Tag Archives: Akela

Goodbye Akela & Kenya

The oddest couple – and true soulmates – who were my ‘kids’ for over 14 years, are no more. Akela the Grey Wolf – wilful, insightful, submissive and far more intelligent than any dog. Kenya the Staffie – ‘n liefbare dier in the words of a 4-year old, Mr Personality and loved by all. He lived to please.

Akela’s tongue started bleeding almost a month ago. I took her to Hermanus Animal Hospital where the vet examined her, said it was a cut under the tongue and that there was little she could do, but gave her an injection to stop the bleeding. That didn’t work and was followed by two homeopathic remedies, which worked to a certain degree, and a visit to a second vet. Our travels slowed down completely to give her more “calm time”. Two Saturdays ago, she didn’t want to eat and preferred her bed in the back of the bakkie to anywhere else, but still jumped out on her own when she needed to pee. By Sunday she was really weak and I asked Facebook friends to recommend a very good vet.


I was at Pronkberg Clinic in Stellenbosch at 8am on Monday when they opened and said we’d wait there until Dr Maree Potgieter could see us. She found that Akela had a tumour on a vein and that her red cell count was around 10, a quarter of what it should be. She recommended putting her down because of this combined with her age. I felt I hadn’t done enough and wanted one more try, with the vet saying she would last a week at the most.

She was given medication to stop the bleeding and a tonic for post-operative animals. The bleeding stopped a day later and she started eating – tripe and liver. On Thursday she seemed well on the road to recovery. On Friday morning she seemed to have just given up completely but was better in the afternoon. Over the weekend she devoured almost a kilo of raw ox liver each day and seemed well-enough to share with friends that the battle might be won. Those who saw her said she looked good. But then she ate very little on Monday, just drank milk on Tuesday and nothing since except water. The battle was lost.

Kenya, who’s been ridden with cancer for five years, had the same problem several months ago on his abdomen. He was treated and has been fine since. So I wonder if proper treatment wouldn’t have saved Akela. Kela and Ken are inseparable. Seeing his sister ill has shattered Ken and he hasn’t left her side. She was the one who always looked after him. He was always the one expected to go first and I’ve checked to see that he’s still breathing many mornings over the past two years. And so they went together and are buried together.

They leave a huge void in my life, a quarter of which was defined by a wolf.


Akela chose me when she was five weeks old. Kenya was left with me when he was six months old and Akela was two months. I never wanted a second pet but it’s the best thing that could have happened. The best photo I never got was tiny Akela curled up in Kenya’s tummy space.

The sounds I regret never recording were her deep wolf howls at the door in greeting when I came back from somewhere, and the more typical wolf howls while she was dreaming. Being woken by a wolf howl in the middle of the night is not any everyday experience. When she was younger, she did howl for me when left at home, but it was Kenya who took this up in old age and cried and cried. And there were Akela’s huffs and puffs when a stranger came to the door. Wolves don’t bark.

They grew up on Clifton and Llandudno beaches, where they socialised with other dogs. They enthralled school kids in Bredasdorp, the Cape Flats and at St Cyprian’s & the French School in Cape Town. Akela changed the perceptions among kids that adults so often teach – wolves are not aggressive.

Akela taught me a different language too. A growl or a snarl does not necessary mean aggression. She sometimes climbed onto my lap, snarling ferociously against my face, but then her tongue came out to kiss my cheek. That meant, “I don’t want to be here.”

Kela and Ken have done what few South Africans have done. They’ve been up the Table Mountain Cableway. They’ve travelled from Cape Agulhas to Beit Bridge – SA’s southernmost tip and northernmost border point. On their second visit to the tourism Indaba in Durban, I was asked to keep them away from the entrance of the ICC because they would draw attention away from Jacob Zuma, who was due to arrive. They were good at making friends wherever they went.

It was Kela who gave me the determination to cope when I woke up blind in 2006 – from tick bite fever I didn’t know I had – and was told that all previous recorded cases had resulted in permanent blindness. Turning it around was a first, and my eyes were published.

Kenya had the warmest heart of any dog I’ve ever known. He really tried very hard to be good all the time. And if he was scolded and his feelings were hurt, tears streamed down his cheeks.

