A Shaggy Dog Story

It was back in the late 1980s. I had written my first few articles for the Nation, encouraged by the late George Mbuguss, who was then the Managing Editor. He used to ask me for mainly historical pieces on Kenya’s ‘transition years’ – the sort that go into the public holiday supplements and of a kind that probably no-one really reads.

Then one day George rang me with a different kind of request: ‘This next Sunday, John, we would like you to cover the Shaggy Dog Show.’

‘A dog show? I know next to nothing about dogs and, anyway….’

‘It’s OK,’ George cut in.’ It’s the judges, not the dogs, we want you to interview.’

‘And who are the judges?’

‘Charles Njonjo, Richard Leakey, Byron Georgiadis….’

‘Say no more! I’ll be there!’

And now, twenty years later, I have joined the ranks of Kenya’s famous, if not rich, by myself becoming a Shaggy Dog Show judge.

It was last Sunday and I was glad to go along because I hadn’t been for a few years. The location was different, at the Hillcrest School along Langata Road rather than the grounds of the KSPCA – the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals – but the atmosphere was very much the same.

Let me back-track a bit, though, because I think I should explain a few things. …

The KSPCA is a committed and very busy organisation. You might think that, with so many human problems to be addressed – problems of poverty, marginalisation and crime – animal issues should be very low on a list of priorities. But it can be argued that with such a plethora of organisations focusing on human rights and human welfare, it is good that there is at least one concerned about animals – working against cruelty and neglect.

And each year the KSPCA puts on this Shaggy Dog Show, charity and fun event (this year with the generous sponsorship of Nakumatt) that raises money for such things as looking after abandoned pets, investigating cases of cruelty, medical care for sick animals, and staff wages – as well as providing a great family day out.

Twenty years ago I remember remarking to Charles Njonjo that the Shaggy Dog Show, with its craft and pet-gear stalls, was very much a mzungu affair.

‘Yes,’ he agreed gruffly, ‘For years the KSPCA has been trying to persuade Africans to be interested in animals – but I’m afraid all that many do is to beat their donkeys’

Well, things have changed. I’m sure too many donkeys still get beaten; but the Shaggy Dog Show is no longer mainly a mzungu event – and this year there were plenty of African owners, especially youngsters, fondly and proudly showing off their pets.

It is not a serious and neurotic dog show, you’ll understand. The variety of classes should tell you that: ‘Dog most like its owner’, Dog with the wobbliest waggle’, ‘Fancy dress’ and, of course, ‘The shaggiest dog in the show’.

But it fell to me to be judging a class I reckon is perhaps the most important in the show – ‘The best KSPCA stray’ – because it focuses on the good work the organisation is doing in rescuing animals and finding homes for them.

I wasn’t at all difficult to pick the winner: a puppy called Blackie, shown by his young owner, Maryam. Blackie needed to have his rear leg amputated – but he tackled the parade ring with real zest. And, having just been diagnosed as having a slipped disk, I must admit to a personal bias that goes with my limp.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation