Tuesday 30 June 2015

Dogs of War

When war broke out, many animal owners were unable to care for their pets and they ended up in the street. Other owners were killed or had fled the country and their dogs, cats and other pets were abandoned. Those that survived best were the mongrels. In the aftermath of war, you never saw pedigree dogs: the French poodles, Chihuahuas and Lhasa Apsos. They were war’s early victims, too far away from their ancestral stock to live alone for very long, too slow and small to gain advantage in the race for scraps of food. During and after the war, the police organized hunts to cull the survivors, but, many years later, the crafty and the hardy still roamed the streets of the towns and cities. Some of them were heroes. One of these in Mostar, Heki, was a footsore mongrel who hung about in the old town begging food from cafés and passers-by. He had four separate pieces of shrapnel in his body, one of them lodged in his brain. He limped around and somehow survived. His home was the Ruza; the shelled ruins of a tourist hotel constructed in the 1970’s, across a tributary that falls into the Neretva River close to the Old Bridge. It was completely destroyed, but you could still read the fading signs to the “terrace bar”, the “sauna” and “hairdresser.” Heki was its longest-standing guest and when you didn't see him there, you could hear him padding around in the rubble. Whether from brain-damage, resignation or because he'd had his fill of war, Heki was a passive dog with neither bark nor bite. Buildings don’t need their ghosts. They are ghosts. I often peered inside this hotel and the many other shelled homes, offices and shops and felt a tangible memory, a feeling that if you touched the bullet holes and plaster-shattered walls, you would discover the truth of the building, its happiness and sadness. The Second World War spy warning - “walls have ears” could have had added to it that “walls have memories.” If that is true of buildings, how much more is it true of dogs. Read more about the 'Dogs of War' in 'Left Field'. 

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