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On Wednesday, we had a bit of drama when an early morning storm blew open one of the office gates and one of our finest dogs Baloo (soon to be twelve but in great shape still!) went out and disappeared. Being gone for two days and two nights, I was not so worried about his health as it is rainy season right now, and there are pools of water in every second street. The dog catcher however was an other issue…

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The dog catchers, known as the “dog eaters” in Niger, are men from Nigeria who come to Niger to get hold of dogs which they then take back to Nigeria to be sold for slaughter. In Niger, eating dog is unthinkable; but in Nigeria, some tribes consider them a delicacy. Although they come under the pretext of catching “strays”, the dog eaters are notorious dog stealers and every dog owner I know is getting very tired of them. Dogs are actually in such a high demand in Zinder these days that people can’t have a puppy anymore without risk of it being stolen. As soon as Baloo had disappeared, everybody’s main concern (and the whole street was devestated as Baloo has a big fan club!) was controlling the dog eaters and making sure they did not run off with Baloo. Being part “European” (25% Beligen Shepherd and 25% Bernese Mountaindog) my only consolidation – had the dog snatchers indeed managed to slip off him – was that Baloo would have been sold as a pet / guard dog and not to slaughter, but the whole concept of the dog snatching => dog eating business makes me very uneasy indeed.

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Having looked all over for him and checked every lead, as well as going out on the radio with a premium twice a day – a fiend of mine called to say that he had just spotted Baloo with his black collard in the hands of the dog catchers at the Western side of town. Although he did not stop to speak to them, they knew very well the whole town was looking for Baloo – and half an hour later, Baloo was found in a garage; far away from home but close to the kidnappers’ lair.

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We were there within minutes, and Baloo was happy to be back with “his” people!

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Lost & Found: Baloo the 12 year old Adventurer!

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Going out on the radio is without a doubt the most efficient way to find a missing dog, and with a premium of €20 euro, they whole town was out looking for him. Which was exactly what we wanted, knowing it would be a race against time considering the fact that the dog catchers would be trying to get their hands on him as soon as possible. The father and son who called in were really sweet and so happy that “the much loved dog” was back with its owners. By the time we had arrived, they had given him food and water, and Baloo was quite pleased with the reception!

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Although it had been ages since he went into a car, Baloo was excited to go back home this way,

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…but after two days without food, he was too weak to jump in on his own, so in the end, I had to help him in.

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Once back on Eden street, he marched into his territory – tail held high – letting his two companions Roiboos and Ridge know that although he’d been missing for two days, he was still the King and he had lots of tails to tell! Watching him settle down in on his own big turf, everybody smiled.

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As for the dog stealers – we went back for a “chat”. As soon as they saw us, they turned their backs to us and were not eager to talk…

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At the post where Baloo had been spotted, there were now two other dogs, one of them old and scarred and seemingly belonging to the men, while the other one looked drugged.

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Across the street, there were four healthy looking bitches sleeping in the shade. They all wore nice collars and were well looked after. The dog catchers are believed to use “heavy magic” to enchant any dog they encounter, but the trick in a country where 99% of all guard dogs are male is simple: females on heat.

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The captured dogs were  kept inside the courtyard; skinny, dehydrated males, chained in the sun.

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It was sad envisaging some of the dogs being killed to feed the other dogs and their human kidnappers.

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The freshly grilled meat left over the fireplace meant it could only be of a kind that no Nigerien would eat: dog.

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One of the puppies was bleeding in several places, probably from having been attacked by one of the older males. I wondered what they could possibly to with him – after all, there was hardly no meat on his bones but since he was too small and insignificant to be sold as a pet / hunting dog / guard dog, his chances of survival are slim. The concept makes me nauseous.

Although some will say that the dog catchers keep the level of stray dogs at bay and hence reduces the risk of rabies, I dislike the notion of these dog stealers very much and do not wish to envisage what future lies ahead for the dozens of unfortunate canines that I encountered during our two day search for Baloo. I told the dog catcher leader that if I ever found any of my dogs in their hands, they would not be able to operate in the city ever again. I also told them I did not wish to see any dog catcher in my neighbourhood again, and if I do, there will be trouble. So far however, I have not.

Although I had to leave a good number of unlucky dogs to their fate, I am not done with this dog stealing business. It’s the theft part that gets to me, because theft is always wrong, and people in Niger are getting really tired of it.

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