As for Showkie, he was rapidly transforming himself from a Cambodian street dog into a domesticated pet. He took to Seila and Miss Bopha immediately and then warmed to me after he realised that it was actually I who was responsible for putting food on his plate – or at least in his bowl.
He developed a real hankering for cheese. I put it down to the fact that, after Miss Bopha had retired for the night, I would sneak into the kitchen and make myself a cheese sandwich. And while I was standing at the fridge door, I would reach in, break off a piece of cheddar and hand it to him. He would immediately grab it from me, turn on his heel and run to his favourite spot where he would flop on his blanket and happily gulp the morsel down. He did the same with bread, which soon became another favoured treat.
I also put in place a strict regime of walks which, as a Cambodian street dog, he was not at all used to. Even Cambodia’s pet owners seemed reluctant to walk their dogs. Instead, they seemed to prefer to keep the animal in the house – or in the garden. And then, when the dog needed exercise, they would let their pet wander around at will in the street outside. So, when I informed Seila that he had a newfound responsibility, he was somewhat taken aback. He even asked for a pay raise.
“Let’s see how you do first,” I replied.
To alleviate Seila’s concerns about his new role as a dog walker, I decided to take the lead – literally and figuratively. I took Showkie for his first ever walk as Seila stood at the gate and watched as our Khmer neighbours sniggered at what they considered was crazy pet pampering.
‘Oiiii! You have lucky dog!” one of my neighbours shouted.
“Showkie like king!” another called out.
Taking Showkie for his first ever walk proved more challenging than I ever imagined it would be. To begin with, he was reticent about leaving what had now become his home, and being as territorial as he was, as soon as I attached the lead he promptly plonked his bum down on the asphalt drive and refused to budge. I couldn’t help thinking that he was thinking that his cushy new lifestyle had come to an abrupt end and that he was being turned out. After all, much like our Khmer neighbours, the concept of him going for a walk had probably never entered his canine mind.
At first, I tried to encourage him. And then I decided to bribe him by waving bread and cheese in front of him. He gobbled up the cheddar and the sliced bread but still wouldn’t budge. Finally, I dragged him unceremoniously out into the street, scraping his bum along the drive as I did so. However, he wasn’t happy. He strained at the leash and kept whipping his head around to watch our home and Seila, who was still standing watch at the gate, getting smaller and smaller as we walked further and further into the world outside Lucky Villa.
When we turned our first corner, we came across another street dog. The mongrel belonged to one of the families living in the houses nearby. And like many other Cambodian pets, it was left to roam the streets by itself without any due care and attention or concern for who it might bark at or bite.
Even though this particular Cambodian street dog was smaller than Showkie, he had a more ferocious temperament and bark, and as soon as he saw Showkie he went for him. Instead of putting up a fight as I would have liked to have seen Showkie do, my dog promptly pulled up and peed on himself in fright. Having made a spectacle of himself to the neighbourhood and cowed in the face of smaller opposition, Showkie then sat down in surrender in the very same spot on which he had just urinated. Realising that Showkie was not going to fend for himself or me, I then swung a few kicks in the general direction of our assailant – without connecting – and then turned and started for home, much to Showkie’s relief.
The first thing I did when I got inside my gate was to order Seila to give Showkie a wash to clean off his yellow dog pee and then I marched to the kitchen at the back of the house to have a word with Miss Bopha.
“Where did you get Showkie?” I asked.
“He street dog. He like me a lot. He used to follow me to market,” she replied.
“He’s not very brave for a street dog,” I remarked.
“Outside he polite. Inside his territory. You wait. You just wait and see how he guard territory.” As it happened, I didn’t have to wait long to find out just how territorial Showkie could be….