(written September 2009 & an addendum written September 2015)

He has black curly hair and the cutest brown eyes you have ever seen. Bouncy, irrepressible, delightful, the centre of attention and complete strangers want to draw near to him.

He is very smart, learns fast and does what he is told.

And yet he is broken.

His name is Bobi and the elder of the Assembly is the fourth or fifth owner of this terrier-like mutt. As we share a common courtyard and terrace, we also share ‘the dog’.

We received this loveable rascal rather abruptly – his former owner contacting the elder and delivering his charge quite suddenly after an “event”. At the time, he failed to reveal the reasons for this sudden change of ownership or even the existence of the ‘event’.

Nevertheless he is an attractive and pleasant animal.

But he is broken. We don’t know how or why he is broken – but he is.

Some things we can ponder out – he is terrified of the hosepipe, especially when the water is spraying out. He will disappear the minute you begin watering the trees. So I hypothesize that he may have been beaten by a hosepipe or on a hot summer day someone may thought he would be happier if he were refreshed by a shower and dosed him whether he actually wanted it or not or someone may have decided that the hosepipe was the quickest and easiest means of washing the dog. I don’t know why, but I do know he is frightened of the hosepipe and so I make sure that whenever I use the hosepipe that I never seem to threaten him with it. Over time, if commanded, he would even come and stand beside me when I was watering the trees.

Bobi loves barking at cats and if they run, delights in chasing them.  However, on numerous occasions the cat in question has not been intimidated by his raucous barking and they have stood their ground.  The result?  Bobi changes tack and ignores the cat – whilst maintaining a discrete distance.

Bobi doesn’t like loud noises.  Once during an extended thunderstorm, in order to get closer to us as we sat on the terrace, he climbed up the roof of the wood store – no mean feat.  On another occasion, again during a thunderstorm he crossed into forbidden territory,  something he would never do  and came to where we were sitting on the terrace for comfort.  Every year, at the time of the month long fast, daily, as the sun sets and the call to prayer rings out, the local Council fires a cannon to announce the end of the fast for that day – and every day at that time the poor dog was frightened and unnerved by it.

He doesn’t like children. I don’t know why, but this I have observed. This really is a problem as he is so cute and attractive, he tends to draw children – which is one of the many things he is frightened of.  The ‘event’ that prompted the change in ownership involved children.

Bobi is not aggressive towards children, he will avoid contact with children  if at all possible.

Some months ago we were invaded by several families from the Diyarbakır assembly of believers. We had something like thirty for the evening meal. Amongst the thirty there were numerous children of varying ages – boys who like to shout and yell and girls who love to scream. They were like a swarm – a fluid, moving whirlwind of noise and action. They were playing in the courtyard whilst the adults conversed on the terrace. I say playing, but it sounded more like a war or torture or some apocalyptic catastrophe – but the children were happy and simply playing.

Now the dog, Bobi, was separated from this chaos in a corner of the courtyard behind a closed, rather large, steel door. He  had retreated to his doghouse; he was sitting inside and around the corner in the doghouse, out of sight and he was growling.

Mind you, the continual barrage of noise emanating from the children’s play was beginning to send my mind around the twist so maybe Bobi had a point.

To say the least, it unnerved him.

It is clear that he doesn’t like children and is actually afraid of them. When children run down the street, he will bark which could mean “I’m here – don’t come close – you have been warned,” but I think it actually means, “You really terrify me, please leave me alone.”

We have many visitors and some of them bring children and besides, Bobi’s owner, the elder, has children so I have entertained thoughts to trying to ‘understand’ Bobi and maybe even trying to help him grow out of his fears and foibles.

The problem is I don’t speak dog. I have heard some things which dogs are said to understand – and even tested some of them in the past. But either my accent is too broad or Bobi speaks a different dialect. We don’t communicate very well. Sometimes he looks at me and I think I’ve found a life-long faithful friend. At other times, it seems to be to be a look of unease, untrusting, unhappy, sometimes even threatening.

One day he was in the corridor that links the courtyard with the outside street. He was laying in the shade and I thought I would squat down and pet the little mutt. He likes being petted.

This I proceeded to do in the same manner that I had done countless times in the past, when he began growling at me.

Now I wasn’t aware of a bad odour emanating from me, I hadn’t shouted at him for any infraction of the house rules, I was speaking to him in my normal, soft, dulcet tones saying pleasant and nice things.

And he was growling at me.

So I said to myself, as I quickly removed my hand from petting his head “Now this is strange, I wonder if he is simply saying something or if he means business”.

So I devised a clever plan.

I determined not to respond to his growling, in other words, not to growl back getting upset at his unwarranted behaviour. I decided to continue in a positive, pleasant manner, and that I would continue to pet his head.