Kela on the other hand was a handful, especially when younger. Inquisitive, playful, a tease and a thief. I’ve lost count how many shoes were buried in the garden, food stolen out of the fridge or off the kitchen counter. When I got cross with her, she’d say, “okay, let’s have a game.” They say “if you call a dog, it comes. If you call a cat, it takes a message and gets back to you.” In many respects, Kela was more like a cat, fiercely independent, but very shy.

A dog is a wolf, but a wolf is not a dog. Dogs adapt to a family, but one has to adapt to a wolf, and it is a full-time commitment.


Click on any of the images below for larger images in a slide show.

Postscript: The Hermanus vet got it totally wrong. Had she been thorough, both animals would still have been around for a little longer. She was informed by Dr Potgieter about the correct diagnosis and treatment but when I saw her afterwards, she made no apology nor enquired about Akela’s health. The vet who put Akela down examined her and said she was surprised the first vet had made an incorrect diagnosis. That’s not the sort of vet I’d recommend to anyone. I’m sure others will sing the vet’s praises, but I subsequently emailed the practice to complain and I’m still waiting for the call I was told I would get. That’s not professional!

I subsequently heard from a friend that she had stopped breeding ponies because Hermanus Animal Hospital — the only equine vet in the area — was too unreliable and several ponies had been lost. A breeder must have a reliable vet.

I do recommend Dr Maree Potgieter at Pronkberg Clinic in Stellenbosch. She was very thorough and compassionate.

Growing old is not for sissies!

Akela the wolf turned 14 years old yesterday — that’s a venerable 98 in human years!  And she shared her celebratory dinner (pig’s trotters) with Kenya the staffie (14½) and Beezus the pomchi (1½).  For Beezus, it was his first “dedicated” bone, as opposed to dinner left-overs, and his small piece absorbed him totally for 40 minutes.  For Kenya, it was bliss — he ignored the rest of his dinner (special pellets @R670/12kg bag with trotter gravy) and gnawed & gnawed on the bone with the few teeth he still has.   And Akela?  She ate her pellets and gravy, and Kenya’s too, and buried her bone!

Both Akela and Kenya are old animals now, both largely deaf.  Kenya was given the name “Oupa” by Gawie Fagan five years ago and I’ve been amazed as he’s reached successive birthdays.  He’s been riddled with cancer for years and two tumours have “erupted” in the past few weeks, the one reaching a blood vessel.  But he’s still a happy dog with a good quality of life — a voracious appetite and goes outside to pee and poo, in spite of being too stiff for any real walks — so it’s a matter of stitching him up with minimal interventions.  I don’t expect him to last much longer… but I’m sure he’ll amaze me some more!

Akela’s hindquarters are much weaker but that, and deafness, are the only signs of old age.  She still charges off at great speed when she plays outside, but her cornering is not so good and she sometimes takes a tumble.  The average age of wolves in a domestic environment is 12 years, compared to seven years in the wild, with a maximum of 15, so she’s doing pretty well.  She and Beezus (35kg vs 3.5kg) spend hours playing and she’s taught him to bury shoes and toys, only to dig them up and bury somewhere else.  And to think someone at Onderstepoort told me six months ago that it was time to think of putting her down!

There is a “secret” to longevity and quality of life.  My dad died two weeks ago at the age of 86.  For a few years, his quality of life was minimal.  His twin brother on the other hand is active, energetic and healthy, and says he’ll retire from running the farm when he reaches 90.  My dad retired 20 years ago and had little daily responsibility or demands.

Happy Birthday Akela!

Akela is 12 years old today!  That’s a venerable 84 in human years although, in the wild — where wolves are challenged by the elements, illness, starvation and injury — wolves only live an average of 7 years.  In a domestic environment, they live up to 15 years. We’ve been together since she was five weeks old.

She’s still as active and mischievous as ever, and behaves more like a three-year old dog.  It’s difficult to believe that Kenya the staffie is only six months older.  He’s grey, stiff and deaf.  I’m starting to wonder if wild animals don’t maintain peak fitness until far later in their lives, and then age very suddenly at the end.

