Uncle Dogs lives childhood passion with tamed pals

Sharif Ssemwanga with some of the dogs at his home.

What you need to know:

  • Indeed Ssemwanga completed a Diploma in Water Engineering in 2017 from Kyambogo University. However, this is not what he practices currently.
  • He sells a puppy for a German Shepherd at between Shs700,000 and Shs1m, and about Shs1.8m for that of the Rottweiler.

Visitors of Sharif Ssemwanga have to give prior notice, not because he is too busy or loathes visitors. It is because of the need to ensure the security of the visitors because of the nature of his pals; the many dogs that he keeps in his compound in Kigoowa, a Kampala suburb.

When I visited for this interview, Ssemwanga, who has since come to be known as Uncle Dogs, had to ensure safe passage for me as the canines barked loudly at the sight of the stranger.
However, I could not help but admire how Uncle Dogs calmed down the animals; calling them, some by name, and their obedient response as he stoked some of their ears and heads before they slowly disappeared into the backyard.

I then ask how the 30-year-old developed the passion for dogs.
“My love for dogs started as early as 2008 when I was a young boy living in Kamwokya. At that time, many stray dogs were roaming the area; some looking bony due to starvation and disease,” Ssemwanga reminisces.
“Also, there was an animal clinic near my home and I used to see people visiting the clinic with their sick dogs. So in the process, I fell in love with dogs and felt compassion for them,” he adds.

A young Ssemwanga then started picking dogs from the streets and taking them to the animal clinic for treatment and care.
This, he says, endeared him to many dog owners who started entrusting him with checking on their animals in their homes and sometimes helping to take them for treatment.
But then he had one major problem to contend with; his Muslim family. Ssemwanga says his parents, who are Muslims, did not want anything to do with dogs.

“Many Muslim families at the time didn’t want anything to do with dogs; and my family was not an exception; and I don’t know why, but I am glad this is changing slowly,” he shares.
Nevertheless, Uncle Dogs’ passion for the animals could not be hindered by his family restrictions. He continued rescuing the dogs from the streets and keeping them at the clinic or the different homes of passionate dog owners since his parents could not let him keep the animals at his home.

“So I started becoming popular in the area. I would even guide owners on breeding dogs and sometimes they would gift me with puppies. So while I never kept many dogs at home, I owned them through those families and I kept them at their homes,” he explains.


Turning point
Ssemwanga remembers one moment that became a turning point in his life.
“My first dog, I just picked it from the street. It was abandoned, I looked after it and later sold it to Bobi Wine [current NUP president Robert Kyagulanyi] at Shs800,000 at around 2010. This dog changed my life,” he says.

“At that time, when I got money, I realised that dogs can sustain my life by earning from them. I then went ahead and rescued more three abandoned dogs from the streets in Kifumbira Zone in Kamwokya,” he adds.
In the process, more dog owners started trusting him with their animals to pick them up from home and take them to the clinic.

Breakthrough
He later met and befriended dog breeders who initiated him into the business of keeping dogs.
“I met a good man called Martin Ssebunya who loved my passion for dogs; he even gave me a place where I could keep dogs,” Ssemwanga says.
He now has about 130 dogs and has two farms; one in Kigoowa and another in Mukono.

Juggling studies and his passion

Uncle Dogs says the trade did not disrupt his studies because he looked after dogs in the evening after school and over the weekend since he was a day scholar.
Indeed Ssemwanga completed a Diploma in Water Engineering in 2017 from Kyambogo University. However, this is not what he practices currently.

 “I fell in love with dogs and I went ahead to study a certificate in veterinary health to teach people how to take care of dogs. I use such moments to give tips to the public on how to look after dogs,” Ssemwanga says.
He adds: “I have organised several dog walk events but also rescued several troubled dogs.”

His aspiration

Uncle Dogs says there are many suffering dogs in the country and he would want them to be buried in a dignified manner.
“When a dog dies, I fall sick; so I want to see dogs buried in a dignified manner, not just dumped in the bush. So I have started the funeral service; I am now working on procuring a funeral van; already I have received some requests to bury dogs; last week I buried one. Dogs are no longer your ordinary animals; they are now part and parcel of people’s lives,” he said.
“So I also need to procure land that will be the burial grounds,” he adds.

Types of dogs

Ssemwanga keeps more than 130 dogs of various types at his farm. They include; Rottweiler, Boerboel, Caucasian Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd, Belgian Malnois, Great Dane, French Bulldog, Doberman, and Mastiff. He even says the local dogs, if well cared for and trained, can be good, providing you with security for your home.
“German Shepherd is the most popular because it is easy to feed, train and domesticate and is affordable; you know we have some tough dogs like Rottweiler,” he shares.

He sells a puppy for a German Shepherd at between Shs700,000 and Shs1m, and about Shs1.8m for that of the Rottweiler.
“The price is high because most of the dogs are imported,” Uncle Dogs shares.
For breeding, he advises that one needs to seek advice from professional breeders to get the best breeds.

Feeding

He feeds dogs meat, milk mixed with posho, mukene, chicken legs, and dry food, which is imported. The dogs also eat sweet potatoes.
Uncle Dogs feeds them once a day (at night), and then during the day, he gives them water. He says on average, he spends about Shs65,000 a day and about Shs2 million a month on feeding the canines.
He warns that careful planning is required to ensure that feeds do not enter into your budget.

Challenges
Ssemwanga says Parvovirus is the disease mainly affecting dogs. He says it is highly contagious and spreads from dog to dog by direct or indirect contact with their faeces.
“We vaccinate but still the puppies die. We also have a challenge of feeding because the feeds are expensive,” he explains.
Then there is the challenge of people just coming to visit the animals yet don’t want to buy them. “They are basically tourists but they bring diseases to the animals,” Ssemwanga says.

Benefits

Through dogs, Ssemwanga has met people whom none of his family members has ever met.
“I have met ministers, generals, and diplomats due to dogs. I have also been able to travel to various countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Serbia, mainly to attend dog shows,” he says.

“By the way, the money from dogs also helped me to fund my higher education as well as providing me with pocket money. My father wanted me to undertake an education course but I refused and insisted on funding my diploma in water engineering, all using the funds from dogs,” he adds.

Uncle Dogs is grateful to Jane Kibirige, his mother, who he said has supported him in his passion. He is also grateful to one Emma Okurut and PK Bossa whom he says have helped to support him, especially with funding as he seeks to expand his business.
In a month, Uncle Dogs can sell 5 dogs but also says he can spend another month without selling any.
“So that’s why I have to offer services such as dog visits to check on them at people’s homes,” he says.

Advice

Uncle Dogs advises that one has to have passion and rearing dogs is not a route to immediate wealth.  He also advises that one needs to be patient and be trustworthy and honest because people will entrust you with their homes as you visit to check on their animals.

“Also be prepared to be disturbed by people who call you, promising to come and buy dogs but they don’t turn up,” he says.
He also employs about six workers at his farm.
 
Appeal
Uncle calls for support from government security agencies such as the police to start buying dogs from them “because sell those sniffer dogs they import.”

Aspirations
He says he dreams of having about 50 acres of land all full of dogs.

“I would love to be rescuing dogs. I would also love to have fully equipped dog clinics, not generally vet clinics. I want to purchase an ambulance for picking up sick dogs and taking them to the hospital,” he shares.
His parting shot; dogs are no longer alien to man; they are part of us and should be treated with dignity.