Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Habibi of Dubai

Kenzo, Habibi of Dubai

I often write about my walks with my "adopted" Labrador, so I thought you might want to meet Kenzo, who I chose to nickname Habibi.

He is the third Black Labrador to embrace me as an aunt. Each one has been special to me in a unique way. But I am above all attached to Habibi. Maybe it's because I had more free time to watch him grow up and mature. He is alert, playful and loyal and adores children. He lets you know he wants to pee by staring at the entrance door, and to be stroked by rolling at your feet.  He is unmindful of his size and moves around like a Chihuahua. He rarely barks except when he sees himself in the mirror or wants to pretend he is guard dog. Above all, we share a love for watermelon.

Habibi landed in Dubai in April 2008, aged four months, after being picked up from his breeder’s home in Devon and driven to London Heathrow, where he spent the night before being put on the plane for a seven-hour flight to my friends’ home in Dubai.

On arrival at his new home, he was brought out of his wooden crate and carried into my friends’ garden. And while his daddy was taking care of the delivery formalities, he stood there shivering for more than an hour in my arms. It was instant love.

What is it that makes pets a pleasure to have? Is it that they are warm, furry, feathery, fuzzy and alive? That they're nonjudgmental and accept us the way we are? That they're great listeners and interested in everything we have to say; that they're trusting; that they're always happy to see us? Or is it a combination of all of these things?

I grew up with pets of all sorts and it's hard for me to imagine life without one, whether my own or one I adopted.

With Bingo, my first dog, in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
I got my own dog when we were living in Tunis – a crossbred Alsatian I named Bingo. Sharing life with Bingo were my cats, turtle, African Grey and white mouse.

They all lived in perfect harmony, except that Bingo had a problem with the turtle and always buried it somewhere in the garden. When it didn't appear for two days, we would coax him to lead us to the spot where he buried it.

The cats' favorite spot was obviously on top of the mouse's cage. I had rescued Marie-Hélène from a science class project and to my dad's "delight," got a big round zero in science that week!

The cats and Bingo were good timekeepers. When they sat by the garage door, we knew dad was nearly home and could start heating lunch or dinner.

Bingo was also great company for me and we went everywhere together. We had the occasional goat and sheep but I never got to know how, why or where they disappeared... And I can't remember what excuse I was given for them moving away. It was also the period of time when veterinarians and special pet food were rare (yet animals seemed healthier on the whole).

After having cats in Beirut, I decided not to have pets when moving to London, mainly because of my long working hours there coupled by frequent business travels.  But I was still able to enjoy the on-off company of Habibi’s two predecessors, Kenzo I and Kenzo II.

Pets are a life-size responsibility. They are dependent on their owners and if they can't give them the total care they need, better they didn’t have them. Also I could enjoy the Kenzos I and then II.

But then, a friend who was moving abroad wanted to give away a birdcage and a budgie. I took the offer. It was the perfect pet for a small flat, required little nourishment and did not need three daily walks. The first budgie I had was green, a bit old and difficult to train. He was friendly, but independent until his last night. When I got home he landed on my finger and stood there all evening while I stroked his head and neck. The vet had said he couldn’t be treated, and the next morning he was gone.

My blue budgie
I then got a baby blue budgie. This one turned to be a nonpareil and one of the best friends I ever had. Budgies are easily trained when young. We bonded in under a week. We did everything together while I was at home and he had the run of the flat. If I did my manicure, he was all over my hands. If I sat to have a bite, he would land on my plate and nibble. He loved bread crusts that were covered with sesame. Misfortune struck one late afternoon when I forgot he was on my shoulder and I went out to the balcony to pick up a tablecloth. A bang on the street below scared him and he took flight. I spent weeks looking for him on the rooftop and in the nearby gardens, but he was gone.

For now, I am happy to be the aunt to my Habibi of Dubai, Kenzo. Walking a dog, whether here or in London is a great way to discover your neighborhood and make friends. You get to know little alleyways you never realized were there. This is how I got to know every little corner of Chelsea like the back of my hand. And this is how I am now getting familiar with Jumeirah.

A Labrador is impressive in size. You don't realize it, but you notice this through other people's reactions when they come across Habibi. Except that he hardly stops wagging his tail when he meets new people. He can charm anyone, especially children, who at first are terrified by his black color and his size and then start getting closer and closer. He loves children and I have to stop at each group we meet in the evening.

Habibi, rolling over and lying on his back
Halfway through our routine walk, there is a stretch of grass where he likes to stop for a little breather -- imagine walking in 40 degrees Centigrade wearing a black fur coat! So he sits on the grass and then starts rolling over and lying on his back. This never fails to stop the traffic. Cars slow down, cyclists and pedestrians stop to smile at his antics.

With Kenzo last Christmas Day
My one-hour evening walk with Habibi of Dubai is the perfect time for me to think, reflect and disconnect from computers, mobiles and the worldwide web. It is the occasion to interact with the people, sounds, smells, birds, flowers, peacocks, cats and other dogs we meet on the way. It's the camaraderie hour we both value.