‘Does it do any tricks?’ asks my snot-nosed, seven-year-old interrogator.
‘It’s a she. And no, she doesn’t do tricks,’ I reply, a little too defensively. (That said, if eating the remnants of a dead fish at the side of the lake could be classed as a trick, then the answer would be an unequivocal
yes.) ‘Oh,’ says Snot Nose, clearly unimpressed, before pushing past me to return to his snot-nosed siblings and sad-eyed nanny.
I glance down at Betty, who has found something exceptionally exciting in the bushes. Of course, the things that Betty considers exceptionally exciting are rotten and smelly and dead, and not something I want to retrieve from her mouth. I tug on her lead and we continue our walk.
Betty, in case you were wondering, is my adopted pug. Just over a year ago, she appeared on my sofa and has been there ever since. My significant other had much to do with her appearance on the sofa (rescuing her from a cage in the desert, if you want the full heart-wrenching story), and now it falls to me to march her around The Greens every other morning, trying to dissuade her from gobbling up decomposing fish, and encouraging her to ‘do her business’ (for non-pet owners, it’s worth noting that the ‘business’ of a pug bears no relation to that of, say, a businessman… though that would be a great trick).
As well as doing exactly the opposite of what she’s told, Betty is also very good at attracting all manner of attention. This has much to do with her strange, squashed-faced appearance. Some people think her aesthetics make her incredibly cute (mostly pram-pushing British women who insist on speaking to Betty with a goo-goo voice). Other people just can’t fathom what she is. ‘What is it?’ asked one bemused Kenyan security guard. ‘I… I think it’s a dog,’ I replied uncertainly, as Betty grunted and snuffled at my feet. Suffice to say, with Betty at my side, I’ve met far more of my neighbours than I would have done otherwise.
I’m very mindful that dogs aren’t as culturally acceptable here as they are elsewhere in the world, and I must remind myself not to take offence when people stare at Betty with a mixture of fear, horror and amusement. Not that this would ever bother her. In fact, she seems to interpret somebody’s fear as an invitation to waddle towards them, wagging her tail. She’s a very friendly creature, but out of respect I always keep her on a tight leash, lest her innocent pug-like curiosity sends people shimmying up the nearest tree, screaming (it has happened).
I suppose people’s unpredictable reactions to Betty are a good reminder that it always pays to be mindful of others when living in a multicultural melting pot like Dubai – a reminder that there are many ways of life here, not just the one we can so easily get wrapped up in. If only she did tricks.
Oliver Robinson is our deputy editor. If he smells of dead fish, you know he’s been walking the dog.