Updated: Jul 10, 2020
| This is the 82nd story of Our Life Logs |
In my home country of Kenya, it is not common for people to have dogs as pets. They are often used for protection or as working dogs. I am an outlier for seeing dogs as more than a line of defense. Looking at the marks on my hand, one might wonder why I still choose to handle dogs rather than getting a more prestigious white-collar job. I believe my scars are a constant reminder of my journey with a man’s best friend. Today, I smile to myself, remembering all the joys that I had, all the heartful moments that touched my soul, and all the opportunities that have opened in my life because of dogs.
1 | Beginning
I grew up in a very protective yet strict family in Nairobi City in the 1960s and 1970s. My father was a high-ranking police officer, and my mother hailed from a military family. Discipline was expected from us from the very beginning. I had a twin brother, but I was the first born out of five children in my family. This meant that I was expected to set a good example. Most of the time, I found myself taking the weight of the blame for errors of my younger siblings. I know, however, we always had the firm guidance and warmth provided by our parents.
I was fascinated with dogs from a very tender age. Dogs had a professional purpose, but I liked to be around them for fun. They made me happy. The more time I got to spend around dogs, the deeper my desire to spend my life around them grew. I always felt a natural pull towards the creatures. The desire was so strong that I traded my childhood dream of being a pilot for it.
2 | Passion Ignited
My love for dogs came primarily from my father. During his lifetime, my father owned 15 trained dogs, 12 German Shepherds, one Rottweiler, one Doberman Pincher and one Rhodesian Ridgeback. They formed the basic foundation upon which my training began, as my siblings and I were enjoined in all aspects of the daily kennel upkeep and dog welfare. We bred, raised and trained working dogs to supply to the police dog unit, security firms and homeowners. I was amazed by the different aspects of a dog’s abilities. Dogs and I became inseparable. I felt more at home around the kennel than anywhere else.
On my 10th birthday in 1974, my father took us to a famous kennel owned by Mr. R. A Bird, then a council member of the East African German Shepherd Dog League (EAGSDL), to see his dogs. During the visit, we got to meet many trainers, prominent among them was a Mr. Charles Wanyoike. He demonstrated his performance on obedience, man-work and other skills. He became the source of my inspiration. I envied the life he led, spending all his days with dogs. I was determined to follow his path, no matter what hardships this might entail.
My father bought us three German Shepherd puppies: Rex, San and Rocket, and Mr. Wanyoike agreed to teach us on how to train the dogs. What exciting news! I was overwhelmed by the gift my father gave me, and from there on, I wholeheartedly attended to the kennel. That marked the beginning of my life’s journey.
Around this same time, my father also bought two male and one female trained German Shepherd working dogs: “Jalk au avis,” “Aras au avis,” and “Fee au avis.” Other than the frequent visits to the EAGSDL kennel club shows held at Nairobi International Showground, these dogs made the backbone of my knowledge on dog training.
Though being a dog trainer wasn’t the most respected thing in my country, I chose to pursue it with all my heart. I had found the purpose of my life, and I was never looking back.
3 | Further down the Road
As I grew older into my teenage years, my dream of becoming a dog trainer started to take a more professional shape. I took every possible opportunity to enrich my knowledge and skills: personal research, training sessions at the EAGSDL and the Kenya Police Dog Unit, courses by international trainers from Europe, South Africa and Uganda, tours of duty in other African countries…These activities together enabled me to build a deep understanding of dogs.
Through my parents’ military backgrounds and my constant interaction with police officers, I acquired the militaristic mannerism with my dogs. This practice molded me to be alert and have a keen persona. It enhanced my interest in and closeness with dogs.
Dealing with dogs has had its fair share of unpleasant moments. Both my arms tell tales of moments when training went a little overboard and left me with lifelong scars. This, however, has done little to dissuade me from offering dogs a safe sanctuary. My life choice has brought the best in me, giving me strength and purpose. It has shaped me into the assertive, disciplined yet kind and empathetic person I am today.
4 | A Few Highlights
Training dogs opened a lot of opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. One of the key moments I hold dear to my heart is when I was privileged to work with the Canine Brigade of the Rwanda National Police and Rwanda Defense Force between 2006 and 2007. I trained the brigade’s dogs for explosive and firearm searches, narcotics, general purpose guarding, tracking of escaping felons as well as search and rescue missions in natural disaster situations. At the end of my tour, I received a call from the Commandant and Chief Superintendent commending us for the job well done. I was proud.
The training for three dogs—Jack, Prince and Bruno—from the Presidential Guard Unit for The Rwanda Defense Forces, in addition, earned us a visit from the president of Rwanda, H.E Paul. I was honored, but I felt it was the dogs that deserved the praise. In moments when I was recognized, I realized how much being a dog trainer had humbled me. These dogs were as important as humans to me.
While dogs have become my companions, they also provide a safe haven for me and my family. In September 2009, goons came to my home with the intent of causing harm to my daughters. My dogs, Scoobie, an 18-month-old cross German Shepherd and Rottweiler, Lulu, a 36-month-old Belgium Shepard, Linah, a six-month-old German Shepherd, and Susie, a six-month-old Doberman were lying strategically on the verandah of my mother’s house. My daughters ran fast to release the dogs, ordering them to pursue the intruders. After the fierce chase, two dogs returned to watch my daughters while the rest of them remained at the gate to watch out for the intruders in case they came back. It was love. Our dogs were protecting the people they deeply cared for.
5 | My Dogs, My Friends
Life is nothing without a legacy. My most humble moments are when I used my knowledge on dogs to impact people positively. I see dogs as my friends, and I believe they feel the same. I love and care for them, whether sick or healthy, young or old. Being a dog trainer may not be the most glamorous job, and some days I may come home with scratches, but I’m happy to see those scratches, knowing that I’m doing something I love. Not only am I doing what I love, but I’m helping both dogs and humans along the way. That is the most wonderful feeling in the world.
This is the story of Robert Wafula
Robert was born in Nairobi city, Kenya. A first-born in a family of five children, he displayed his interest to handle dogs and had the chance to visit the world through his passion. Robert is married with children and currently works in a private security firm as a Dog Master. Besides training dogs, he also trains dog owners, handlers and securing personnel. He finds joy in bringing out the best in both dogs and humans. Robert has always dreamed of establishing a rehabilitation center for neglected dogs and drug-addicted youths. The idea is to train youths recovering from drugs and other vices and give them a second chance at life by tending to dogs. He thinks it may just be the breakthrough both parties need. He hopes one day to make his dream come true.
This story first touched our hearts on May 7, 2018.
| Writer: Opondo Maureen | Editor: Our Life Logs Team |