Book Review: The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
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Every once in a while, if you are lucky, you run across a book that you just LOVE. I know, we can count these books on one hand. I read hundreds of books a year (many of them travel guides and books for Wandering Educators). They are all wonderful, and I would never recommend a book on this site if I didn't like it - and think that our readers would like it, as well. But back to this particular book...written by a dear friend of mine, Winfred Peppinck. I love his correspondence and look forward to each email, knowing I will laugh, and learn, and be happy. He is the Tales of the Travelling Editor on our site, sharing his travel stories, often humorous, always insightful. But I was still surprised when I read (devoured, actually), one of his many books, The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados.

The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados is a joy to read - full of life on the Island of Barbados, intercultural snapshots, stories of the diplomatic life, and, most importantly, the great love of a family. Rescued as a young, abused pup, the cane dog who was eventually named the Diplomatic Dog came to enjoy a life of great joy and security. He grew into such confidence and happiness that it just makes the reader smile.

 

Diplomatic Dog of Barbados - Winfred Peppinck

 

The book is quite humorous, and I was often laughing aloud at the images of DD swimming, running, chasing monkeys, and of course playing. The book also portrays a first-hand glimpse into the diplomatic life. Winfred was the Australian High Commissioner to the Caribbean, and shows us a bit of the challenges and daily life - and the perks - of the job. It was quite interesting to read of the political issues of location, parties, famous people - and then relax with Winfred and Miss Wendy - and DD and Miss Lucy - when the curtain closed on the day and it was just family.

 

Diplomatic Dog of Barbados - Winfred Peppinck

 

In spite of the glamour of the job, and the truly beautiful Molyneux House, and the gorgeousness of Barbados, what sticks with the reader in the end is the classic relationship of man and dog, best friends. I can think of no greater tribute to this relationship than this travel memoir/family story, in which DD was TRULY loved, in a family, and shared with the world. I am grateful to have read the book and gotten to know DD - and am SO happy to share it with our Wandering Educators!

 

We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Winfred, about his book, diplomatic life, and of course, DD. Here's what he had to say...

 

 

WE: Please tell us about your book, the Diplomatic Dog of Barbardos...

WP: From 2001-2004, I was the Australian High Commissioner/Ambassador to the Caribbean, based on the beautiful island of Barbados. My partner, Wendy, and I lived in a magnificent house, set on a few acres of land, surrounded by the prestigious Sandy Lane Golf Course with views down to the Caribbean Sea. Wendy wanted to get a dog, and having had a pedigreed one during her previous marriage, she sought another German Short-Haired Pointer. I persuaded her that we should instead get a rescue dog which needed a home. She therefore found a Barbados 'cane dog' (a mongrel born in the sugar-cane fields of Barbados) which had been caught on one of the famous beaches, and had spent over a year in the Rescue Shelter because he was labelled "aggressive". We think that he bit people largely because he had been abused and stoned as a puppy.  The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados is therefore the story of how this outcast was brought from the junk-yard to mix with the jet-set who were a part of diplomatic life in the Caribbean. It is an anecdotal, quirky and funny-in-parts story of Diplomatic Dog (DD for short) who lived a sort of a male, canine Eliza Doolittle life, hiding and scavenging for a living, then suddenly finding shelter, food and love in abundance, on one of the most beautiful islands on earth. When we finished our assignment in the Caribbean, DD came with us to Bahrain, in the Middle East, where he lived a number of years before cancer took him away. It was a great sadness to us both that we were never able to take him to Australia as we had promised him. He would have liked it there, the bush and the deserted beaches.

 

 

WE: What was the genesis of this book?

WP: In Bahrain, the summers are extreme with the temperature often up around 5o degrees centigrade. It is a time when everyone stays indoors. I had read the reviews of Marley and Me and thought “Why not tell DD’s story, it is interesting to tell his rags to riches tale.” I have always enjoyed writing, although initially my focus had been on short, humorous stories about places that I have visited, with a lot of Aussie self-deprecation and irony thrown in. So The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados would be different. I wanted to write DD’s story because there must be so many ‘pooches’ out there, who are just aching to give something back for the love and attention that they so unexpectedly receive when someone takes them in. It is a ‘good news’ story. So the book just evolved over a period of about six months and I was thrilled when a publisher took it on. DD started life as a below stairs mutt, but look how he turned out!  How many stray dogs can say that they have a book about themselves in the British Library!? He came to the book launch in Bahrain, which itself was quite a feat in a Muslim country, and sat dutifully besides me while I signed books, and he and Miss Wendy posed for photos. I think he was quite chuffed.  

 

Diplomatic Dog of Barbados - Winfred Peppinck

 

 

 

 

WE: You've had some incredible experiences in Barbados - can you please share some of your diplomatic experiences with us?

