Our guesthouse prides itself on being pet friendly, gay friendly, biker friendly, wheelchair friendly – and next week we are going for official accreditation as birder friendly. In fact we are just so darn friendly that the news has got around the local dog population, one or two of whom likes to pop in at breakfast time to charm the guests out of parting with a sausage or two.
We made a conscious decision not to have pets of our own when we opened the guest-house, precisely so that we could accommodate people travelling with animals, so our little morning visitors are really not welcome, but they don’t seem to take the hint, however forcefully it is dropped.
The current regular is a little Jack Russell, who has an unfortunate scratching habit and is definitely not the most attractive example of her species. She is an Afrikaans dog, though however much we try “Huis Toe!” and “Voetsek” she affects not to understand our English accents, and looks pleadingly at whichever guest she happens to be pestering, as if to say – ‘see how cruel your hosts are, they are not animal friendly at all’ (but in Afrikaans, obviously) . Then off she goes to find a place where the guests will shortly be wheeling their luggage to leave a brown parcel for them to help them remember our guesthouse. Obviously we don’t know her name, though husband has come up with some choice epithets for her.
She is a poor substitute for our previous regular morning visitor – again, Afrikaans speaking, but much more accepting of our lack of language. A border collie, highly intelligent – once again nameless, but we imaginatively called him “Dog”. The house rule is not to feed visiting animals, but it was impossible to resist the limpid eyes and waggy tail of Dog. Dog always ran for sticks and refused to give them back, Dog loved children, Dog would accompany guests on runs / walks / hikes through the Marloth Reserve at the back of our house, Dog never left poo in the garden. Dog and our latest canine visitor both developed the habit of dozing away the day on our garden furniture, but at least Dog responded to “Uit” “Af” and “Neer”. He was the best sort of pet to have: we had all the pleasure and fun of a dog companion, with no vet’s bills and no expensive dog food. Guests fell in love with him, children adored him, and he would guard the house for us during the day when we went out.
I have no idea where his real family thought he was during the weekdays, but every weekend Dog would dutifully do his Family Pet duty, and we would see him walking past our house, obediently, on a lead, with a faint look of boredom on his face, beside his family on a weekend walk. When they reached our house he would cast us a little panicky and conspiratorial glance, as if to say “Don’t give me away, don’t call me, don’t recognise me” – so we played along. I wish now that we had made the effort to get to know his family, because after a year of growing to love Dog unconditionally, the family moved away – we didn’t know that they were planning to go, and so did not get the chance to say goodbye. I still miss him.
Another uninvited animal visitor to Impangele, was the boomslang which decided to inhabit the vine which shades our breakfast area. Fortunately we have a brilliant “snake lady” who comes to collect snakes and take them away – though her arrival while the guests were actually eating their breakfast rather gave the game away. We had, as you can imagine, been very circumspect about our little visitor, just casting the odd glance upwards to check Boomy wasn’t joining us for breakfast. But the guests thoroughly enjoyed the African spectacle of the Snake Capture – and subsequently posted pictures all over the Internet of the “snakes at the guesthouse”. Not really how we want our place marketed…….
Not all our animal guests are uninvited – some indeed are booked in along with their owners, and we enjoy getting to know them, with the odd exception.
A pair of lovely, if very dotty, ladies booked in for Christmas a few years ago, and at the last moment told us that their beloved Cuddles would be joining them and us. We imagined Cuddles to be a cute fluffy Maltese poodle, but the car pulled up, boot opened and out leaped Cuddles – a large black Rottweiler with a baleful look in his eye, who was fiercely protective of his elderly charges. Serving breakfast became a scary and life endangering experience, though the ladies remained sweetly oblivious of the low pitched murderous growling emanating from under the table, and the large yellow teeth from which ravenous saliva dripped as Cuddles lusted covetously after our ankles.
But my favourite guest has to be Louis the African Grey parrot. Owned “since he was an egg” by a delightful gay couple, Louis decided to join us for breakfast. (“he’ll just have a little scrambled egg and an incy bit of toast, darling” ) I asked one of his ‘Daddies’ if Louis could speak. “Of course he can” was the indignant reply. “We’ve taught him everything he knows”. So, in that parrot type voice that everyone puts on when they converse with talking birds, I repeated “Hello Louis, hello Louis”. Louis looked up at me, lifted his right claw and waved it effetely – and then said, in the campest way imaginable “Hellllooooooooooo, sweetie”. More African Gay than African Grey.