The story begins back in May 2008 when I was introduced to Maza by the local vet who had brought her over in the hope that we might consider adopting her…
We were a happy family of 5; My husband, myself, my teenage son, my cat of 15 years, and my husband’s 9-month old Posavec puppy, not to mention our extended family of 5, who live below us on the same property.
It was late spring and we were looking forward to another bright summer season ahead. But the future was not looking so bright for the homeless mutt called Maza...
Maza, who was about a year old when we were introduced, was a street dog from Stari Grad. She had no home of her own, no family to love and protect or be loved and protected by, no safe space to curl up in at night, no guarantee of any meal on any given day… she was at the mercy of life itself and the residents of the sleepy little town who sometimes took pity on her and fed her scraps or offered the odd belly rub, so long as she caused no trouble.
Luckily for her, Maza is a smart dog. She knows how to run away from trouble or avoid it all together. If she sees a big dog or large, menacing looking person walking down the road her way, she ducks into an alley or backtracks into the shadows till the perceived danger has passed.
Being a street dog, she somehow knew that if she kept a low profile, if she didn’t bark, didn’t growl and rolled into a submissive pose whenever someone wanted to touch her, she would be regarded as unthreatening and perhaps even a loveable… and thus she roamed the streets of Stari Grad, feeding on the compassionate handouts of its many restaurant owners, tourists and locals, alike.
Maza was everyone’s dog, yet no one wanted (or had the means) to take her in. Even the local vet had a soft spot for Maza and would have adopted her, had her landlady not protested that Maza was digging up her precious flowerbeds and therefore could not stay with the vet in the rented flat on her property!
But there were bigger problems on the horizon for homeless Maza; namely, the tourist season would soon be well underway and no one wanted a stray dog wandering the streets unaccounted for. On top of that, there was also a rumor going around that Maza had attacked some chickens, which apparently is punishable by death; the local residents started threatening that they would rid the town of Maza if the vet didn’t find a solution for the dog’s placement soon… that’s were we came into the picture.
Zorica the vet, who had become a dear friend of mine as a result of my many visits to her office to care for my cat and my husband’s dog, recognized me to be an avid animal-lover beyond compare, and asked me whether I would adopt Maza.
I asked her to bring Maza around to our place, where she played joyfully with Lola (digging holes in our garden) and I was immediately hooked on the charm of her kind, playful and easily adjustable disposition, quite like my own.
My husband, unfortunately, was less than persuaded by her charm and totally against the idea of having two dogs in the house. And so, Maza returned to Stari Grad the same homeless pup as she had arrived.
I was preoccupied by the thought of such a sweet dog out there with no home to call her own. After racking my brain, I remembered that a friend of ours had recently lost his old dog to illness. We asked him if he would consider adopting Maza and he agreed to meet her.
The very next day, Maza was shuttled-off to her new home at a family-operated restaurant by the sea. A happy ending for Maza, it seemed, and I was relieved!
That is, until I came to visit shortly after and discovered, much to my dismay, that Maza was as unhappy with the new arrangements as the new owners were with her!
Upon a bit of probing, I was told that Maza was “aggressive” and “disloyal”. These were the last adjectives I would have assigned to Maza and my heart broke from the realization that I had been responsible for misplacing this very sweet dog in a family where she was obviously misunderstood.
Though we were “regulars” at that restaurant, I could not bring myself to visit any longer, for each time I did, Maza would come sit by me with a longing in her eyes that read, “take her home.” That, or she would be tied up to a bench in the sun outside the restaurant “because she follows every girl and woman to the nearby beach and won’t come when we call her”… I just couldn’t see her like that… it was breaking my heart.
I discussed the case with my husband who didn’t want to get involved. We were a couple of several years at that point who had never argued before about anything; that is, until Maza’s safe and happy journey became part of my purpose, but my husband was not jumping on board this rescue mission.
A long, hot summer was nearly over when Lola was hit by a speeding car along the main road that connects the island. She died instantaneously. We were heart-broken.
A few weeks later, I was entering Milna, when lo and behold; Maza was strutting along the path, following a couple who were walking their dog on a lead.
I stopped the car, jumped out and called Maza’s name. She instantly recognized me and came running over, whining and wiggling merrily to see me. Without thinking, I picked her up and plopped her into our car. The couple came over to enquire whether she was my dog. “No,” I told them defensively, “but I know whose dog she is and I’m going to bring her home.” With that assurance, they left me to it.
I phoned my husband to report this curious and amazing but disturbing discovery. I wondered what Maza had been doing in Milna, very far away from the place she was supposed to be. My husband guessed that she had been given to our friend’s sister, who apparently lives there.
I exclaimed that that was not the agreement we had made with the owner. The deal was, if they didn’t want Maza, they would return her to us so we could find another home for her or we would keep her ourselves. Then I recalled how my husband had once said that if we didn’t have Lola, we could perhaps adopt Maza, and suddenly it was all clear… Maza would come home with me.
At that revelation, my husband told me not to bring her home. He wasn’t ready for another dog. He told me to bring her back to our friend. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maza and I were bound for Dol. This “chance meeting” was a sign and I decided to heed the call.
Upon arrival, we bumped into my husband’s father, a hunter and dog-lover (Dalmatian-style) with several dogs of his own, who immediately enquired about the new arrival. When I confessed that she was “my new dog” he replied that she was not worth anything and I should get rid of her.
