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American Women's Club of Hamburg

When the Homing Dog Comes Home



After waking up with the leftover remnants of strange intertwined dreams from the various movies I had seen the day before, I spent time sorting out the films and cleared my mind for the next set of films I would see today. The images from the black-and-white Iranian film Running Among the Clouds by Amin Farajpour were the hardest images to erase. A young teenager (Amir Safiri) shames his mother as he becomes a drug addict. He starts off simply by smoking but then he gets mixed up in the harder stuff. He is constantly searching for more money and even steals from his mother who barely can support them. Since he is an outstanding runner, the school gives him one last chance to redeem himself by entering a state competition but he chooses to run among the clouds and stay lost forever. 

I fixed breakfast for my son and our dog Rügen. I decided that my son eats nearly as fast as the dog as he sprinted out the door to meet his friend for tennis. Rügen looked at me, ready for the big walk but today I have a surprise for him. Since I planned to see several films in a row, I organized the dog walker Hans who was going to take him along with several other dogs on an all day excursion. It was to be a trial run since he would be taking care of Rügen next week while we’re on vacation. I caught the U1 and just made it to my first movie.

The Danish documentary Armadillo, which focuses on two young men who join the military in order to fill their adventure-seeking needs was a hard film for me to begin my day with. Landing in Afghanistan we immediately have a realistic view of how these security military units operate, survive and how they are supposed to take out the invisible enemy, the Taliban. Director Janus Metz Pedersen shows how hard life is for the people living there on a daily basis and how the military can’t expect them to cooperate with them. The most frightening image from this film was to see these young men playing computer games and then the next film shot is them doing the exact thing but in real life. When they return home, they realize they don’t fit in anymore and they want to be soldiers despite the cost. It’s no surprise that this film won an award at Cannes since you see not only the side of the troops but the feelings of the people living there. I imagined I would have haunting images to fight with when I went to sleep.

So the next film I decided to see was True Noon by Noris Saidov, which seemed like it would be a light-hearted film. Boy was I wrong. True Noon was filmed in Tajikistan which is the neighboring country north of Afghanistan. The film shows the everyday life of a small village in a very traditional Muslim community. The only foreigner in the region is a Russian meteorologist (Yurly Nazaro) who is in charge of tracking the weather and is the radio contact to Russia. He has been training a young village girl (Nasiba Sharipova) to take over his position since he is old and wants to be reunited with his family. He even manages to get her family to allow that after her marriage she will live there and work with her husband, a very modern idea. The film is a contrast of the old tradition world of the Persian speaking Tajik tribe and the modern influence of the Soviet Union. The major crux of the film is that their harmonious lifestyle is changed suddenly when the government builds a security fence right through this mountain region. The hospital is on one side of the fence and the market on the other. The people continuously try to have contact to one another through this fence until one day a cow blows up due to a land mine. Security measures become more oppressive. Only the meteorologist doesn’t put up with this: he builds a metal detector, finds and marks land mines, which enables the village to continue as before. On the day of the wedding of the young couple, they all cross over the border with the exception of the meteorologist who accidentally steps on a land mine that he missed and goes up in smoke. The End! WOW! Talk about another image I won’t forget.

After all that I definitely needed a break and decided to have dinner with Mary, whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. We settled for a Vietnamese place on Grindelallee. Just as I sat down my son called and hysterically said “Please call Hans, something bad has happened.” So I made the call. Hans answered the phone completely out of breath and said, “Shelly, Rügen is gone. You need to come to Niendorf immediately. “At that moment I felt like I had just stepped onto a landmine and everything from that moment on became surreal. Thank goodness Mary is a good storyteller and kept my mind occupied until I jumped on the number-five bus to Niendorfer Strasse. I took off running, whistling and shouting for Rügen as I entered the Schrebergarten area behind the Mercedes Benz garage where Rügen was last seen. Finally I met Hans with his two dogs. Apparently Rügen was with the other dogs in his garden and for some odd reason began to panic. The dog got out by forcing himself through a hole that was only big enough for a rabbit. How he managed to do that, I don’t know. My dog is a 31kilo Golden Retriever/Kuvac mix that certainly is not the size of a rabbit. 

