Having seen her family through major milestones out in the wilderness, Samantha Du Toit‘s Jack Russell terrier may be gone but not many canine companions would have as many stories to tell as he did.
So we now know how the story ends. But how did it begin, and what did it entail? The journey of a small Jack Russell terrier born in Watamu, and his subsequent bush exploits, was always something I had intended to write about someday…
There are no doubts about it, it is often small dogs that have the biggest personalities. Diesel, named so as to give a big name to a small dog, had numerous adventures with our family but one stands out more than most. Our constant companion, and a silent one most of the time, Diesel was best known for having his head stuck out the window of a driving car, often on the driver’s lap, surveying the land rushing by. A favourite game was to grab at passing bushes, delighted when he brought his catch of leaves into the car.
One day we were camping with researcher colleagues by the river in Shompole trying to spot some elusive lions that they were studying. All night we had heard the lions calling around us and therefore left camp at four in the morning to look for them. After hours of circling around in the dust and the dark, pretending to know where we were and frustrated to see fresh lion tracks on top of our car tracks as we came to the same set of bushes again, dawn was breaking. We drove back to a narrow clearing by the river to take stock. Parking the car in between two bushes, half the party decided to get out and look along the river banks for fresh tracks, probably unwise in retrospect. Diesel followed, but his nose took him to the bushes next to the car. He stopped, sniffed and then let out a low, uncharacteristic growl.
The growl that returned turned my blood cold. The bushes exploded and three lionesses hurtled out, luckily in the opposite direction to the river and Diesel. Everyone was frozen to their spots inside and outside the car, while Diesel casually hopped back in the open door and sat in the driver’s seat, waiting for the next move.
It is hard to count the number of times we could have lost Diesel. He ran ahead on walks, warning us of spitting cobras, buffalo and even wild dogs on one occasion. Our car was his second home, a place he was happy as he knew he was with us on some expedition or other. He even grew to love swimming, to cool off in the intense February heat of the South Rift.
In his twilight years, sixteen years on from puppyhood, Diesel quietly slipped away and left a large hole in our lives. Having seen us through major milestones in our lives, including marriage, two children and setting up our lives in the wilderness, he left us to continue on without him, but content in the knowledge that not many canine companions have as many stories to tell as he does.
Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.