It was a cold and misty autumn night when Kriel and I drove to the pine plantation known as Louw se Bos (Louw’s Forest) near Stellenbosch in South Africa shortly after midnight to murder a little black dog and to dispose of its corpse.
My ex-wife loved dogs. When a friend offered her a miniature Dobermann Pinscher puppy as a gift she accepted it without hesitation. At the time we were living in a small second storey flat while I was doing a postgraduate course at the university.
We had only had the puppy for a few days when it became ill one evening. As the illness progressed it began having seizures and howling in pain. It obviously had a serious affliction of some sort, so I rang the local vet. He was somewhat grumpy to receive a phone call at 10 pm from someone with a dog problem. I described the symptoms and he gruffly told me that the dog had contracted canine distemper and would have to be put down.
‘Shall I bring it to your house now?’ I asked.
‘Are you joking? I’m off duty. Bring it around to the surgery in the morning and I’ll see to it.’ He put the phone down without further ado.
As the night progressed the dog’s symptoms became worse and we became increasingly distraught. By 1 am I could stand the little dog’s suffering no longer. ‘I’ll go and fetch Kriel and we’ll go and put the dog out of its misery,’ I told her.
‘It’s the middle of the night. Kriel will be asleep. And how would the two of you put the dog out of its misery anyway?’
‘Kriel wouldn’t mind if I woke him up to help me out in a crisis,’ I declared. As to how we would dispose of the dog, I referred her to the old Afrikaner proverb, ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan (a farmer makes a plan).
Kriel was a quietly spoken, mild-mannered engineering student who lived in his girlfriend Rita’s flat. Rita was in her final year at high school. Her parents who lived in a rural town had rented the flat for Rita so that she could attend her final year of school in Stellenbosch. In those ultra conservative times there would have been hell to pay if it was discovered that a boyfriend was living with her. Her parents had once called in unexpectedly on a Saturday morning and Kriel was forced to jump out of the bedroom window into the laneway in his pyjamas and wait in a nearby park until the coast was clear. It was therefore understandable that Rita was somewhat nervous as she asked who was knocking at her door. Instead of being annoyed when they heard that it was me, they both welcomed me warmly at that ungodly hour.
I explained the problem of the dog to Kriel and we discussed some strategies for killing it. Eventually we decided to put the dog in an empty flour sack that Rita had and to take it to Louw se Bos, which would be deserted at that hour. We would tie the sack to the exhaust pipe of my car and leave the motor running for a while so that the dog would expire from carbon monoxide poisoning. We took along a torch as well as a spade with which to bury its little corpse in the pine plantation.
Kriel and I stood shivering in the dark and mist in Louw se Bos as the engine idled and the dog was gassed. I began digging a hole in the ground. We must have looked liked two actors from a low budget horror movie, with our torch and spade in the eerie forest and with the dark trunks of the pine trees barely visible through the mist. I switched off the engine, removed the bag with the little dog’s body inside it from the exhaust pipe and dropped it in the hole. I had just finished filling the hole with soil, when we heard a loud whimper. The dog was still alive.
I looked enquiringly at Kriel, who had no difficulty in reading my thoughts. He shook his head emphatically. I sighed and dug up the sack with the little black dog and put it back in the boot of the car.
‘Why don’t we take it to the police station and ask them to shoot the dog?,’ suggested Kriel. This sounded like a sensible suggestion – ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan – so off we drove back to Stellenbosch. I wondered aloud why the dog had not died from the exhaust gas. Kriel surmised that it must have poked its nose into one corner of the flour bag so that it had kept inhaling fresh air through the porous bag, instead of the poisonous fumes. The dog might have been deadly ill but it was not stupid.
The police constable was a beefy, middle-aged Afrikaner who looked at us, as he no doubt did at every human being, with grave suspicion as if we had committed a crime of some sort. As I told my tale of the dog with its illness and seizures and of our abortive attempt to kill it, his suspicion became more apparent by the minute. ‘We brought it here so that you can shoot it and end its suffering,’ I explained desperately.
‘Where is this dog then?’
I retrieved the sack from the boot of my car and shook the dog out. The dog, which had been black, was now mostly white from the residue of flour in the sack. It was clearly au fait with the political situation in the country, realising that it needed to pass for white rather than black in the police station. It looked at the constable with endearing eyes and wagged its little tail, showing not the slightest sign of being unwell. After our noble attempt to relieve it from its suffering, the ungrateful little blighter now made us look like liars and would-be murderers in the presence of the law.
‘So you reckon this dog is so sick that it has to be killed, do you?’ he asked in a tone of exaggerated disbelief.
‘But it really is quite ill,’ I retorted, hearing a pleading whine creeping into my voice. ‘Just ask Kriel here.’ Kriel nodded repeatedly and asserted that the dog had been quite unwell, but his performance looked hopelessly unconvincing to me.
‘I’ll keep the dog here and we’ll see how it goes,’ he said ominously. ‘Meanwhile you’d better show me your ID cards so I can record your details.’
I spent the rest of the night wide awake, fretting about the policeman and his suspicions. What was the penalty for attempted murder of an innocent dog, I wondered. Considering that the possession of even a small amount of marijuana at that time incurred a minimum two year prison sentence, I convinced myself in the dark hours of the night that we were in dead set trouble.
The next morning I considered my options and decided that the best thing to do would be to front up at the police station. My failure to do so would just add fuel to the policeman’s suspicions, I thought.
Apprehensively I entered the police station to find a different policeman behind the desk. ‘I’m here about a little dog that I left here last night,’ I told him.
‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘that little dog. Sorry mate, it started getting really terrible convulsions early this morning so the constable had to take it around the back and shoot it.’
‘Thank God!’ I exclaimed involuntarily.
The policeman looked taken aback. ‘You’re glad that your dog has been shot?’ he asked accusingly.
‘Got to run,’ I told him hastily, ‘I’m already late for my class.’ I bolted out of the door.
Louw se Bos (Photo by Karin Holtzhausen)