Potlood the Karoo Wonder Dog

moving to the platteland

Potlood listening to words of advice from John Donaldson.

Story & Photographs by Chris Marais

It’s true. You can ask John Donaldson of Richmond Books and Prints in the Northern Cape.

Some years ago, John and a buddy were late-night carousing down a dirt road in the Nieu-Bethesda area when his little mixed-grill of a dog, the aptly named Potlood (Pencil) hopped up from the back seat and nipped him sharply on the left shoulder.

Shocked to his core, John pulled his old sedan over and stopped. Just then, a large herd of kudu crossed the road in a rush, right in front of the vehicle.

“If Potlood hadn’t bitten me, we would have been finished off by the kudu,” he says.

They drove on in shocked and newly-sober silence. Not 30 minutes later, Potlood bit him again. John stopped the car. Another herd of kudu crossed. Weird things happen in the Karoo after dark.

In time, John returned the favour. One day they went for a ramble around Richmond and ventured into a pit bull’s territory. The gate was open and Potlood began looking for love in all the wrong places.

“I plucked him from the jaws of death just in time,” says John.

He came to Potlood’s rescue once more. They were out in the veld, and Potlood stood on a gin trap normally used for jackals and lynx. John released the doughty dog before any serious damage could occur.

So now the life-saving score between John Donaldson and Potlood stands at two-all.

moving to the platteland

The giraffe that lurks in The House of Light and Shadow in Richmond.

The Giraffe in the Bookshop

There are many sought-after tomes of exploration, hunting and general overland adventures in Africa to be found in John Donaldson’s Huis van Licht en Schaduw (in its former life a notorious local brothel) AKA Richmond Books & Prints.

And then you get to the stuffed giraffe lurking at the end of a long, cluttered corridor and you wonder about it.

“I acquired the giraffe to settle a debt,” says Donaldson.

“A mechanic in Roodepoort owed me money and couldn’t come up with the cash. So I said give me something in return. So he handed me two trophies, one of a kudu and one of a giraffe.”

moving to the platteland

That look says it all…

Potlood’s Loving Stare

Enter, once more, the ubiquitous Potlood the Wonder Dog, his constant companion, even on long road trips.

Potlood likes to gaze long and lovingly at his master from his passenger seat perch, which drives John slightly insane. It feels like Potlood’s busy drilling a hole in the side of his face with his beady eyes.

John has to blinker himself with his left arm and drive with his eyes ducked behind his left bicep.

So there’s a sight you might remember if you once motored down Ontdekkers Road and saw a Northern Cape skoroskoro car tootling along, half a giraffe strapped to its roof, an adoring little mongrel dog inside and a man in a leather cowboy hat studiously ignoring everything around him but the road ahead.

  • Potlood and his owner John Donaldson feature in Moving to the Platteland – Life in Small Town South Africa by Julienne du Toit & Chris Marais.
  • Get the Print Book HERE
  • Get the Ebook HERE


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