“Well, just because she’s a mut and not a hunting dog doesn’t mean she’s not worth anything,” I thought to myself silently. And so we entered our upstairs apartment, where we greeted my husband unsurely, who told me in a low voice that I could keep her but he wouldn’t have anything to do with her care. “So be it,” I thought to myself, “I will care for her.” And then he added… “…And if she attacks my chickens, she’s gone.” Well, now was Maza’s chance to clear her name of the chicken-attacking reputation, I thought confidently to myself.
Later that afternoon, I decided to take Maza on a tour of her new property. She met my niece and nephew along the path and played a game of tag with them, patiently, gently, smartly, as if she had been doing this for years and years. My sister-in-law smiled at her and said, “What a good dog.” Ding!
Later that evening, Maza was sitting silently, peacefully beside my mother-in-law’s front door. She was coming in and out of the house yet Maza didn’t dare try to come in, nor did she bark or do any other kind of annoying thing the family’s hunting dogs might do if left unattended on the loose. “What a good dog,” she exclaimed while reaching down to pet her, “and what intelligent eyes, just like a person!” Ding, ding! 2 points in favor, ha!
Later on, my husband let the chickens out for their afternoon stroll through the property. Though Maza was safely inside with me by then, the front door had somehow been left open and Maza took advantage of the situation to go for further exploration on her own. After all, she was not used to being kept indoors so had the instinct to get out whenever possible.
Suddenly, there was a loud screeching sound. Something was attacking the chickens! I ran outside to the scene of the crime and screamed at what I saw – Maza biting a chicken! Maza let go of the chicken upon seeing me and it began to fly away. But instinct kicked in again and she was after the chicken in a split second.
“Maza, no!” I screamed and she dropped the chicken, who flew into a hole in the wall that led to our konoba, where it was now safe and sound though shocked and a bit ruffled up.
My father-in-law came out to see what the commotion was all about and I confessed what Maza had done and concluded that now she would have to go because my husband would not accept her after this.
To my great surprise, he comforted me with a huge smile. Now seeing that Maza had a natural hunting instinct, he proclaimed what a smart and good dog she was and that she would learn not to chase chickens… I shouldn’t fear. Did I just hear three dings???
Maza and I returned to our home, walking on eggshells… My husband simply said he would teach her the next day and then we would see... I wondered to myself what that meant, exactly?
The next day, my husband went up to the chicken pen to feed the chickens and Maza followed behind like a wolf on the prowl, though with a sliver of restraint in my husband’s commanding presence. At the first opportunity, she pounced on a poor frightened chicken and my husband shouted her name while regarding her sternly.
Now, that was the first time he had ever spoken to or looked at her directly. Maza plopped down on the ground, her head held low, in total submission and regret. The Alfa Male had acknowledged her and was setting the rules and she was ready to heed the warning to keep in line so that she would be accepted among our pack. And she never chased a chicken again!
Despite this obedience, it took my husband a few weeks to truly warm up to Maza… maybe it was even a few months. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like her. It’s just that he needed time to mourn the loss of our beloved Lola, the first dog he had ever had in the home, at my coaxing (not in a cage or tied to a lead outside on the property), the first dog who he had ever allowed to curl up on the sofa (at my heeding), or sleep in his lap (at his own heart’s beckoning); ever, in his life!
Maza didn’t demand that he love her like Lola. Accepting her was enough. And because of her keen, intuitive, emotional intelligence, because of her ability to learn quickly and never repeat mistakes, because of her quiet loyalty, gentle demeanor and obvious joyfulness in being accepted in a family of her own, Maza blossomed into a very fine dog.
Maza, who admittedly was a bit scruffy when we met, has even become beautiful over time, now holding her head high to show her broad chest and beautiful eyes, instead of low to the ground, eyes down. Her fur has become softer, finer. Her eyes reflect the essence of security and peace, rather than fear of the unknown and unexpected.
When a new puppy is introduced into “grandpa’s hunting pack”, and this has happened several times since we have had her, she plays the role of a wise and patient teacher to the new arrivals.
Through play, she has discovered her growling voice, a voice that took her years to find. Because she is kept free (we never tie her up as there is never any need) she realizes that she is in a different category of dog, and this gives her a playful confidence, which she never abuses though she might occasionally tease...
She has gained enough confidence in her being that she even sometimes issues a loud, repetitious bark accompanied by stark stance to unfamiliar dogs who happen to be passing, demanding they not come close to her family, her terrain… She’s the boss here and everyone knows it… behavior that the old “Maza” would never have displayed.
Maza even tags along occasionally during hunting expeditions, and has proven herself to be a quick and avid opponent to the illusive jackrabbit… go figure!
Anyone and everyone who loves dogs in our neighborhood knows and loves Maza. She is kindly regarded in Stari Grad, Jelsa, Milna, Vrboska, among other places where she frequents regularly with her human companions. She can always be relied upon to play, cuddle and keep good company and to ward off potential menacing trouble, when duty calls.
Maza has become the Alpha Canine Queen of our little section of Dol Sveta Ana and beloved in the lives of many. She has proven herself to be the best dog we have ever known.
© Evening Lategano 2014
Evening and husband Stipe run the Suncokret Body and Soul Retreat Hvar Island, which offers holistic yoga holiday adventures for individuals on a journey of personal transformation and seeking inspiration.