Hans took me to the location where my dog was last seen at the corner of Niendorfer Strasse and the U2. I looked up the hill when I heard the sound of a train go by and realized there was no fence there. I then had visions of my dog heading up the hill and being killed instantly by an oncoming train. I followed the path further, which took me to the Kollaustrasse, a four-lane street and there was no sign of him there. I went the other direction to the Julius Vosseler Strasse, another four lane street and at this point I began to panic. Disturbing images passed through my brain as I wondered where he could be. My only hope was that he had headed towards the Niendorfer Gehege to check out the wildlife there.  Unfortunately beyond that is the A7, highway which is equally dangerous for a dog. Along the way I asked people if they had seen him but the reply was always the same.  What was reassuring was that the pedestrians themselves began spreading the news and in a short while everyone seemed to be looking for him. Meanwhile I stopped at the Franziskus Tierheim; they hadn’t heard anything but helped me notify the Süderstrasse Tierheim and the police. Finally it grew dark and I knew I had to go home. I couldn’t sleep so I made a poster, called the police station one last time to ask if there was anything else I could do. They said I should call the various vets in the area in the morning; otherwise I would just have to wait.

I fell asleep sometime during the night since the phone rang at 7:35 and woke me up. My husband Frank had just arrived home from Singapore and needed his taxi service to pick him up. Adrian and I both went to fetch him. Unfortunately, the first thing Frank asked as he got into the car was “Where’s Rügen,” since he always comes with us. That once more set us off crying. Frank was shocked and could not believe my story. I then decided to start my search the Niendorfer Gehege once more.

Do you remember Lassie Come Home or Old Yeller? Or perhaps The Incredible Journey?  Well, it was just like that. At 8:00 which was our routine time for our morning walk I opened the door. Just at that moment my dog, Rügen, exhaustedly greeted me as he came up the porch stairs. I couldn’t believe it. It was just like in a film, which brought me to tears once again but this time it was because I was so happy that I could not believe it. My husband immediately thought someone must have brought him home but he doesn’t have an address tag and furthermore he looked terrible. He had been gone for over 16 hours, both of his front paw pads were destroyed and he moved like an old arthritic dog. I took him immediately to the vet where we x-rayed him, took blood and wrapped his paws which cost me 260 euros. My dog left the vet with cute little shoes on his front paws which made him look up at me with resentful eyes. He did not like his new shoes! Once home he literally went to bed for three days, only got up to eat and do his thing and then back to bed. We are still astounded that he managed to get from Niendorf, a place he had never been before, back to his home on the other side of the airport. 

I did a little research to figure out how he managed that. It looks like we have a homing dog instead of a homing pigeon. I found out that it takes more then a good nose for a dog to get home. In fact most dog can’t do this, which is why they get lost and can’t get back to where they belong. Those that return use a combination of abilities which include exceptional senses of smell and hearing, a good observation of the terrain surrounding them and the position of the sun. But they also use what some call a sixth sense which actually is an electromagnetic sense. This mechanism, by which animals are able to orientate themselves by the disturbances that they detect in the earth’s electromagnetic fields, makes them sensitive to minimal vibrations. Dogs use this ability to predict earthquakes and to travel over mountainous regions. What I also realized with my homing dog is how loyal he is to our family and how important it was for him to stay with his herd. (The herd being us of course) So with that in mind, I decided to return this act of love by not going on holiday to Mallorca with my husband and son but to stay with Rügen until he got well. It means of course we will have to think about how we will do our holidays in the future and who will be able to take care of our dog.

In case of animal emergencies below are a few numbers that might be able to help you.

Hamburg Humane Societies:
Hamburg Tierschutzverein 1841 e.v.
Süderstrasse 399
Tel: 2111060

Franziskustierheim
Lokstedter Grenzstrasse 7
Tel: 55492837

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