Cape Town - The memory of the world’s most-travelled dog has been carried in spirit to near the top of the world, with a Capetonian in hot pursuit.
Cape Argus readers may remember Oscar, the dog that was adopted from the Cape of Good Hope SPCA. A mixed breed of Alsation, Corgi, Basset hound and Cocker Spaniel, Oscar had been just one day away from being put down when he was rescued in 2004, by Capetonian Joanne Lefson.
In 2009, Oscar became the only dog to travel around the world in style. He and Lefson travelled to 32 countries altogether on their official “World Woof Tour”, and at least six more countries besides, as they highlighted the plight of the estimated 375 million homeless dogs in the world and inspired people to choose adoption when looking for a new furry friend.
“Expedition Mutt Everest” was originally to have been Oscar’s final voyage, to lay down some prayer flags, and ask the gods to bestow upon all his homeless friends on earth below a loving home of their own.
But Oscar was killed in a car accident in California in January - aged nine human years, and the Everest dream died.
Months later, Lefson was at a Northern Indian dumpsite in the Himalayan village of Leh, at a donkey sanctuary she had set up in the region five years earlier, when a new mutt-shaped fur-ball charged into her world.
This dog came running for me and collapsed at my feet - a puppy on his last legs,” she explained.
“The puppy couldn’t have been in a lower place. The little fellow had heart, I could tell that, but he was so weak having no food or water for days - if not weeks. How could I possible turn away? I took him in, fed him and found temporary shelter, but it was only later after returning to South Africa that I wondered if there was some deeper karmic connection in the events that happened. Dogs up here are afraid of people - but this one ran to me with a purpose. Perhaps Oscar had sent him to me to stop my tears.”
She adopted Rupee and thus began their travels.
And now Rupee has become the first mutt to lead a canine expedition to Everest Base Camp.
After eight-and-a-half days, facing snow delays, rainstorms, mudslides and a yak attack en route, Rupee and Lefson reached Base Camp, before a galloping three-and-a-half-days back down. Lefson reported: “The most difficult part of the planning wasn’t so much all Rupee’s paperwork - although a nightmare at times too - but, rather, my greatest concern was wondering if he could actually make it to the top.
“In fact preparing for the worst, I arranged for an extra porter just in case Rupee needed to hitch a ride.”
A memorable part of the trek was seeing Rupee touch and walk on snow for the first time, playing, chasing and chewing it at every opportunity, laughs Lefson. Another favourite was biting the porters’ shoes as they passed on the narrow paths, as well as chasing all the village children’s toes.
“There were many, many tourists climbing the mountain and so many of them couldn’t believe that a dog was heading to Base Camp - almost jealous that they didn't have their best friend alongside for the ‘walkies’ too,” Lefson said.
The team summited Base Camp on October 26 and a pair of embroidered prayer flags were tied, “with the wish that the gods above will bestow a home on all the homeless dogs below”.
“The trek to the top of the world was done in Oscar’s honour,” said an emotional Lefson.
“Oscar gave a face to the masses and made us realise that even when just one dog is adopted, we may not change the world, but it will change the world for that animal forever. Rupee is an extension of Oscar’s legacy, a fine example of what can be achieved if a dog is given a second chance”.