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Business goes to the dogs



MASERU – PART of Sesotho history from a book called Lesotho mehleng ea khale mentions that a much respected rain-maker and mentor of Moshoeshoe the Great paid his bride price with dogs.

For many Basotho this is a laughable story, not least because dogs rank very low in status among domestic animals in Lesotho.  A dog is not counted among the wealth a Mosotho man has, especially today when hunting is no longer a form of livelihood.

In fact, Basotho have an old saying that a good-for-nothing person ke ntja ea selahloa le boea (he is a dog that is thrown away together with its fur). However, with the passing of time and cultural exchanges with tourists and studying abroad, some Basotho have actually turned dogs into a business that generates cash.

One of those feeding from his dogs is 47-year-old Lehana Tšiunyana. When growing up in his home district of Qacha’s Nek, Tšiunyana did not know that he would end up keeping dogs for a living.

“During my childhood, we were keeping dogs just for security purposes at home and to guard cattle posts,” he said.

All that changed when he moved to Maseru in 2001.

“I realised that rearing and selling dogs was big business so I began to have a different approach towards dogs. I was now keeping them to generate income for my family,” he said.

He said he approached a local bank for a M80 000 loan, which he used to travel to South Africa to buy three puppies – two bitches and a stud. The puppies were just two months old. Because of the experience he has garnered over the years, he went for the Neapolitan mastiff breed.

The Neapolitan Mastiff or Mastino Napoletano is an Italian breed. It descends from the traditional guard dogs of central Italy. It was recognised as a breed by the Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiana in 1949, and accepted by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in 1956.

Neapolitan Mastiffs are among the biggest dog breeds in the world and are easily identified by their facial wrinkles and skin folds. These powerful dogs have rectangular-shaped bodies. Their eyes are blue when they are born, but they later darken to amber or brown.

The dogs carry their tails up and over the back. Neapolitan Mastiffs have large, round feet and a short, dense coat. Coat colours include black, blue, mahogany and tawny, and the dogs may have brindle markings.

Tšiunyana says the breed has qualities such as big heads and mouths. This dog lover said the bank loan covered everything including transport. After a year, his dogs gave birth to nine puppies and he sold seven of them for M10 000 each.

This is the market price for a fattened bull slaughtered for a funeral ceremony. Tšiunyana’s pockets were literally bulging with cash after he sold the puppies. Since then, he never stopped keeping the dogs and he worked hard to expand the business.

“This business is sophisticated… a person who is not in it or who is not a dog lover cannot succeed,” said Tšiunyana, adding that he hasn’t gone through any formal training.

“That has not stopped me. I have learnt how to care for them. I cannot sleep without examining them,” he said, adding that even if he arrives home at night he makes sure to check on his puppies.

He maintains that the dogs have to be vaccinated and cleaned so that they do not contract diseases. Tšiunyana says his business is thriving but he has to inject more capital to keep it running.

He says the cheapest puppy can be sold for as much as M5 000. He says he sells the puppies after two months from birth.

“At that time, the puppies are ready for the market and would not pose any difficulties to the person who has bought them,” said Tšiunyana, attributing the success of his business to his love for the animals.

“Failure to take care of these animals would lead to their demise. For my dogs to grow healthy, they need healthy foods so I have a fridge fully packed with meat for my dogs,” Tšiunyana says.

He says he needs a bigger piece of land to enable him to expand his business. His customers range from individuals to institutions, although most customers come from the mountains where people have to rear dogs to guard their livestock.

“The people in the highlands need dogs for security to guard their livestock in the cattle posts. The dogs which are kept at the cattle posts are usually fed some herbs to make them wild. Going to cattle posts unannounced could spell serious danger for the visitors,” said Tšiunyana.

As part of the exercise, the dogs are given raw meat to make them grow wild and defensive at the cattle posts.

“Most of my customers were trading using the barter system when they wanted dogs in exchange for sheep but many people now know about my business,” Tšiunyana says.

He says he used to market his business on Facebook but now people come to his place to place their orders. To make it easy for his customers, Tšiunyana says he delivers dogs countrywide. He says he charges M10 000 for his stud to mate with other people’s bitches.

“This business is helping me put bread on the table and send my children to school,” he said.

Majara Molupe

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