Posted by: elisabethhoward | February 14, 2012

You know you’re working for an influential NGO when…

By Elisabeth Howard, Global Intern at Plan International, Haiti

One of my favorite aspects of the Haiti experience is the daily trip to and from the office. Being unable, for security reasons, to leave the compound we live in, it’s a nice glimpse of daily Haitian life. On my first day in Port-au-Prince, during my first trip to the office, after rounding a particularly dusty corner with a make-shift car wash (a bit pointless given the quantity of dust) on one side and a temporary housing arrangement on the other, we approached a single story concrete establishment. It didn’t look particularly noteworthy, yet as we drew closer the Country Director excitedly solicited the Communications Manager to “show Elisabeth our friend, she has to meet him… You’ll like him Elisabeth, he’s a fine, outstanding member of the community!” I was then expecting the car to stop, and to be met with the firm handshake of a well groomed, suited, gentleman. But no, we stayed in the car, and my colleague simply pointed out: “there, on the roof.” Sure enough, on the flat roof, attached to some metal concrete re-enforcement, stood a dog. But not just any dog, Top Dog. The size of a small child, he stands on his hind legs, proudly bearing the Haitian flag. His Caribbean dreadlocks are tussled under a moto helmet, a flourescent workman’s vest is coupled with the coolest of aviators, and while a wild black pelt, reminiscent of a gorilla, invites you to nestle into his rotund, stuffed belly – don’t get too close, he also holds a gun in each hand to deter those unsavory to his master. This is Top Dog, the hood is his.

And so, every day for the last two and a half months, Top Dog has been on my list of morning “bonjours” and afternoon “bonsoirs”. He is as much a part of our daily route as dust, traffic jams and pot holes. And so naturally, when the regional Human Resources Manager came to visit, Top Dog was one of the highlights proffered to him as a noteworthy site. Mm, what a Dog!

But then, as we rounded the corner and looked up to the hallowed rooftop – the reinforcement was bare! Not a Top Dog in sight. Oh did this cause a disturbance! To the point that, on the way back that night, the Country Director asked our chauffeur (an intellectual, former university professor) to stop, get out and ask who ever he could find what happened to Top Dog. The reluctant driver, eyebrows raised, silently obeyed and went to investigate. A quick conversation with a dreadlocked mechanic reveled that Top Dog was in fact a local artist’s creation. He had been entered in a exhibition and after being publicly acclaimed, was then displayed on the rooftop posting to offer support, morale and patriotism to his compatriots. He is an embodiment of the spirit of Haiti and was given back to the community for all to enjoy. But, fearing for his weather ravaged state, he had been removed for some R&R. The mechanic assured our driver that, being aware of the fact he was missed by the community, (or the Director in any case) Top Dog would be returned the next day… The Director was comforted, our driver was relieved, and everyone went home.

So judgment day dawned: would Top Dog be back? Is the clout of an NGO four-wheel drive enough to impress upon a poor dog’s owner the need for his continued vigilance? Would the wishes of the international community be heard or will local hound protection standards win out?

As the dust parted we all looked up: Top Dog was back!! Bigger and better than before! His workman’s vest is now a pink tee-shirt and one of his guns has been replace by a doll’s house in his paw… the other gun remains, for security I’m sure!


  1. A very insightful article Elizabeth that poses interesting questions for the human rights community: who is protecting the rights of Top Dog? Why does Top Dog have to stand on the roof getting is fur wet. He is clearly a national treasure and with all of those NGOs in Haiti, surely one of them should build him a nice little house and locally appropriate water and sanitation facilities. Please, when you next pass, send my regards to Top Dog and assure him that we are thinking about him around the world. Viva Top Dog.

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