But I did the deed, albeit protected by six foot of cast iron, and yelled “Para!” at him until, probably to both our surprise, he quietened down.

He’s not yet my friend. I am still, clearly, an interloper and a threat to the family silver. But I think I have the wind in my favour now. Tomorrow we shall buy some carrots—The Teeth likes carrots, presumably he knows the vitamin A will help keep those incisors sharp and pointy—and I shall take another step towards rapproachement. I leave for Picinguaba on the 27th. I am determined to pat him on the head before I go.

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