The Shaggy Dog Show, a festive carnival for furry lovers happened a few weeks ago.
This year’s event was the first I attended and all I could see cutting across the tents stretching across the vast expanse of the Ngong Race Course grounds was a mix of furs, paws, dog owners, trainers and animal lovers.
Aside from being just an event, it was also a large classroom where pet owners could have a front seat and witness what proper pet ownership looked like.
A Boerboel owner stood farthest from the entire fanfare almost as if he needed his space and at his feet, was a slow-breathing monstrosity.
With jaws that could easily clamp down a car and a body that heaved up and down like a living mountain, the brown South African Boerboel by its sheer size was a marvel.
The dog’s name is Thabo and his owner is Maxwell Kering, one of the owners of Kering Boerboels Kennels.
“Everyone who owns a Boerboel is drawn by the same things that first drew me to this specific breed,” he says.
“First is the intimidating size, coupled with how loyal they are to their owners in addition to a protective reputation, which comes as a state of their nature.”
“This specific breed was gotten from Lenana Boerboels, who are the remaining few kennel owners that have genuine purebreds,” he adds.
He laments that the Kenyan market is infested with subpar standards dogs because of a lot of inbreeding. “I bought mine at Sh120,000,” which he says is the standard price of a pedigree Boerboel dog.
“Thabo weighs 65 kilos and costs very little when it comes to grooming him. His feeding, however, punches my pockets,” he says.
“Thabo eats roughly 1.8 kilos of dog biscuits every day, I have like five others of the same breed which means that I have to buy like five bags of dog feeds every two months. A bag of the specific dog feed that I use goes for roughly Sh4,200 each.”
For anyone that would love to own a Boerboel, Maxwell has a few pointers from his eight-month stay with Thabo and his pack.
“It is a dominant breed and thus one has to be equally dominant with it. You need to social-train it with people and with children or you will otherwise have an overly aggressive dog which can be fatal. You need to give them a lot of space to run and burn their energy and to be expressive, they are not dogs you can put in a cage or a kennel,” he warns. “A Boerboel is not an apartment dog.”
On dominance, he advises that it is all about setting up proper boundaries such that the dog just cannot do whatever it feels like.
“Thabo has to wait for me to tell him to feed before he eats his food. It involves spending time with him every day to train him and also to get long walks as often as possible,” he says.
“This specific breed is not for first-time owners. Before I sell my own to anyone, I have to assess whether they have the space to keep them and whether they are capable of maintaining such a large breed dog.”
He sells his puppies at between Sh70,000-Sh90,000. The kennel is in Eldoret but he is in Nairobi for the dog show. “The black-coated breed is more popular in the market,” he says.
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Cynthia Ryan, a dog lover, who was also at the show currently has eight dogs that are a mix of rescues, pedigrees, and mixed breeds including a Kenyan Shepherd (Bosco).
When I met her, she was waiting for her car to ferry her dogs home.
She has the largest pack in the show, a total of seven dogs. Ryan says she only adopts rescued dogs from the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (KSPCA), usually two at a time, and hardly ever puppies.
The dog show is run by KSPCA and partners.“My pack always has a senior dog,” she says, pointing out to one that is missing one foot.
“Billy is 10 years old,” she says. “He had stayed with KSPCA for over three years without anyone adopting him before we rescued him. He just got awarded the third-best rescue dog.”
Ms Ryan enjoys dog training. “We take them every Wednesday to the East African Kennel Club, we further do agility training for some, others we train for water retrieval, we take part in the Good Citizen competition, which involves a dog owner and a handler going through tasks of which the most successful dog is awarded a gold or silver medal,” she says.
“The biggest hurdle to keeping such an expansive pack is feeding expenses, especially with the larger breeds,” she says.
“They feed on kibble, eating up as much as 14 kilos a week,” she says.
“This is in addition to the grated vegetables and meat stew that I add as supplements to the commercial food.”
There is also the cost of visits to the veterinarian. “The last vet bill was Sh30,000,” he says.
Her pack is distinctive not because of its size but because of the two largest breeds.
They are a mixed breed of a South African Boerboel, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and a Great Dane, which she says came about purely by accident.
“I had two neighbours who had not neutered their dogs, which went ahead to mate with each other and now they had a litter of large dogs of which I took two,” she says.
On owning dogs, Ms Ryan adds that the best thing about them is they offer unconditional love.
“They are always happy to see you, they live in the moment, they love to play and they bring a lot of joy. They give you a reason to get out of the house because you have to take them out to play, they teach young people responsibility and most importantly they add a lot of positivity to one’s life,” she says.
She does not have a clear favourite. Usually, people think the one that you spend a lot of time with is the favourite but most often it is not.
“It is usually the one that is more needy and clingy and needs more attention compared to the rest. I like the independent ones a lot more,” which in her pack she says are the Labrador Retrievers.
“I would have rescued more if I could, but I want to maintain a certain kind of lifestyle that I can afford for these, and to get more would become even more expensive than it already is. Sometimes though I do foster puppies for KSPCA before they are relocated to their new owners, when it comes to getting any more dogs, I think I am done,” she says, however with a voice half sure to falter.
Her dogs are all sprayed and neutered. “If you have a mixed breed, you don’t need to breed another from your pack,” she advises.
Most of the purebreds in Kenya have been overbred amongst themselves hence leading to them being more prone to hip and joint problems and teary eyes.
“I hate to say this but men don’t like to neuter their male dogs because of the misinformation that it will make them less aggressive and protective which is why most want those dogs in the first instance. Those things are developed by training and not avoiding neutering them,” she adds.
In the last few years because of taxes on imported dog food, prices have doubled which forced dog owners to reassess how they fed their dogs.
“A lot of dog food in Kenya is pure carbohydrates and fewer proteins which the dogs need more. If I had a smaller pack, I would probably make the food myself,” she says.
Her car has already parked, the doors opened and upon hearing their names, they all huddle at the back of the rover.
Billy sits in the front as the senior of the pack and the Mbagathi pack as they have come to be known make a silent exit from the show.