Here are some of the most memorable photos of her from the past year.

I just love this photo of Akela. She was totally at ease with Rachel and content just being stroked. I love that smile and the glint in her eye.

You can see that she’s shedding here — her hindquarters have lost most of their very fine, soft winter fur. It comes out in chunks which need to be plucked; combing or brushing just doesn’t work. In the wild they run through thickets to pull the old fur out. In Lapland they collect this fur to make their bonnets — it’s the most waterproof fur you can get.

Look at her thin almost dainty legs.  That characteristic sets wolves apart from dogs.  Together with her narrow chest, this helps wolves run faster through very thick snow.

Akela goes to Indaba!

Akela meets Nicholas Kitching, the ICC's security manager

The fantastic people at Durban’s ICC who made arrangements for Akela to visit were all keen to meet her.

These photos are the highlights of the people she met — the story on Indaba and our travels there will follow.

Most ask if they can touch Akela but only women get lucky — she’s female and only makes friends with women and children, running away from men. (She’s bonded to her pack so hard luck to all other men!)

ICC's Nicolette Elia gets to touch a wolf while ?? only gets to look on.  Most people how soft Akela feels.

Hannelie Slabber is one of SA Tourism's real stars and has been enormously helpful to Travels with Akela.  She meets Kenya (an immediate fan) and Akela for the first time.

Some people dance with wolves... Hannelie and Akela talk to each other.

Melissa Storey of First Car Rental, which have made Travels with Akela possible, also meets Akela in Durban for the first time.

Wow! Durban’s ICC impresses

We’re planning a detour in our Limpopo travels to visit Durban’s ICC for Indaba — Africa’s biggest travel show.  So I wrote to the ICC asking for help with shade parking for a wolf in a bakkie.

I have never had such a fast, positive and helpful reply.  Nicolette Elia’s answer suggested alternatives, mentioned concerns — for Akela — and was thoroughly thought out.  Obviously there must be a very strong team at the ICC.

Minutes after my email reply, I had a call from her to firm up on what she suggested, which she followed up moments later by email — with clear directions and cellphone numbers of anyone I might need.

In our conversation, she even mentioned that security staff had offered to water and walk Akela if necessary.

I told her how impressed I was by her first email and she replied, “It’s sad that one should be impressed by something like that…”  Indeed it is.  Limpopo Tourism’s first response to Travels with Akela was that a wolf wouldn’t be welcome at Limpopo establishments.  They have been proved wrong.

Thank you ICC.  I have started a list of Hospitality Superstars and you’re on that list.

The Road to Prince Albert

The plan was not to dally in the Western Cape, where so much is already familiar, but head for Mokopane in Limpopo – SA’s northernmost province and the furthest from Cape Town – as quickly as possible.  I’ve never been there and, of SA’s nine provinces, know least about it.  But the first stop is Prince Albert, a Karoo town that has always fascinated me but never visited.

But first, Akela must go to the vet.  In 10 years, she’s only been ill once before but she’s limping slightly as though she has pulled a ligament.  A thorough investigation by the vet found nothing wrong, but it’s still worrying because she is obviously uncomfortable.

The route from Elgin to Worcester along the R321 takes one across the huge Theewaterskloof dam, which has a perimeter of 82 kilometres, and through the town of Villiersdorp.  (The R45 takes one over Franschhoek Pass and is part of the Three Passes route that all visitors to Cape Town should explore.  The other passes are Helshoogte outside Stellenbosch and Sir Lowry’s Pass above Somerset West.)

Theewaterskloof Dam with Villiersdorp in the top rughthand corner

This route enters Worcester at its back door.  And the initial impression of a third world town!  Thank goodness we needed to stop to buy a media card and USB connection or card reader for the camera, otherwise we would never have seen anything of Worcester.

I haven’t been in Worcester for 20 years and it’s certainly no third world town!  A quick look at CapeInfo’s population page shows that it’s the third most populous municipal area in the Western Cape with shopping to match.

What surprised most though were the streets lined with beautifully preserved historical buildings away from the main street.  When we do return to the Western Cape, this will be one town worth exploring in more detail.

