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Dog Story: TOSCA


The names of people in this story have been changed.

One chilly winter’s morning, in Harare, Zimbabwe, I wandered outside with my dog Tosca’s biscuits only to discover that Tosca had gone! I was absolutely devastated!

My German Shepherd, Tosca, had been a delight in my life for eight years. She has the most loving nature and this is shown to everyone – children, old people, young people of all races. She was not a wanderer and I was at a loss as to what had happened to her.

I soon discovered a broken electric gate - the thieves seemed to have scaled the 8-foot high wall and tampered with the gate motor. We immediately began canvassing the neighbourhood and asking questions.

Everyone I knew became involved: friends, colleagues put the word out. Tosca, my best and most loyal friend, was gone and I would not rest until I had found her. We drove around a 20 km radius of the house and stopped and asked people if they had seen her. We searched in storm ditches, bushy areas, golf courses and empty houses. We were given a few leads, but they came to naught. I was frantic! 

Walter, a caddy from the golf course came sheepishly to our door and said he knew who had taken Tosca. Miracle of miracles! It sounded like a very credible lead and we jumped onto it immediately. I commandeered the support of our local police station and filed a "missing dog report". They took it very seriously and were as helpful as they could be given that they had no transport, no pens, and no paper! I provided pens, paper and transport and set about trying to find the fellow who had allegedly taken Tosca. He normally lived at the golf course club, but news travels fast and by the time we got there, he had disappeared.  

We established that Walter had a girlfriend in a squatter camp (shanty town) and we worked on the notion that perhaps he had gone there with Tosca. We headed there in the late afternoon. My family and friends wanted to come with us but I would not let them. I knew it could be dangerous and I would have felt terrible if anyone got hurt.

The first farm invasion and murder of a white farmer had taken place by black so-called “war veterans” who wanted all the land back for themselves. These war veterans had moved en masse into the city areas and were building shacks all over the place. There was a sense of tangible unease in Harare and it was even worse in the farming areas. There is a large high-density area outside Harare called Epworth, and Epworth Overflow has all the shacks and homes built by folk who could not fit into Epworth proper – and these were mainly war veterans and their families and any other trouble causer without a base! So, when one got an address in Epworth Overflow, that's all one got, EPWORTH OVERFLOW! It is a HUGE area covering many hectares, with no electricity, no running water, no roads and many, many people. Epworth is famous for balancing rocks and scattered amongst these rocks were houses built out of mud, scrap roofing and plastic. There was no municipal service there, so the tracks made by masses of human traffic were full of rubbish and raw sewage.

Let's set the scene again, a white woman, a black caddy called Roy, and a black junior police constable go wandering through Epworth Overflow. Roy told me to always stay in the car because the war veterans hated white people and he told the police constable to go carefully because the war veterans hated policemen more than white people! So we asked Roy if he would get out and try and find the woman and he said, "No madam, the policeman can go because he is paid for doing this kind of stupid thing". He also told me to always park the car in a "go away position" in case the people attacked us.

We drove along bumpy, filthy tracks from section to section, stopping only where I could park my double cab bakkie in the "go away position" - not that I could ever have found my way out of this maze of tracks back onto a road that resembled a normal tar road! The policeman would hop out and speak to people asking if they had seen a man matching Walter's description with a dog. Although the men in the area treated him with suspicion and some hostility, the women and children happily told all! After a few hours of doing this, and by this time it was very dark, we found out that he had gone with Tosca to one of the local shabeens. (illegal tavern) Great! Now we had to go deeper into Epworth Overflow!

Epworth Overflow was intriguing at night. In Zimbabwe there was no petrol at this time, or any other kind of standard liquid fuel. So, the folk of this area used old cooking oil to light their homes. In the area where we were now parked in the "go away position" there were dozens of little tables set up under balancing rocks where people were selling home made lamps using old cooking oil. The place reeked of stale oil. The little lamps were made from any type of glass container, Coke bottles, jam jars etc. and a bit of string as the wick fixed in place by anything available ranging from bits of shoes to tin foil gathered from dustbin contents. Hence the eerie, unreal feel of the place with the glow of these oil lamps.

