Earlier this year one of the dogs that run wild on the island had not long had two pups. They were a beautiful honey brown with darker muzzles and feet. Their mum nested them under the building in which I stayed, which I’m sure was fine for them but not so fine for the people just above them who had to put up with their whining and barking, especially at night. Under the building was the pups’ safe house – they would often scamper there when the rough-housing of the older dogs in the pack got too much.
It was delightful however to see them play around each other, falling over their feet and trotting after their mum. Mum often seemed a bit frazzled by these boisterous pups, especially when they demanded milk. Often she would just turn and growl at them and they got the message: “Leave me alone.” I know lots of human mums employ similar tactics with their demanding children!
Now, some months later the pups and their mum are still here, but the pups are no longer quite as cute. They still go around together, often lying in the pile of dirt near my building, snoozing in whatever shade they can find. As I sit at my hotel window now they are lying together, heads resting on each other. Mum still sits nearby as does another dog from the pack.
They dogs here are not pets. They co-exist with people but don’t live together as they would in Australia. The Nauruan people generally ignore the dogs and usually the dogs ignore people. But I have noticed that the dogs, being territorial animals, develop and defend territories around homes. It is not uncommon to find a dog growling at you from a driveway as you walk past. It would be easy to assume that the dog is being a guard dog as we would see in Australia. It is guarding, but not the house, rather its own territory which just happens to have a house on it.
Dogs will attack people here and employ pack tactics to separate a person from a group and there have been people bitten. However these events are few and far between. It is often our ignorance, as visitors to this island, our assumptions that the dogs here are like ones at home, that lead to the dogs attacking. It is not wise to want to pat one of these dogs nor to pick up their pups. If a dog is threatening them, locals just bend as if to pick up a rock and the dogs scurry away.
Documentaries inform us that the veneer of domesticity in animals is very thin. The dogs of Nauru are a prime example of this.