My mother was speaking to a friend of ours saying something like “thanks for taking Cocoa and good luck with him” when there was an uproar that could be heard for three blocks at least. Cocoa had broken loose and leaped over the very high fence surrounding our friend’s house in a single bound and was tearing straight toward the neighbor’s absolutely massive canine. We both assumed that Cocoa’s fate was A) to be torn to pieces by the neighbor’s dog, B) to become bosom pals with the neighbor’s dog C) to be shot by the neighbour’s security guard. I don’t recall what Cocoa’s fate actually was, which, like his life, was completely uncertain, wild and out of control. Whatever his destiny, this was to be the last time any of us ever saw Cocoa.
Cocoa, in case you haven’t guessed, was a dog we once owned in Zambia, Africa. We were never quite certain what breed of dog he was, although we all suspected he had some jackal in him and would have survived quite readily in the Serengeti. Myself, I always wondered whether he was part wild dog and warthog.
Cocoa’s greatest and most notorious feat occurred after we had had him for about two years. We had been having a backyard barbecue along with some friends of ours. According to my Dad, there were no fewer than five steaks on the barbecue, sizzling away and being prepared for our grand feast. In fact, I never actually saw this notorious incident, but I sure heard about it. My Dad claims that he took his eye off the barbecue for a few moments, perhaps conversing with our friends. At that moment, Cocoa made his move. According to my Dad, within seconds, Cocoa had snatched and devoured no fewer than four of the steaks right off the barbecue and escaped, still gulping them down. I am certain that on that day, Cocoa broke the Guinness Book of World Records for speed in eating four steaks. Three seconds. Impossible? Not for Cocoa.
By the second month of his life, Cocoa had a mirror image, Jackie. Jackie was a female and part German shepherd. The difference between Cocoa and Jackie can be illustrated by their behavior at suppertime. When supper was late, as in ten seconds, Cocoa would run inside and literally slam the door and skitter down the tiled floor, slipping and sliding into all the furniture. Nobody knew how he was able to open the door. Jackie, on the other hand, always waited patiently until someone opened the door to let her in. As for the dinner itself, it was quite the spectacle. Once the food was placed in the bowls, Cocoa would gulp down his in less than three seconds. Next, still chocking and wolfing down his share, Cocoa would go for Jackie’s bowl. My Dad, however, was ready with the broom. Cocoa, undeterred, however, would continue his assault on Jackie’s bowl, and more often than not, scarf some of Jackie’s dinner by dodging the broom. Jackie was a slow, dainty eater who seemed to enjoy the taste of her food. Cocoa, on the other hand, would wolf down his food so quickly that he practically ate the bowl too. One day, as a joke, we gave Cocoa some snow. Of course, he immediately ate it. Another day I witnessed for myself Cocoa’s mastery over Jackie. Jackie had done something good, as was her nature, and my mother gave her a piece of bread as a reward. I watched Jackie take the bread and try to bury it in the yard. Cocoa, however, had other ideas. He ran circles around Jackie, nipping her slightly and trying to distract and agitate her. Jackie would nip back, and chase Cocoa for a short time, then return to guard the bread. Cocoa, however, was relentless. He attacked, withdrew, attacked and withdrew over and over again, always trying to lure Jackie further away from the bread. At last, Cocoa made a wild rush straight for the bread, snagged it, and was off like a tornado with his prize. Jackie, exhausted, just sat down and lay on the grass in disbelief. Cocoa had won.
Early in Cocoa’s life, we learned of his shocking and dangerous hobby: chasing buses. This habit became so commonplace that we all assumed that Cocoa was destined to be seriously injured or killed on an almost daily basis. Somehow, however, he always survived. Our house had a tall, thick brick wall surrounding it for security reasons, but Cocoa always somehow got out anyways. Nothing could hold that dog. I never actually saw him do it, but he must have jumped the wall or slipped through the front gate somehow. When a bus passed by our house, he would be off and would escape out onto the street. You always heard the commotion, the cursing, the incessant barking, the sound of horns, and sometimes the squealing of brakes. Cocoa liked to nip at their tires. We all quickly concluded that Cocoa was insane. The bus drivers and passengers all thought so, anyways. Myself, I always thought that Cocoa saw the buses as invading his sacred territory. Buses were the enemy, and Cocoa always got the last word. I never saw it with my own eyes, but wondered if some of the buses' tires ever had teeth marks on them.
Almost from the day we made Cocoa part of our family, we discovered that this little dog’s life revolved around one thing: food. In fact, we all believed that Cocoa was always on the verge of starvation. The speed that this little puppy was able to finish his food was simply astonishing. In addition, we learned that Cocoa was slightly neurotic. He had a habit of running in circles and tearing around the yard like a thing possessed. If you played catch with him, he would never return the ball. He would roar around the yard until you were tired out and quit. I often thought that if we had entered Cocoa in some kind of international dog race, he wouldn't have just chased the rabbit, he would have caught it and devoured it faster than you could blink an eye.
It was around our second week in Zambia that my Dad and my brother came home with a cute little brown fur ball from the local vet. How we had admired and gawked at him! What a cute little innocent puppy dog! We decided to call him Cocoa. Little did we know that that this was to be the beginning of a reign of terror for the ages.