And for one used to the grandeur of Table Mountain, I was surprised by the awesome mountain ranges surrounding Worcester.  It was already a hot and hazy midday, but I can imagine them in the early morning and evenings, when their colours will change in the crisp light, or snow-capped in winter in the even crisper light.

Thinking of winter always reminds me of the first time I met Otto Stehlik (Protea Hotels’ chairman) some 30 years ago.  He bemoaned the way Capetonians complain about weather… “winter in the Cape provides many days which can only be described as Champagne Weather.”  So true!

Leaving Worcester surrounded by it mountain peaks, the road north impresses with mountains that almost seem to be lying on their sides.  All the mountains of the southwestern Cape were formed by the folding of the old Richtersveld mountains (north of Cape Town and no longer existing) which were formed 800 million years ago.  Table Mountain was formed between 250–540 million years ago but its present shape is about 60 million years old.  (Mount Everest was formed 40 million years ago; the Alps in Europe ‘only’ 32 million years ago.)

Isn’t this place just too amazing?

Next is a compulsory stop at Matjiesfontein just before Laingsburg – it is a step into another world.

The brainchild of a Scottish immigrant, James Logan, Matjiesfontein Village with the Milner Hotel opened in 1889.  The Cape Railways had extended as far as Kimberley, and travellers needed somewhere to eat and refresh — dining cars did not exist.

Matjiesfontein became a fashionable watering place, attracting those who could afford to seek relief for chest complaints in its clear, dry air, and entertained many distinguished visitors. Lord Randolph Churchill is still remembered for “borrowing” a hunting dog which he never returned.

Olive Schreiner lived in there own cottage here for five years, writing “Story of an African Farm”. Today her small cottage is a landmark in the village. Rudyard Kipling, on his first call at the Cape, made a special journey inland specifically to visit her.

No doubt, the Anglo-Boer War boosted Logan’s fortunes when it supported a base hospital and 12,000 troops were garrisoned there.

In the late 1960s, David Rawdon, hotelier best known for Lanzerac Hotel in Stellenbosch and the Marine Hotel in Hermanus, purchased the whole Village. After extensive renovations, Rawdon re-opened the property in 1970 and renamed it The Lord Milner Hotel.

Matjiesfontein - Lord Milner Hotel and a village caught in a 1900's time warp

The road north opposite the Matjiesfontein turnoff leads to Sutherland — SA’s coldest town and home to the giant telescopes that gaze into space.  Now that’s somewhere else I still want to visit.

And then on to Prince Albert Road – a railway station that also marks the turnoff to this typical Karoo town about 30 minutes from the N1.  Then it’s another mountain range — the Swartberg — that imposingly lines the horizon as one approaches the town nestled in its valley.

Approaching Prince Albert I had a sense of deja vu — there is a gap in the mountain range behind the town, with more mountains behind the gap.  There is a village in the spectacular Gorge de Verdun (Europe’s largest canyon) in southern France with an almost identical setting… I just cannot remember the name.  (Would someone like to help?)  There, a large cross is suspended in the gap, giving the village almost pilgrimage status.

Prince Albert at the foot of the Swartberg

The first stop was the info office, where there was some confusion about where we were going to stay.  The tourism officer was away and the office was staffed by a newbie.  A local who popped in helped with a few numbers to call — and cautioned me not to mention that one of the animals was a wolf!

Ten minutes later we were following Merle to a house she thought would be ideal — Elle editor Jackie Burger’s house, for R170 the night.  Now this promised to be something special — Jackie is one of those rare people who combines great depth with style.  Grounded.  Other houses I’ve loved staying in were two in Arniston belonging to architect/professor Ron & Davina Kirby and artist Alice Goldin.

Kanniedood, Jackie Burger's charming and so appropriate Karoo getaway.

Kanniedood (can’t die) – which takes its name from an indigenous aloe – is set in a large indigenous garden.  It’s a simple yet very comfortable Karoo cottage – perfect to absorb a little bit of Prince Albert’s charm. This is just an overnight stop but the stoep did beckon as a place to while away time, contemplating the engraved tablet fixed to the wall or the stars which fill the sky so brightly at night.