WP: Diplomatic life, the chance to represent your country overseas, is like being at the Olympics every day of your life. It is not always easy, and is not a life for the culturally and socially timid, but it is often a chance to travel and live in a country (at someone else’s expense!), to have new cultural experiences and learning, and always be able to meet with interesting people. The ‘cocktail circuit’ has been glamorized by Hollywood, but indeed, sometimes it is like that, drinks beside the pool, talking with actors, songwriters, politicians, business-people and union leaders one night, and being out in the villages and the countryside the next day, looking at assistance projects, speaking at schools or community centres, or just establishing networks of contacts whose information and activities may be beneficial to bilateral or multi-lateral relations. There is, of course, a lot of hard slog, you sometimes feel the pangs of those who might oppose your country’s policies (and in some countries that puts you in real danger), but the work is always varied and interesting. I have been lucky enough to have met with kings and princes, presidents and prime ministers, statesmen and women, generals and witch-doctors, as well as with huge numbers of what we cast as “ordinary citizens” in over 90 countries, stayed in state guest-houses and luxury hotels, travelled at the pointy-end of the plane. My life has been made infinitely richer by all those experiences.

 

 

WE: You and your wife have been tireless in promoting and helping animal rights. Is this a cultural issue, where some cultures don't value animal life as much as others?

WP: While I have always loved pets, Wendy is the one who has had the real rescue zeal. She will tell you that “The only good cat is a flat cat”, but don’t believe a word of it. As soon as she sees a wayward pet, she instantly wants to rescue it, and both in Barbados and Bahrain she has been a tireless worker for animal shelters. I have seen her crawling through animal muck (and my wife is one sophisticated, glamorous lady, let me tell you!) to rescue young puppies, endure bites and scratches, get up every two hours to bottle feed kittens, and berate people who throw stones at dogs. In the case of animals, she knows no fears. Yes, in part ill-treatment is sometimes culturally driven, but mostly it is a matter of people not being ‘educated’ to like animals. Here, I feel, governments have a crucial role. Dogs become aggressive because people try to hurt them, subject them to enormous cruelties, or throw things at them and therefore the belief that all dogs bite, becomes self perpetuating. So dogs gather in packs and breed wantonly, cats too, and ‘capture, neuter and release programs’ simply cannot be left to concerned citizens. It is a social issue and sometimes a health issue, and governments need to play a more active community role, and teach the benefits to the community of good pet management by starting with kids education about animals while they are still in the primary schools. Here in Bahrain, many people think that dogs are dirty and throw rocks at them almost as a reflex response, even the youngest children. Yet the Muslim holy book, the Koran, teaches people to be tolerant of all living things, and that includes animals. We are often struck by the children we meet while walking our dogs, who are fearful, but at the same time, enormously curious too, and if coaxed to pat our dogs, why their smile lights up the whole country. People slow their cars just to look at the dogs, as though we are walking lions! Education and positive exposure are essential, in my mind, to change attitudes.

 

 

WE:  What is your favorite memory of DD?

WP: I think that the greeting we got whenever we came home. His whole body shook, and he did figure eights of happiness. It is a joy that we will never forget. Wendy always used to bring back ‘fluffy toys’ after every trip, and we learned to put them on the top of the suitcase, because he would rummage through the suitcase till he found them, and then he ran off as chuffed as if he had just found a missionary for putting in the pot! He was found at the beach, and he always loved swimming, which he did as effortlessly as Michael Phelps, and in Barbados, he spent ages trying to catch the green velvert monkeys which scattered before his charge towards our mango tree, and then sat high above him jabbering away in monkenese with DD tilting his head one way then the other to catch what they were saying. And always we will remember him when we were reading. He would come and sit beside us, look up and say, “Stroke my head, please”. And if you stopped, there was a fore-paw jab as compelling as anything Rocky Marciano might have thrown. He had a way of commanding your attention!

 

 

WE: Anything else you would like to tell us?

WP: Never regret the time you put in with a dog, because it will be rewarded ten fold. Over the years that we had DD, I lost much of my hair, I slowed down, became more paunchy, and I daresay irritable as befits age and growing girth, but as soon as we came home, even if we had only been away for an hour, it was as if we were Oscar winners and DD and Miss Lucy (Our other Barbados rescue dog) were paparazzi. Or we were treated as though we had just returned from a year’s journey to the South Pole. Our dogs were loyalty and companionship personified, and I feel that every child, and every home, should have one! DD was irreplaceable, but a few months after he died, Wendy rescued another tick-infested Bahraini dog, a frightened little black and white mongrel, which she simply could not turn away. We called him Harry Lime after the Orson Welles character indisputably the best black and white film ever made, The Third Man. He carries DD’s mantle lightly, and despite being much younger than Lucy, is very much the ‘top dog’. Such is the way of youth! We hope, that in time, he makes the journey with us to Australia. The journey, we had always hoped, that DD would make.

 

Diplomatic Dog of Barbados - Winfred Peppinck

 

WE: Thank you so Very Much, Winfred, for sharing these wonderful memories with us. I have recommended your book to just about everyone I know - it is THAT GOOD.

 

All photos courtesy and copyright of Winfred Peppinck

Comments (1)

  • monacake

    11 years 7 months ago

    what wonderful story! it's so nice to know that there are other people out there who have a fierce belief in the rights of animals. thanks for turning us on to this book, jessie.

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