BORN BUENOS AIRES, DATE UNKNOWN. DIED MADRID, FEB 23, 2021
Anuka was the name she was given by Terrie Orr, the Buenos Aires hairdresser who first fostered her – a skinny but greedy black street dog with beautiful amber eyes, snatched up from a park to be cleaned, fed, sterlilised, and homed by one of that city’s many charities for stray animals. The workers there had called her Lola, a local slang term for boobs, because she’d recently had pups and was a bit swollen in that area. Later, she was also known as La Porteña, a customary nickname for female residents of the Argentine capital – one of the great river ports of the southern hemisphere, from which that little itinerant mutt would go on to travel the world.
Details of her early life are sketchy to non-existent. There were stories of a security guard at an apartment building who used to feed her every night when she came out of nowhere to visit him – her lifelong affection for humans was always difficult to separate from her literally dogged insistence that all our food must be shared, surrendered, or stolen. She had also eaten so badly while living rough that her teeth were in a woeful state, which made it difficult for veterinarians to guess her age. For all they knew, she might have been as old as the Pharoahs. She might have been the original model for one of the dogs painted on the walls in Patagonia’s Cave of Hands.
A later canine DNA test, conducted out of curiosity, revealed a rich and murky heritage that included trusty breeds like Jack Russell and Italian greyhound, and relatively uncommon ones like Cane Corso and Catahoula Leopard Dog. Truth be told, she also exhibited certain spectral characteristics of bat, goat, and weasel.
Permanently adopted by Stephen and Anna, an Irish-Scottish couple recently arrived in Argentina, she bonded quickly and deeply without ever losing a certain essential wildness. She loved to wrestle as much as to snuggle. She appreciated good-quality pet food but would also gobble down any decomposing matter that she sniffed in the street, causing her new “owners” multiple headaches by way of ingested rubbish or chicken bones.
She lunged irritably and unpredictably at pigeons, joggers, skateboarders, and Segway-riders (in the latter case this always seemed justified). On her first sight of the sea at a South Atlantic beach, she raided the contents of a fisherman’s bait box. On another shameful occasion she grabbed an entire baguette from a homeless woman who had offered her a just a piece of it.
When the couple came to leave Argentina they could not do so without her, so she travelled to London in the hold of a BA passenger jet, on one of the world’s longest intercontinental flight routes. In the hectic period that followed she saw Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, the Scottish Highlands in the depths of winter (where she developed a dislike of snow and an outraged hostility toward sheep), and the finest pubs in Glasgow, including the beloved Laurieston, where the owners offered her “biscuits” that turned out to be a full dog bowl of McVitie’s Digestives.
Relocated again to a new home in Madrid, she was happier to be back in the sun, and became a familiar sight in the city’s historic centre – walking almost every day through Plaza Mayor or the Royal Palace, past the former home of Miguel de Cervantes, and deep into Retiro Park to glare and bark at the ducks. On summer holidays, she got to camp on the Basque coast by San Sebastian, high in the Pyreenees, in the woods and fields of the French countryside. In winter she got to run on windy Mediterranean beaches.
Not knowing how old she was, her human guardians could never be sure how much time they might have together – Anuka was always somewhat grizzled, but also unflaggingly fast and goofy. Thinking maybe they might get two years, or five, they got almost nine in the end. Nearly a decade of unadulterated love, fun, and joy. And while they might have feared her getting jealous or outright pissed off at the arrival of baby Saoirse in 2018, Anuka was patient and gentle with her too, while the growing little girl came to ask for her first thing every morning.
That ending was fairly abrupt when it came, but still allowed enough time for treats and tender goodbyes. A little discomfort, but not much pain and no real suffering. Always a tough one, a perra de la calle, she devoured her last piece of roast chicken and went quietly to sleep. The family she leaves behind is now wracked with grief of course, but consoled by so many happy memories, their lives enriched by her friendship. There is also the obscure thought of Anuka’s pups and grandpups out there somewhere in South America. Perhaps they have inherited her hilarious quirks and wild affections. This writer, her daily companion, is thinking now through his own tears that at least one of those doggy descendents must have her same bright and glowing yellow eyes, which surely carry within them something of Anuka’s prehistoric fire.