But no time to enjoy it now, in 90 minutes I’m meeting a really great friend I haven’t seen for 20 years, Elaine Hurford — property agent, author, house restorer and one of the brightest sparks I know — and I still needed to explore a bit of the town.

And Prince Albert did exceed expectations.  It made me think of a more authentic, less pretentious version of Franschhoek, an oasis in a much harsher environment. It also reminded me of Stanford’s dedication to maintaining its built heritage.

Prince Albert has one of the prettiest main streets of any town in the Western Cape

Elaine couldn’t believe that I would make Prince Albert just an overnight stop, but it was a stop that convinced me to return and discover more.  Maybe the Olive Festival at the beginning of May?

She made a very valid point about Capetonians lack of enthusiasm (or is it awareness) for the Karoo — they will happily drive the 5-6 hours to Knysna and Plett for a weekend, but rarely consider 3.5 hour trip to Prince Albert.  Maybe that’s what has kept the town special.

Although I hadn’t seen Elaine for about 20 years, it felt like catching up with a friend I’d seen just a few weeks previously — except for all the catch-up.  She moved to Prince Albert after a brief visit returning to Cape Town from Grahamstown.  She restored a delapidated old farm house on the edge of town and turned it into a much sought-after guest house and acclaimed national monument. And today she’s the Pam Golding property agent in the town.

Now that’s what makes a visit special — discovering a new destination and an old friend.

For more on Prince Albert, click here.

Table Mountain to Simon’s Town

Before leaving Cape Town, it was only right to take leave of some of the most memorable places.

Table Mountain, Twelve Apostles & Lion's Head

Just one of the things that set Cape Town apart from any other city in the world is Table Mountain National Park – part of a world heritage site – in the heart of the city.  We drove up Signal Hill to take a last look across the city to the imposing mass of the The Mountain.  The V&A Waterfront, which took up 20 years of my life – first lobbying to get it started and then the first ten years of its development – lies below where the city meets the sea.

Across the bay, Robben Island took on a new meaning after democracy – “While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil, a triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness.” – Ahmed Kathrada

Signal Hill also has other memories for me, because this was where Akela headed after opening the parked bakkie’s window and jumping out one Saturday morning in the city centre in 2007.  Her passage up Long Street and then up through BoKaap was tracked by the security personnel from the City Improvement District (CID) and relayed to me on my cellphone.  I met them where she disappeared into the bushes.  She was only too happy to jump back into the bakkie, none the worse for wear after all the excitement.

My relief was indescribable but, even more important, was my gratitude and appreciation for the CID’s security guys.  I was accustomed to great security at the V&A Waterfront so I was a proud Capetonian experiencing similar levels in the city centre.  Cape Town is a safe and well managed city!

One of the security officers involved in the chase phoned me on Monday morning to ask how Akela was.  Now that really impressed!  Being an efficient city is one thing, but being a caring city is the cherry on top of the cake.

Then it was off to Simon’s Town, with two stops en route.

First was Llandudno, where Akela and Kenya grew up.  As we emerged through the Milkwood trees onto the beach, they suddenly realised where they were and charged into the sea.  They used to spend hours swimming here but Akela also roamed the suburb.

She had a fascination for dustbin lids, which she stole and carried home.  One of her favourite destinations was the primary school – she really adores children.

Next was a quick stop at Absa in Fish Hoek.  Something I have noticed at Absa is that its usually the women who stand out – Lynette and Alta in Hermanus, the ladies who staffed the first bank at the Waterfront, one star at Sea Point branch, and Carmen Okkers at Fish Hoek.  Being bound to a manager by one’s domicilium makes no sense when one gets bad service.  Carmen is a real star and one hopes Absa appreciates her.  Of course, the ascendency of women in Absa is proved by the appointment of Maria Ramos as Absa’s new CEO!


Akela and Kenya had never been to Simon’s Town before… and the statue of Just Nuisance on Jubilee Square.

But I have an indelible memory of visiting the statue many years ago with Shilo, a border collie/Alsation cross I had many years ago. He was also a constant companion and the only dog allowed into Cape Town docks for four years, while it was still a quarantine area. He rode tugs, canoes and hobie cats, and really did go almost everywhere.