Good plan I thought.

Test the hypothesis I thought.

Don’t assume, said I.

So I put my hand back on the head of the growling dog and began to gently pet him as I was accustomed to.

Now the snap, when it came, was calculated or so I feel, to give me sufficient time to extradite my hand before teeth and flesh would meet with all the unpleasant, unrepentable and dare I say, bloody consequences.

He meant business. When the dog, Bobi, growls, he means business.

Hypothesis tested and lesson learned.

But the biggest problem is my failure to speak dog.

I’ve heard that dogs like treats and will do anything for treats – and dog treats are sold in Turkey.

So, now I try to ‘communicate’ with Bobi using treats. But it is still not plain sailing.

On one occasion I was feeding him a treat – I break it in half and give it to him in two bits. It was the middle of the day and it was hot. It gets hot in Antakya. I was not ‘playing a game’ with him, I was not ‘teasing’ him – I never tease this dog. I gave him half as I always do and whilst he was eating the first half he growled at me – yes the treat was still in his mouth and whilst chewing on the treat he growled at me. Either I smell really bad – or remind him of someone who treated him really bad – or he really doesn’t like beards – or he really doesn’t like English (I talk to him in Turkish and English) or he is a really tough case.

I gave him the second half and left him alone.

I didn’t try and pet him, I gave him space.

We continue, Bobi and I.

I do not kid myself into thinking that I am making progress with him – although it has been almost two months and he hasn’t growled at me – but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did; and he has growled at others at various times. And when I pet him, one hand is always on active duty to prevent any lunge or bite that may develop because, in my ignorance of his past, I may ‘touch a nerve’ or do something that triggers a more aggressive response.

We are getting along, he and I.

I used to call him ‘unbalanced’ but now I’ve come to understand he has his ‘own balance’. He doesn’t do things randomly, he has a reason – even if I don’t know what it is and can not speculate on what it could be. My challenge is to understand him and try and redress his ‘balance’ so we can coexist happily in our world together – to find a way to really communicate with him.

This reminds me that before God I, too, am broken. I do things – which make sense to me – and yet before God are stupid, self-destructive and ignorant things to do. But, God – being God Creator, not only knows how to communicate with me in His own right, but the Lord Jesus took on the form of a man, became man and so He fully understands my world and how to communicate with me.

I just need to listen. I need to allow my creator/saviour God to redress the balance in my life.

…the story today…

We cared for Bobi as best we could. He was watered, fed, given shelter. His fur was clipped, he was bathed regularly, and had his annual inoculations. He was walked and we did, to varying degrees spend time with him.

He, in return, provided an active watchdog service – we always knew when someone was at our door (he was silent when the neighbours doorbell rang – it is identical to ours; he could tell the difference when often we couldn’t) – and when we were all at church, we knew that Bobi was on active duty.

Having said that, Bobi was dissatisfied. He wanted to have free access to our homes and the area on the terrace where we sit – this was never afforded to him.

Then one day he disappeared when out on a watering break. It was not the first time he has disappeared. In the past he had been dog-napped and ended up in a pet store for sale, on another time, whilst out and about he was tied up by someone and kept with them.

This time he was found by a teenage girl who fell in love with his curly hair and brown eyes. She took him into her parents flat and they gave him run of their house. He had received his hearts desire. When we found him, for we were looking for him, the girl begged and pleaded to be able to keep the dog.

On consideration, Bobi seemed to like it there, they wanted him, and so in the end we consented. Bobi went, by his choice to a new home with new humans to interact with.

With the passage of some months, the reality of having a dog and the mess and the disruption that naturally follow having a dog in a flat became patently clear. Of course the teenagers initial burst of love and infatuation with the dog also passed with time.

Then they asked if we could “watch the dog” for a week while they went on holidays.

We consented.

Bobi came back. He recognised us all. He knew his dog house. All his tricks he still did. He automatically took on his role as watchdog.

But he wasn’t happy. He was still barred from our homes and the terrace. A casual look into his eyes revealed he was not happy.

For the first five days we coexisted. I provided better quality food than before and treated him very positively.

Then there was an opportunity, the front door was opened and before the person who opened the door realised what was happening, Bobi was gone…

He made his choice, he rejected us (again) and returned to the home he desired.

However, the new home that he had chosen, we think, had grown tired of him and cast him off. We do not know if he is alive or dead… He has not returned to us. If he had, we would have taken him in.

We always worked for his best. He didn’t get what he wanted, but never lacked for what he needed. He rejected us – twice. He left those who were committed to him, with all his failings and foibles and followed his own desires and passions.

Kind of sounds familiar to me….

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