"Don't get a dog if you're going to live in the African bush," Mitch warned Steve and Anna as they sat in the shade of their gazebo overlooking the Luangwa River. "Several years ago, some friends of mine lost a dog to a leopard. Snatched him right off the porch." Mitch looked to the river, where a crocodile was crawling onto a sandbar. "I've run safaris for nearly forty years in the Luangwa Valley. I've never seen a pet survive here beyond a few months." He gestured at the hippo pod mid-river, grumbling in the steam-bath heat. "Need I remind you?" He grinned his crooked smile. "There's tons of risks for a dog in the Zambian bush."
"Anna and I know a few things about risks," Steve said with a wink at Anna as she poured tea into tin cups. The two smiled as they glanced over at their African-style house, fifty yards from the gazebo. It was a one-room circular rondavel, made of wood and straw with a thatched roof. It rested like a huge dried-up cupcake under a wild mango tree. Inside, a kerosene refrigerator sweated to keep perishable food cold, an old propane stove smoked their meals, and a shower rained river water behind a wicker screen. Cobras slithered inside when they forgot to close the door. Scorpions dropped onto the mosquito net over their bed. Lions' roars rattled the reed walls. But despite the risks, Steve and Anna loved life in Zambia's untamed South Luangwa Valley. They were living their dream.
"Nevertheless," Mitch continued, "this is no place for a dog."
"Oh now, Mitch," Anna persisted. "Didn't you just say that there were puppies for sale at the old crocodile farm?"
"You really are determined, aren't you?" Mitch shook his head and brushed back his long white hair.
"When Anna makes up her mind, there's no turning back." Steve laughed. "Why else do you think we left England to live here?"
"Okay, if you must know. Yesterday I saw Hank at the croc farm. There were five pups in the litter. Four are sold, but nobody wants the last one. His father was a Jack Russell. Terriers are usually full of energy and bouncing off the walls. But this one is unresponsive. Too quiet. Its legs are too long and it has a pointy face. You should look around for a different dog."
Anna thought for a moment. "Why should we look further?" She sat back in her canvas chair, folded her arms, and narrowed her eyes at Mitch. "Sounds to me like this dog is different."
"Well, I guess in a way he is." Mitch shrugged. "Look, if you get the dog, you must know this. Owning one will bring you nothing but heartache. Sooner or later he will get bitten by a tsetse fly and be infected with the trypanosome parasite. It causes sleeping sickness. Most wild animals are immune. But the disease is the number one killer of domestic animals in Africa." He reached for the teapot. "And keep your eye on him. After all, he's part terrier. If he goes chasing after something in the bush ... he may get eaten."
Like a drunken rhino, the Land Rover swayed between holes and ruts on the muddy road. It was November, the beginning of the rainy season. Steve and Anna turned onto a narrow track lined with a carpet of sprouting grass. A faded crocodile farm sign peeked through the green brush. The old cement pools and tanks that once held crocodiles were now cracked with weeds and roots. The creatures had been raised there for their skins until the business, like the crocs, went belly up. The grounds were now being converted into lodging facilities for tourists. African workers on ladders were thatching new roofs for the cottages.
Steve parked the Land Rover beside a single-story house with a red tin roof. Hank, a stocky man in baggy shorts, stepped off the porch to greet them. "Sorry, my friends. We're fresh out of flat dogs!" he joked, flat dogs being the Zambian nickname for crocs.
Anna laughed as she and Steve climbed out of the truck. "We came to look at a real dog, actually."
"Only one left," said Hank. "A male. Come have a look."
Hank led them inside. He opened the door to a dimly lit room and pulled back a burlap curtain at the window. "Well, here he is." On the floor was an old cardboard box lined with a white blanket. As their eyes adjusted to the light, a brown patch appeared on the blanket framing the head of a white puppy. The dog was curled up on his side, sleeping. The single brown spot on his back looked like it had dropped from a paintbrush. "He's so little,"Anna said softly as she carefully picked him up and cradled him in her arms. Steve looked at him closely. "There's something about his face. It's so familiar. I can't quite place it."
Anna glanced at Steve, who was now grinning at her. She smiled back. "Hank, I think we'll take him," she said. "How much do we owe you?"
"Dinner at your place--all I can eat. I'll get you a fresh box to take him home in."
"That won't be necessary." Anna cuddled the puppy close to her chest. "I brought Marty's bed."
"Marty?" said Hank. "An old friend we had to leave behind in England," Anna answered in a thin voice.
"Oh, I see." Hank nodded, understanding. "A very dear old friend, I'm sure." From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Bulu: African Wonder Dog by Dick Houston. Copyright © 2010 by Dick Houston. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.