His visit to Just Nuisance was memorable because it really puzzled him. He paced around the statue, approached from the rear and mounted the plinth to smell Just Nuisance’s rear. Then he climbed up at the front to smell the mouth. A group of bergies (vagrants) sitting on the pavement canned themselves laughing as they watched it all.

Akela wasn’t taken in by the statue at all and was more interested in peering over the wall at the boats below. Kenya had a brief sniff but I think he’s had lessons from Akela – she can sniff at a single leaf for ten minutes. What a story she could tell if she could talk!

Who was Just Nuisance? Just Nuisance was the only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. He was a Great Dane who served from 1939-44 at HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon’s Town. He died in 1944 and was buried with full military honours.

He belonged to Benjamin Chaney who ran the United Services Institute in Simon’s Town. Just Nuisance quickly became popular with the patrons of the institute, mostly the ratings who would feed him snacks and take him for walks. He began to follow them back to the naval base and dockyards, where he would lie on the decks of ships, normally at the top of the gangplanks. Since he was a large dog even for a Great Dane (he was almost 2m tall when standing on his hind legs) he presented a sizable obstacle for those trying to board or disembark and he became affectionately known as Nuisance.

Nuisance was allowed to roam freely and, following the sailors, he began to take day trips by train as far afield as Cape Town, 35km away. Despite the seamen’s attempts to conceal him, the conductors would put him off the trains as soon as he was discovered. This did not cause him any problems though, as he would wait for the next train or walk to another station where he would board the next train that came along. Amused travellers would occasionally offer to pay his fares, but the railway company eventually warned Chaney that Nuisance would have to be put down unless he was kept under control to prevent him boarding the trains or had his fares paid.

The news that Nuisance may be put down spurred many of the sailors and locals to write to the Navy pleading for something to be done. Although somebody offered to buy him a season ticket, the Navy instead decided to officially enlist him; as a member of the armed forces he would receive free rail travel, so the fare-dodging would no longer be a problem. It was a good idea: for the next years, he would be a morale booster for the troops serving in World War II.

He was enlisted on 25 August 1939: his surname was entered as “Nuisance” and rather than leaving the forename blank he was christened “Just”. His trade was listed as “Bonecrusher” and his religious affiliation as “Scrounger”, although it was later altered to the more charitable “Canine Divinity League (Anti-Vivisection)”. To allow him to receive rations and because of his longstanding unofficial service he was promoted from Ordinary Seaman to Able Seaman.

He continued to accompany sailors on train journeys and escorted them back to base when the pubs closed.

Nuisance had been involved in a car accident which had caused thrombosis which was gradually paralysing him, so on 1 January 1944 he was discharged from the Navy. His condition continued to deteriorate; on 1 April 1944 he was taken to Simon’s Town Naval Hospital where on the advice of the naval veterinary surgeon, he was put to sleep. The next day he was taken to Klaver Camp where his body was draped with a Royal Naval White Ensign and he was buried with full naval honours, including a gun salute and the playing of the Last Post. A simple granite headstone marks his grave, but a statue was erected in Jubilee Square in Simon’s Town to commemorate his life.

The Simon’s Town Museum has a room dedicated to his story, and since 2000 there has been an annual parade of Great Danes from which a lookalike is selected.

Akela has a visitor

Akela’s eyes shine like a car’s headlights in dim lightMichael Tatalias, SATSA’s CEO, came especially to meet Akela last night.  He sent a few of the photos he took.

One just has to imagine walking in a forest, hearing nothing but seeing glowing orbs of light shining from the undergrowth that follow your progress.

Wolves are shy and will avoid people, unless they are friends.  They are also extremely inquisitive.  Their eyes are completely different to dogs and, from close, you can see the complex lens structure which is more similar to a cat.

One can imagine the fear this must have instilled in anyone unfamiliar with the wild. But American Indians believed that wolves are a sign of a healthy forest.  And a National Geographic video made the point that while Americans have killed 200,000 wolves, not a single American has ever been killed by a wolf!

Michael’s email with the pics concluded, “This was a special experience. Thank you.”