Out of Africa

Meet black labrador Mtoto, Swahili for “baby”, who was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013 and now shares his Lecce home with a handful of peacocks, half a dozen rabbits and a couple of turtles.
“I only like animals that don’t get on your nerves”, says the Grandma in the house, but Mtoto, short Totò, never created any problems whatsoever. Michele and Manù who brought him home from Kenya, are telling his story together, both a bit proud of what the little puppy from Africa grew into: the kindest soul on earth

Dear Michele, you live and work in Brussels these days. Would you like to tell us a bit more about you and your family?
Sure, I was born in 1970 in Bangkok and have spent a life time abroad. I am a diplomat for the European Union and have served in several postings in the Middle East and Africa. My roots and my better half are from Puglia.  Manù and I have two children Angela, 12, and Marino, 9, who are both big animal and nature lovers. Mtoto (in Swahili: baby) is our black Labrador who was born in May 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya. Family & friends usually Italianize his name calling him Totó, the nickname of the famous Neapolitan comedian of the 1950-60s. 

Where did you meet?
We were looking for a dog for our new born child, Angela. I grew up with well bred hunting dogs, and labradors are known to be mild tempered and child loving. We were posted in Nairobi and it was not easy to find purebred labs in Kenya. During one of our walks in  the beautiful Karura forest, in the outskirts of Nairobi, Manù and I met a couple with some lovely labradors and they pointed us towards a family that bred chocolate and black labradors of Kenyan and Canadian stock, with an excellent bloodline. We went to see the new born pups with our toddler Angela who chose the most playful male, Mtoto.

What’s so amazing about your dog?
Mtoto’s capacities to understand human contact. All he needs is a gaze and to hear the the tone of voice. He will know immediately those that friends or foes and what is expected from him.

How would you describe your relationship?
A strong bond, even though I personally see him seldomly due to travels and work abroad, he is always joyful and affectionate to our family when we interact with him, accompanying us to the gate and waiting for our arrival. In a nutshell, he is a very loyal member of the family.

Do you know about his secret passions?
He enjoys accompanying us on our daily activities since our time in Kenya where immediately jumped beneath the driver side seat when I opened the door. It was funny when we moved him to Italy where cars are built for right hand-driving compared to Kenya’s left hand driving and he continued to jump from the front left door and crouched under the driver seat. We have since trained him to jump on the back of our hatchback as soon it opens. He loved walking in parks in Kenya with the children where he chased birds, monkeys and explored the woods. In Italy, we occasionally take him to the beach, although for a Labrador he is not a big swimmer. Last but not least: His not so secret passion is…. food!! He eats everything including figs and often we find him sniffing around our kitchen for more food.

How do you “understand” each other?
Eye sight and tone of the voice.

What makes him listen no matter what?
Mtoto is a well mannered and owner trained dog. When I really need to stop him, a loud ‘Hey’ does marvels.

If your dog was a person – who would he be?
He is the knight of our ‘round table’ – much more like Galahad than Lancelot. Galahad was the favorite of King Arthur’s knight’s. Galahad was known as the “Perfect Knight” – perfect in courage, gentleness and courtesy.

Why do you love him?
He grew up with our children Angela and Marino, shared many of our own experiences and has taken on himself several of our traits and habits. Marino’s first word was not papà or mama but, to my shock, he said “Mtotó”!

Did your dog ever bring you closer to other people?

In Kenya when we walked through the neighboring farm and gorgeous Kenya High School campus next to our home we met many children shouring and running around Mtoto. In Italy, when we take him to the beach, he facilitates the best socializing with beach goers, especially those with dogs.

Where do you leave him when you have to go away for a couple of days?
He stays at home ‘controlling the territory’. There is someone that can feed and provide water to Mtoto and the other pets which are his friends including our cat that loves and plays with him and is called Jambo (“Hello” in Swahili)).

Is there anything that annoys you about him?
When he eats the food (especially bread) that we provide to our peacocks and other animals – that’s the only challenging time to manage him and he is already overweight!

What are your favourite things to do with him?
Playing, getting him in ‘hunting mood’ without game and retrieving balls.

Any dreams you’d like to come true with your dog?
Mtoto is getting old and we would like to see if he can become a father and take him on an adventurous family journey in some wilderness.

Is your dog part of the family and part of the household?
Mtoto is an integral part of the family and his ‘territory’ is the garden where he checks on everything that is happening. He enters the house occasionally and sleeps just outside our door under a porch. When we come back from travels and we leave our luggage outside, he loves to cuddle and sleep on any clothes we have left in the open bags, warming them up!

Any advice you would like to give to someone who wants to get a dog but can’t decide?
Choose a dog adaptable to your personality, household and expectations; they will grow and learn with you and will always give at least the same love that you have given to them and be much more then a friend as they will not want to ever disappoint you.


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