The day Tobias fell sick, Elvania Nassuna went in panic mode. Restlessly, she took him to two veterinary clinics but the medics could not establish the cause of his uneasiness and low spirit.
Sad, she returned home, and sat with him on the veranda. With soft cuddles on his forehead and body, Nassuna encouraged Tobias to take some milk.
He lapped some out of the bowl until he emptied it. This gave his master reason to smile.
“I suspect it was food poisoning. From that day on, I research and appreciate that I should not feed him on any food. I used to buy leftover food from restaurants but not anymore. I now go out to supermarkets or stores where specific dog food is sold,” she narrates.
You could be excused to think that Nassuna is referring to a partner or someone she holds close to her heart. However, Tobias is her best friend, a dog with which she lives and shares joy, sorrow and wishes she could talk to.
When their eyes meet, he rushes to her, jumps up and lifts his fore legs to reach out for her arms.
Tobias then runs back and forth, making giggly noises, perhaps to say ‘welcome back home pal’. In response, Nassuna caresses his hair as the two head into the main house.
He has his space on the couch, can freely take some space in her bedroom, somewhere near the dining area and has his bathroom and sleeping area. While she goes out to work out at the gym, he will be out taking a morning or evening walk to exercise too.
He is also given refresher-training courses, all paid for as part of the perks of having a true friend.
When I ask Nassuna about the amount of money she spends on Tobias’ care and maintenance, she looks at me, her eyes in shock. “Can you ever quantify friendship?” she asks me.
Why keep dogs
Like some avid dog keepers, the dog is not any other animal at home. It is a friend many look forward to seeing when they wake up or after a day’s work, to help them calm their nerves and beat the stress.
Events MC and radio presenter Ronnie Habasa learnt and appreciated the company of a dog friend from his formative years. The first time he brought up the idea of keeping a puppy at home, his father said it was impossible.
He asked his son who was going to feed the dogs. The youngster had tried to keep a puppy, which was not vaccinated and it died shortly after. Since the incident, his father was not motivated to allow his son take a second shot at keeping a puppy.
Habasa listened to the old man, but nursed a heartbreak for being stopped from having the pet. On his 13th birthday, his uncle gave him two German Shepherd puppies, which were not welcome by home administration but gave them a good reason.
The puppies were upbeat on barking at night and ensuring security of his friend and everyone at home. That is how the two earned their ticket to stay at home, with their keeper and caretaker.
For Dr Martin Traguha, a veterinary doctor, besides treating man’s ‘best friend’, he buys and sells dogs, mostly from clients. His love for dogs started at an early age too.
“At seven years, I picked a dog in Kansanga, a Kampala suburb and took it home. It was friendly and my parents and siblings liked it because it was a happy, playful and social dog,” Dr Traguha recounts.
When he was older and out of home, his hobby stuck. Whenever he had to look for a house, he factored in space for a dog. Luckily, his neighbours liked the dogs because they provided security.
Michael Makumbi keeps dogs too, and family shopping is incomplete if the shopping list does not have requirements for the upkeep of his two South African Boer bulls.
He will buy Bobtail, the dog food at either Game stores or at Shoprite. It is pre-cooked and ready to serve. A five-kilogramme pack costs Shs30,000, which they feed on for a week. He also shops for food from Royal Canine Food on Mawanda Road.
For grooming, he bathes them with shampoo, which costs between Shs10,000 and Shs15,000. The price depends on the brand and quantity of shampoo. The dogs wear collars and each goes for between Shs10,000 and Sh20,000, depending on where you buy them from.
Dogs are a playful lot and some can do with toys. The basic toys go for Shs2,500, which are sold in a pack of six balls or tablets that you can throw and get a dog run after it as part of exercise too.
These are things you do for a friend. But, it could be just business. So when you are ready to sell your friend, there are willing buyers. Makumbi’s two Boers have littered before and shot the maintenance costs. He sold the puppies, each at Shs350,000, earning him about Shs4.2m.
“That was a good supplement to my income. I am a businessman. I run a boutique in town,” he adds. Habasa has smelt the money and counted it too. He has a parent stock of eight German Shepherds which he expects to sell at Sh3.5m each.
There are fully-fledged companies cashing in on things to do with dogs.
As Habasa went through putting this all together, his wife, Diana, could not make sense of his passion for dogs- two German Shepherds and a Maltese. For him, this was business. Surely, success was to follow passion.
“And to make sure that I had pedigree, I registered with a kennel club which has affiliation with the East African Kennel Club, whose members are puppy breeders and dealers,” Habasa explains.
The most expensive he has bought is a St Banerd dog, at Shs3.5m.
“I supply dogs that guard peoples’ homes, at a fee. I rent them for between Shs150, 000 and Shs200, 000, depending on the type of dog. I train and feed them,” he adds.
For anyone looking into his kind of business, Habasa advises that less is better, that you can keep a few dogs but focus on pedigree. A good bitch breed will litter twice a year. A puppy will cost between Shs800, 000 and Shs1m.
You will meet dog lovers, breeders and dealers online. Also, the Ultimate Dog Show is one event to be part of. It brings together revellers and exhibitors, with their pets.
There, dogs compete and outmatch one another at skills like obedience, agility, tricks and stunts, racing and attack. All types of dogs take part, from local breeds to the small and beautiful breeds such as the Finnish Spitz, Basset Hound, Poodle, Saint Bernard, Bull Mastiff and the Great Dane.
Exhibitors at the annual dog show have been exposed some showy dogs.
Xavier Allezaix is one of the notable exhibitors whose dogs have won in the tricks and stunts category. Allezaix turns to vets such as Dr Martin Traguha, who provide mobile services too. He goes to people’s homes to treat pets and animals in general. Common cases are dogs with broken legs, parvovirus, canine fever and mange infection.
“For dogs, I deworm once every month. A tablet costs Shs2,500. I have 12 dogs, 12 German Shepherds and two poodles. Whenever I get puppies, I sell them and each fetches Shs350,000,” the vet and dog breeder explains.
But it is not only dogs that Dr Traguha has treated.
“I treat tortoises that are kept by an Indian family in Kololo, Kampala. It recently had rotting foot. I have treated a rat kept by an old lady, a goat by a lady and chicken by a university student at their home,” he reveals.
So the limit to what one can keep for a pet is not limited to a dog. The vet is doing some business beyond treating and selling dogs. He also cashes in on selling dog food and other accessories at a shop in town.