We went off to the shabeen, and the less than well-paid policeman went inside. His entrance into the shabeen in uniform caused a mass exodus of clients who then lurked in the shadows to see if their illegal activities were under scrutiny. They were not, and slowly the patrons returned to their warm beers. After a few minutes the cop came out again and told us that Walter had been seen dragging Tosca off to the industrial areas earlier that day. Apparently the person who had hired him to steal the dog refused to give him his price, so Walter dragged Tosca on foot around the industrial areas trying to sell her as a guard dog. Our search had to stop for the night as the industrial areas were all closed by 10 p.m.

Next day we went to the industrial areas, met with less than salubrious individuals, paid out large sums of money for the next clue. We were a strange team, but a team we were, and nothing was going to stop us!

Our pets NEVER give up on us, no matter what we do, and so we should not give up on them. Nor does God give up on us - it's simple principle that in today's world we too easily forget - DON'T GIVE UP! There is good around every corner.

The next day we got a major breakthrough. Walter returned to the golf club to collect his possessions and Roy caught him there and handed him over to the police. The police called me and asked if I could come and collect him and two policemen so that we could re-trace his steps over the past few days. I did this and the temptation to throttle Walter when I saw him was SO powerful, but God got hold of my emotions and quickly settled them. We then spent a full day with a reluctant Walter driving from spot to spot with him denying that he had ever seen any dog anywhere ever!! The policemen were not convinced. They started giving Walter a royal beating in my car and I begged them to stop - I could not be party to this - I just wanted Tosca back and I begged Walter to tell the truth and I would not press charges. He refused, so the policemen hauled him out of my car into the bush. They proceeded to remove his shoes and beat the soles of his feet with bamboo poles. Again I intervened and told them to stop this brutality. They said, "Madam, we know our own people, if you want your dog back then this is the ONLY way we'll find her". I could not let them continue and so I took them back the station knowing my cause might be lost.

Something happened overnight and Walter told the police where he had eventually taken Tosca! The police called me with the news and again I collected my travel companions from the station. We drove to a factory where a Turkish businessman was deeply affronted at us bringing Walter there. Walter pointed a finger at this man and declared that he had bought Tosca from him. On failing to sell Tosca to the security companies at the industrial sites, Walter had gone back to the businessman who originally hired him. He sold Tosca for a miserable price.  

The businessman reluctantly gave us the address where Tosca was and then asked for his money back - ASKED FOR HIS MONEY BACK!!!  Can you believe it? The cop was smart and he told him that he could claim his money back from the state after he had faced possession of stolen property charges.  The ONLY time I felt really threatened was when I was facing that businessman. He was so angry and so volatile that I thought he would hurt all of us. Otherwise, all the Zimbabweans I had first hand dealings with were not aggressive at all.  

The team was not to be stopped now! We got to a house in the suburbs that looked like Fort Knox! 12-foot wall, CCTV camera's positioned on the corners and at the driveway, four lock up garages with no windows and steel roll doors which were securely locked. Not your average house and very obviously a front for some other type of business. Locked up in cages in the back yard were a number of dogs - one of them was my beloved Tosca! Apart from being a bit tired and extremely dirty she was in fine shape and the SPCA were called in to take the other dogs away. 

Walter was locked up for 2 years but released for good behaviour after six months. I was playing golf shortly after his release when he approached me on the golf course and tried to sell me some found golf balls! I asked him if he recognised me and he said he did and that he had forgiven me!!

One has to laugh!

Tosca had been dragged on foot across over 50 km of the worst parts of Harare for five days, presumably no-one bothered to feed or water her and she was very tender in places - I assumed she had been given a few good whacks. 

After a visit to the vet for a check up, a bath and a good feed and water Tosca collapsed in a heap and slept for two days solid. God took care of her during that time and He took care of us in our posse! We went to places where people just did not venture in a time when Zim was in a lot of turmoil. We were most certainly in danger. But, God watched over us and He guided us to the right place at the right time.

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