There are a lot of stray dogs in Tanzania, and children are bitten by them almost every day. Not always because the dogs are vicious, but often because children have no knowledge of animal behaviour. They tease them, throw rocks at them and then run away and fall down on the ground. Parents encourage the fear of dogs, because they think dogs are like Serengeti lions, who see every child as a zebra.
In order to increase the safety and welfare of the dogs, Maureen has been visiting Happy Watoto for past few weeks. She is an American volunteer at the local dog rescue centre, Mbwa Wa Africa, and she is helping to teach the children about the behaviour of dogs. The subjects discussed include: body language, biting, the care and training of dogs, and possible careers with animals.
Maureen’s lessons are fun and inter-active. She uses roll playing to allow the children to experience the effect their own behaviour has on dogs. When children see a dog and run away screaming, the message in dog language is ‘let’s play tag!’. ‘So,’ Maureen tells them, ‘if you see a dog you are afraid of, stand still. Pretend you are a tree. Have you ever seen a dog bite a tree?’ ‘No, but they pee on them!’, one boy said with a big grin. The whole class burst out laughing.
Next week Maureen is bringing her own dog to the school. The children are enthusiastic and think it is exciting. Maureen will teach them how to practice restraint. ‘Don’t run away if you are afraid’, she urges the children. Their teacher Mr George, is an open and very involved teacher. He is a big fellow and doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. But after the lesson he confessed that he is a bit nervous about Maureen bringing her dog to school. ‘I am so afraid of dogs,’ he confided. ‘But I am going to conquer my fear. It can’t be good for a man like me to be afraid? I don’t want to be afraid anymore. Maureen is going to help me get over my fear. We need to teach people how to behave around dogs so that no one gets bit.’
In the future, if the children and the teachers have taken Maureen’s lessons to heart, Happy Watoto will get its own dog; a stray dog from the rescue centre which can be a companion to the children during the day, and can accompany the night watchman on his rounds in the evening. It may take some time before everyone is ready for this step, but we are confident that it will happen. As Maureen said, ‘I have never seen such an enthusiastic school.’