Left to right: Porg and Phasma, Jedi, She-Ra, Ace and Goofy
Written and photographed by Christil Viljoen
I grew up on a horse farm in Bloemfontein, and although I’d always wanted a dog of my own, my parents were strict when it came to “my own” pets. They wanted to be sure that I’d take responsibility for my pet, and so they decided to give me a chicken to see if I could take care of my own pet.
She was an Old English Game Bantam hen. I got her in 2001 from a farm where she was about to be killed due to being deformed. Glenda was a chicken like no other; she went on family holidays and even had her own seat at the dinner table. She lived for five happy, healthy years, and was the first of many animals to come.
During this time, my sister got a dog for her birthday – an Australian Kelpie named Xena. After having Xena for about 10 months, my sister’s living arrangements changed and Xena came to live on the farm with us. I was between 11 and 12 years old and Xena around a year, and it was an instant bond between Xena and me.
She did some herding training and knew about four tricks. When I saw a show on Animal Planet with people teaching their dogs tricks, I decided I’d teach Xena some tricks too. After a few months, my parents surprised me and told me that I could keep Xena as my own. The rest is history.
In the end, Xena knew over 30 tricks, and we did freestyle dog dancing and a bit of flyball. She was an amazing dog that loved ALL animals and people. She lived to be 17 years old and passed away on the 13th of December 2020.
While Glenda was my first pet and Xena my first dog, they were by no means the only animals in my life. Goofy features right up there with them.
As many stables do, ours had attracted a stray cat which gave birth. We took her in and eventually found her a great home, but from day one I’d fallen in love with one of her kittens – a tabby which I named Goofy. He was just this adorable little chubby kitten that would purr from the moment he figured out how.
Today, Goofy is 11 years old and still the sweetest cat ever. He gets along with everything and everyone. He loves dogs and people the most, though. He’s also fine with chickens and other birds if he knows they’re part of the family. He doesn’t have a bad hair on his head, listens very well to commands, and loves tummy rubs.
In 2012, my animal family only consisted of Xena and Goofy… until I made a random visit to a farm one day to get supplies. The owner asked if I wanted a puppy. I initially refused, but I knew my aunt was looking for some type of shepherd, as her boy had passed. He led to me to an old sheep corral where two VERY scared German Shepherd-Belgian Tervuren pups were living.
One was gorgeous, very fluffy, and just perfect for my aunt. The other was this pathetic, ugly little scrap of a pup. I asked what was going to happen to the “ugly” one; to my shock, he said: “I’m giving him to the workers as no one wants him.” Well, of course, I took both pups home – one for my aunt, and I decided I’d find a home for the ugly one. Nine years later, he’s still with me, but he sure isn’t ugly anymore.
His name is Ace, and he was the most timid pup I’d ever seen. As he grew, his fear turned to aggression, and I knew I needed to work on it. After months and months of training and socialising, Ace was a different dog and, to date, he’s accomplished more than the average dog. He used to do dog agility on national level, was a freestyle dog dancer, went to special-needs schools to educate children, and even appeared at children’s parties as Chase from Paw Patrol. He’s just the gentlest soul ever and gets on well with any animal or human.
In the meantime, I fostered a few dogs, and in so doing, I realised Ace was lonely, and old lady Xena wasn’t much fun to play with anymore. I fostered a Border Collie girl, and after she found a home, Ace was very depressed. I decided to find him a Border Collie friend.
Enter Jedi the Phantom Menace, in 2015. Five-year-old Jedi is the biggest goofball ever; he just never fails to make me smile. He’s the worst Border Collie ever, as he’s terrified of sheep and not really the brightest crayon in the packet. But other than being a bit “dof”, he’s such a lovely dog. He loves ALL people and can’t stop “kissing” them; he’s a bit shy with dogs but is obsessed with cats. Basically, he’s just a big fluffy baby that never stopped being a puppy.
Porg and Phasma
Glenda, the chicken who started it all, passed away in 2006. I’ve always spoken about how amazing chickens are, but the time never seemed right to get another. Until, one day, a friend surprised me with two tiny day-old Lohmann Brown hens. They also seem to have missed the memo on chicken life as they prefer sleeping under blankets rather than perching on a stick. They’re called Porg and Phasma, and they’re now two years old. They have no fear of any animal, and thus none of my animals even try to eat them (I think they’re scared of the chickens). They’re tiny little t-rexes, with Porg having a sweeter personality and Phasma being the angrier one. With people, they’re lovely, and they enjoy meeting new people; they also love eating anything they can find.
I recently adopted She-Ra from Huistoe Animal Welfare Bloemfontein. I take photos for them to help get their animals adopted, and I met She-Ra (previously Blondi) while taking photos in August 2020. Her owners moved in 2013 and left her behind; I can’t imagine how anyone can leave such a kind soul behind. At the time I joked that I’d come and get her if Xena ever passed, but when that happened in December 2020, I wasn’t ready for another dog. She-Ra kept haunting me, though – I don’t want to see old dogs in shelters. So, after a few months and a lot of contemplation, I applied to adopt her.
She-Ra came to me on the 24th of April; it was a shaky start as she didn’t know cats and she was terrified of my dogs. But within the first week, it was as if she’d lived here her whole life. She and Goofy are good friends now, and she had no issues with the chickens at all from the beginning. She’s about nine to 10 years old, and her vet book says she’s a Toy Pom-Whippet cross. Although she’s a very scared girl, she has so much love to give. She’s now joining us on our daily walks (she’s usually a real couch potato and loves eating anything yummy).
That’s the long and short of my animals – three dogs, two chickens, and a cat – who don’t know they’re supposed to eat each other and not be friends. Somehow, they all live in confused harmony with each other.