At a low domed half-open hut at Nairobi’s Rosslyn Valley Developments, I am mingling with a small crowd of people and a pack of dogs in leashes, some calm, some tugging and pulling and others asleep from exhaustion.
A large number of dogs in the enclave spot blue scarves on their collars with the inscription ‘Adopt Me’ emblazoned in white. The event is dubbed the Paw-Perfect Match, run jointly by Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (KSPCA) and TNR Trust organisations.
It aims to guide people on how to choose the right pet for their households while introducing pet lovers to an online pet matching service named Pawfect.
Amy Rapp, my host for the afternoon is a dog trainer with working experience in Kenya spanning over 17 years. She runs TNR Trust which is dedicated to the creation of a manageable healthy population of cats and dogs and education on animal welfare. They are also championing the eradication of rabies and the re-homing of dogs and cats that have been rescued and are under their care.
“Right now, there is a serious outbreak of rabies in the country and we are having mass campaigns to get as many dogs as possible to get anti-rabies jabs,” she says.
It is economical to give dogs jabs as compared to treating humans for post-exposure to rabies.
“An anti-rabies jab only goes for a Sh100 whereas it takes about Sh3,200 for a past exposure dose. The shots are five in total for human beings and they have to be administered within two days or the resultant effect is a fatality,” she says.
Amy is a proud owner of two Rottweilers and a local dog breed which she gushes about with glee.
Demand for animal companions has soared in the past few years, but not all Kenyans know what dog best fits their homes.
There is clamour for German Shepherds, Japanese Spitz and recently, Boerboels. Some of these dogs are kept as pets in apartments or homes with little space to exercise or in households with infants.
Amy says that there are many factors to be considered before one owns a pet.
“One has to consider whether they are a good match for starters,” she says.
“For TNR, we look at a dog’s temperament and compare it with the needs of the family before we give out a dog. We do not give out dogs to families that have children under eight years unless we know that these dogs have lived with children before.”
“On gauging the temperament of dogs and prospective new owners, we ask questions and create a database for families and their lifestyles which we use to match with the dogs under our care.”
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Before one takes a pet from TNR, one has to sign a contract obliging them to meet the bare minimums of pet care. For example, you cannot leave your pet in the house for long periods, for say a weekend and one has to undertake to neuter and sterilise them which she says is costly.
Cat neutering and spraying, for instance, range from Sh10,000 to Sh15,000.
For male dogs, veterinaries charge anywhere from Sh5,000 to Sh8,000, and for females Sh8,000 to Sh15,000. But KSPCA and TNR do it at a lower cost.
“Sterilisation helps keep the breeding of pets under control. It’s a more expansive process with female dogs because it entails surgery to remove their ovaries, while for the males, it is a five-minute procedure," Amy says
She explains: "Sterilisation helps with population control and prevents the hassles of keeping a dog in check during the mating periods that last for as long as 13 days,” Amy says.
Kenyan Shepherd dog
For anyone who wants to get a pet, she advocates for the local breeds she calls the Kenyan Shepherd Dog (KSD) which she is a big fan of.
“I think they are a natural treasure. When I came here people were calling them Shenzi (stupid) which I didn’t understand what it was but once I found out the meaning, I resorted to calling them the KSD because they are underrated in terms of their usefulness and efficiency.
"I had a KSD that I got from Karura Forest that saved my neighbour's security guard's life at one time. He was being attacked and my KSD raised an alarm. I had two Rottweillers in my compound but it was the KSD which raised the alert that saved this man’s life,” she adds.
“KSDs are incredibly smart, alert, adaptive and get along with people pretty well and don’t need to eat that much and I think it’s a great shame that Kenyans don’t value these dogs and pick the imported breeds over them. They are the perfect dogs.”
She talks of her own pet KSD which in all her years as a trainer is the easiest dog she has ever dealt with.
She says that her KSD works with her on most days when she is training dogs and even helps her when she is dealing with reactive and aggressive dogs.
"I have two Rottweilers with me too but at night when I am sleeping, my KSD is usually more alert compared to the two others," she says.
Adopt instead of buying
On people keeping large dogs in small spaces until they become a nuisance to neighbours, Amy recommends that in such an instance one can make an anonymous report to KSPCA.
She notes that it is against the animal welfare laws to do that and will be treated in the same measure as that of someone building a noisy bar in a residential neighborhood.
For prospective pet owners, she says the basics are simple, “do some research and have a budget for food, vaccinations, and sterilisation. It’s cheaper to adopt a dog as opposed to buying a dog."
One should also save extra money in case of emergency treatments or injuries as there still doesn’t exist pet insurance in Kenya. A good breeder, she says, will ask you questions to try and establish a good match.