The Luckiest Dogs in Tanzania


As an American, I come from a land of pet lovers. And I’m one of them.

In 2012, it was reported that 62% of American households had at least one pet (source: APPA). Between 37-46% have a dog, and according to a Gallup poll, 68% of pet owners have given toys or presents to their pet for Christmas. This is the mindset I’m accustomed to.

Here in Tanzania, having a dog as a pet just isn’t normal. People have dogs to serve a purpose, not for human companionship.

We have a dog on our property and his original purpose was security – to protect everyone who lived here.  Then Westerners moved in.


Meet Ndugu, which in Swahili means “relative”.

Naming the dog at all was thought to be a little weird.  Naming him “relative” was completely over the top. Even more shocking was when Ndugu started coming inside the house. Here in Tanzania dogs are considered unclean and not to be indoors.

Now over the past year Ndugu has gotten pretty comfortable in his life of leisure. He comes in the house at his pleasing, he is fed scraps (as opposed to having to seek them out), and just yesterday he couldn’t be bothered when other dogs came into the yard. He’s lost his edge and we weren’t the first to notice. I mean, check this guy out.

Ndugu sleeping

Enter the Puppy!

About a month ago, a puppy appeared in the backyard. We weren’t sure why, but we were excited he was here! We later learned the Mama next door brought in a new dog because Ndugu was getting old and lazy…ouch, Ndugu

Puppy looking up

Upon arrival, we kept referring to him as the “puppy”, as people do. But soon everyone started calling him “Puppy”, thinking it was his actual name. We were not on board with this, however, it soon became too late to change it.  And one day the poor dog will be five years old still being called “Puppy”.  “I’m not a puppy, I’m a man.”

The Accident

About a week after Puppy’s arrival the car accidentally hit him. The tiny puppy was not a match for the massive Land Rover. Afterwards, the poor little guy could barely move and was breathing so hard I didn’t think he’d make it. If this had happened back home, he would have been rushed to the emergency vet,  but here that isn’t the case. I was devastated.

I was sad for the puppy, I was upset no one cared, and I felt helpless to do more.  All I could do was go outside a few times a day to sit with him. And the locals would watch this display like it was the most ridiculous thing they’ve ever seen. “What is that white girl doing?”

You’ll be happy to know, after a couple tough weeks, Puppy is much better. He now walks with a small swagger to his step, but otherwise he’s fine.

Puppy with mouth open

It’s a bit ridiculous how much I love that puppy. Ndugu, however, does not share my sentiment.

The other animals in the backyard

Along with the dogs, you’ll also find ducks in the backyard.


And next door there are goats.

Being a “city girl”,  I’ve asked some dumb questions. For instance:

1. Why do the neighbors have ducks? I mean, if they were chickens it would be for the eggs, but since people here don’t keep animals as pets, why have them? 

Answer: I’m sure it’s obvious to everyone but me…ducks are food. People buy them from the Mama next door and eat them for dinner.

2. Sometimes there are goats over in the next yard and sometimes there aren’t. Where do they go? Is there a shed I’m not seeing?

Answer: Again, they are being sold to eat. (Notice I don’t have a picture of the goats. They aren’t here right now…)

I understand we eat animals; I’d just like to remain naive and live in a land where meat grows on trees.

3. Why are those kids yelling?

Answer:  Those aren’t kids, they’re goats.

Goats sound exactly like yelling kids; sometimes you can’t tell.

People here take pride in their animal ownership, but for them, they are just assets.

Animals are a sign of wealth, either because you can sell them or you can afford to feed them. But dogs in Tanzania are certainly not getting Christmas presents. I just wish I would have brought a dog sweater over from the U.S. just to see their face when I put it on Ndugu.  That would have been hilarious.

4 Responses to The Luckiest Dogs in Tanzania

  1. Frank March 20, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Great post! I just wrote a post yesterday of growing up in Zambia and you sparked a few more memories. Ndugu looks like my dog Simba (Lion in Swahili) – is he a Zimbabwean Ridgeback? North Americans sometimes shocked when they see animals in the third world, but sometimes the people don’t look much better do they? At least animals there are free range and can enjoy being animals before they are killed for food – here we coop them up in barns and force-feed them before they show up all nicely cut up in our grocery stores. Most never see the light of day. Terrible conditions.
    Good post.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Denise Diamond March 21, 2014 at 1:40 am #

      Frank, I couldn’t agree more. Although I frequently feel limited by the food choices here, it is nice to know that it’s always free range and organic! It’s great to see the animals are always roaming around until their fate comes.I’ll check out your blog on Zambia! – Denise

  2. Caroline March 20, 2014 at 6:18 am #

    Aww that sweet puppy! I’m so glad he’s doing better!!! I would be so sad too. Maybe you can make him a sweater?? HA surely there they know how to sew/knit & maybe you can learn!?? Jk :)

    • Denise Diamond March 21, 2014 at 1:43 am #

      Ha, I’m not sure I’ll be taking up knitting anytime soon! But it is funny how even if its really hot here, the locals will all wearing sweaters and jackets. They never get hot!

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