Jarrel De Matas

Jarrel De Matas

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

—Miss Maudie,

To Kill a Mockingbird

If I were to amend the famous quote from Harper Lee’s classic novel to suit my purpose for writing this column, it would say: dogs don’t do anything but love us, that’s why it’s a sin to give them away.

Communities nationwide are struggling with an insidious problem—an overburdened stray animal population. It’s been paradoxically exacerbated by Covid-19 because as much as we’ve experienced a “pandemic puppy” boom, the gradual easing of restrictions sees the pets we once relied on to keep us company and help us stay sane now being returned—or worse, discarded.

Last July, when my partner’s mother passed away, among the many left to mourn her loss was a ten-year-old black and brown dachshund, Dante. He was a stubborn but faithful dog. I was reluctant at first to take in Dante. The very first time I met him, he growled at me, which all but confirmed my suspicion that we could not coexist under the same roof. But we did.

In September, we decided to provide care for Dante until he recovered from his own loss. Now, in July, Dante’s sudden death doesn’t only recall his owner’s passing last year, it also allows me to reflect on the life he gave me.

This column isn’t just unapologetically self-serving—as a writer and now previous dog owner, I’m hoping to come to terms with my grief and the realisation that I never got to say goodbye. All I am left with is the sound of Dante’s cry after being run over, and the sight of the last reflexive twitch of his tail.

My own feelings of rage, shock, denial and extreme sadness aside, maybe this column can also serve a greater purpose, that by describing the profound impact my dog’s life and death have on me, I hope to stir something inside of you—emotions that compel you to see animals as companions.

So, before you choose to cast your companion aside, consider again Lee’s quote that pets do nothing but love us. In my case, Dante also taught me invaluable lessons.

Dante taught me how to love unconditionally. His impatient barking to be fed on mornings demanded that I change my personal routine to accommodate his—and I didn’t mind.

He would rummage through our indoor bins to gnaw on whatever his small body could reach—I also didn’t mind. And I certainly didn’t mind him jumping on either the sofa or chair to sleep on my chest or lap when there was evidently more space for both us if he slept on the floor instead. I didn’t love Dante in spite of these quirks, I love him more because of it.

Dante taught me perseverance. His greying hair, 17-pound body and short legs didn’t prevent him from attempting to reach the coffee cup that we put on the desk after its initial place on the coffee table was too easily accessible. During his daily walks, Dante would always ensure I take the alternative route where the neighbour’s female dog lived, a dog much taller than he was—as most dogs were. The gate that separated them, although making Dante visibly frustrated, didn’t stop them from at least rubbing noses.

Dante taught me hope. He would wait patiently, expecting us to give him our pandemic-discovered homemade pizza, whining indefinitely until one of us cracked.

He became my shadow, following me around the house, and when I stopped he would look up at me as if expecting me to acknowledge him for the umpteenth time. Maybe he didn’t want to miss when I opened the door which would allow him to excitedly dash outside, his floppy ears making minor rotations as he ran.

Dante wasn’t quite a “pandemic puppy”, but the joy and companionship he brought was no less impactful. If you did get a puppy or dog to keep you company during the pandemic, understand there will come a time when the pandemic is over—but your dog should remain under your care. It’s a shame to let your animal companions go. I couldn’t dare give up Dante after ten months. He had to be taken from me.

By writing this I hope to acknowledge his tragic and sudden death and, in some way, to say goodbye to a soul that taught me the value of life.

—The author is a PhD student and teaching associate, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


As it prepares to ramp up its communications to counteract vaccine hesitancy, the Ministry of Health’s best chance for success lies in aligning its messaging to the concerns of its target audience.

With the race now on to get vaccines into arms before the more transmissible Delta variant arrives, it might be too late for crafting a scientifically sound public awareness campaign. Nonetheless, a willingness to listen and learn will go a long way in erasing lingering doubts and changing minds.

I have termed Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his Finance Minister Colm Imbert the “Diego Martin dinosaurs”, politicians “intellectually fossilised by fossil fuels” who failed to see the global energy revolution threatening the nation’s economy, about which I warned repeatedly for five years.

I got vaccinated last week. I received the first of two doses of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine. I chose the drive-through option at the Ato Boldon Stadium because it is close to my home and I didn’t have to leave the privacy or comfort of my car to queue up at any stage of the proceedings, which is helpful to people who suffer with Parkinson’s and similar neurological disorders.

There is a story about a Samaritan called “good” in the Bible because he did not walk past a suffering Jew. He had no prior relationship with the man lying beaten on the roadside, was not part of his community, yet he acted out of compassion. Giving up his rights and freedom, he helped the man recover and get on with life.

“By the rivers of Babylon/Where we sat down/And there we wept/When we remembered Zion. But the wicked carried us away in captivity/Required from us a song/How can we sing King Alpha song/In a strange land?”

I cannot pretend to know or fully understand how it feels to be a young person in 2021.

Growing up in 1960s and ’70s Britain as a young black woman was, despite my loving family, often incredibly hard, but it seems staggeringly harder now for the current generation. I cannot imagine waking up at 18 to the news that my entire country, seemingly the whole world, has been shut down, wondering what will happen next and realising that the world has changed beyond recognition and I need to readjust my education and my career pathways.