Bourek Meets World

Saturday, August 1, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria

Lucky dog: Several days after his adoption, Bourek has put on weight and gained confidence.
My sister, Maggie, was 8 and I was 11 when our family dog, Ilex, died.

The loss of our childhood companion and protector left an instant void in the house. So the next Christmas, I didn't hesitate in listing "puppy" at the top of my holiday wish list. I wanted a dog of my own so badly that it ached. My mother, mercilessly practical, tried to talk sense into me, pointing out how little time our increasingly busy work, school, and sports schedules permitted us to be home.

Today I can see that she was right—it would have been unfair to the dog. But at the time, I wasn't interested in listening. Until the day I got a puppy, I swore to the whole family, I would call my sister "Puppy". Unfortunately for Maggie, the innocent victim in this battle of wills, I have continued to execute the threat faithfully ever since—long enough for the nickname to stick of its own accord, long
after I had left home and given up on the hope of finding a puppy waiting for me one Christmas morning.

* * *

A few months ago, when Nina and I were moving into our apartment here in central Algiers, a wriggling ball of fur squirmed out from a bush. It had only taken 18 years, but the gods had answered my prayers.

Her name was Liza, we soon learned, and she was living at the neighbors' temporarily. A friend's Belgian Malinois (a race favored by bomb squads and militaries worldwide for their agility, strength, and intelligence) had birthed a litter of puppies, and our neighbors were caring for this little one until they could find a permanent home for her. "Take her, please," the neighbor's wife begged me, a look of utter exhaustion in her eyes.

After much deliberation, I decided to take her for a "test drive". For 24 hours, Liza was mine. She ate my food, pissed on my carpet, chewed on my shoes, shit on my living room floor, bit my ankles, dug in my house plants, and drove me crazy. When the day was up, I concluded with considerable regret that, yes, this was too much for me to handle. It just wasn't feasible with a job and frequent travels and a busy social life. Though Liza was as cute and charming as can be, a Malinois puppy is too big, too active, too smart to be anything less than a first and only priority, much less a manageable apartment dog.

* * *

Was it the right decision? I spent weeks asking myself that. Each time we went out to dinner, left Algiers for a long weekend, or slept in late, I thought about how none of that would have been possible with a dog in our lives. But then I thought about how much I'd love to have a dog's companionship, and how I have a part-time job with a very flexible schedule for the first time in my life, and who knows how long that will last?

I was still turning these questions over in my head a week ago when Nina and I set off for dinner at a friend's. As we left our apartment complex, a dirty brown puppy poked his head timidly from behind the guard post. We stopped. "He's been running around here for a few days now, poor guy," the guard said, handing the emaciated street dog a scrap of raw chicken remains from the butcher's. "You want him?"

The drive to dinner and back was enough for us to reach our decision. (Nina and I had both grown up with rescue dogs, and were much more eager to take in a mutt than a high-strung purebred.) We took him off the guard's hands that very night, when we returned around 1:00 AM. We bathed him, fed him a can of tuna, and set a towel beside the bed for him to sleep on. A few moments later, he was out like a light.

On his first night with us, our street pup was skin and bones and noticeably nervous.
* * *

In the past week, we have taken the puppy to the vet for a series of vaccinations (he didn't make a peep), and a return trip for anti-parasite and anti-flea treatments (prior to which he was a walking zoo of crawly things). He got a doggie passport ("Race: locale") and full health inspection (estimated age: 2 months; weight: a whopping 3.2 kg, or 7 lbs).

Further questioning of the guards and the neighborhood kids revealed a little more about his story. His mother was a street dog who had died soon after giving birth to him, they said, leaving two pups behind. One had already been taken in, but this little one had been left behind, and had survived for the last week or two on the guards' benevolence, fighting the alley cats for scraps.

We and the dog have mostly spent the past week getting to know one another. Algiers isn't the most dog-friendly of cities, but we're getting him out of the apartment plenty. He has accompanied me several times to the office, and come along for outings to the British Club and a friend's pool. (He didn't swim.) In some interpretations, Islam doesn't look kindly on dogs, so even though many Algerian families have pets, I was worried about the occasional bad reaction here in Algeria. But so far, the cute little street dog has won over every colleague, friend, or passerby he has come in contact with, which is quite encouraging.

Nina has bought him toys, bones, and a small carrier case (designed for cats, but don't tell him that). We've been working on house-breaking him and teaching him that not everything is made for chewing. (Both efforts are a work in progress.) Mostly we've done our best to help him eat his way back to a healthier weight, with frequent feedings of sausage, corned beef, roast chicken scraps, eggs, and occasionally even dog food. In one short week, he's gone from being the saddest street dog in Algiers to eating like a prince.

Sleepy boy: unlike the first dog I tried here, this one takes frequent naps, giving me time to breathe.
* * *

He's had it all—well, all except for a name. Settling on the perfect name has been a lengthy process of deliberation. Given that this Algerian street dog is now living with an American and a German, he has been learning new languages fast. English names were proposed (Pancake, Donut, Bottle, Peanut). But we didn't want the poor little prince to feel too uprooted, so we have been searching for a name with some local flavor, and yet one that could also be pronounced by non-Arabic-speakers. Extensive focus group testing eliminated each of my bright ideas and several suggestions from friends, one by one (Hamoud, Selecto, Bouloulou, Chikour, Wai Wai, Pacha, Bardo, Touri, Bologhine, Camoun) until only one remained.

Today we named him Bourek, after the traditional North African version of the spring roll.

My sister Maggie, however, will always be Puppy to me.

Bourek, still portable size.
Girl's best friend.


Anonymous said...

what a Beautiful name, is he eatable though!! lol, a fantastic story that was worth sharing with us, hope this will raise awareness in Algeria to help other street animals who are less fortunate than Bourek, he must be a very lucky dog, and I hope that he will make you happy, I my self want to have another one but its so difficult for me after loosing Foster a rhodesian ridgeback, he was my best friend ever he was a monster though after only 18 months, he was put down by the vet due to he's incurable illness that was common in this type of breed.

Lindsay said...

Such a sweet story! Congrats on the new member of your family. Rescues are the best breed--they aren't just a dog, they really become your fur baby.

Unknown said...

Andrew, nice you realized that once in awhile I can be right! Give Bourek a hug from me. He looks tres cute!! With love, your 'mercilessly practical' mom

Unknown said...

Hey hey bourek :* love u

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