MOVING country at any time in one’s life can be daunting, but even more so when you move during a global pandemic.
However, when married couple Karmela and Gabriela Matesa moved from Croatia to Cork at the start of lockdown in 2020, they brought with them their eight-year-old dashing Dachshund Apollo aka Api, who proved to be the best ice-breaker they could imagine when getting to know their neighbours in Mahon.
“Because of Apollo, I met a lot of people I normally would not have met, which especially helped when I was new to Ireland, and feeling lonely,” says Karmela.
“One time we were walking on the greenway and a young man saw Apollo come toward him. He stood by the side of the road and saluted while Api was regally walking past him. Api didn’t even notice him. He is just well liked.
“When we were moving to Ireland, six different people offered to take him if he couldn’t travel for any reason. I wish I was that liked!”
Api was also a great support for Karmela back in Croatia when she lost her father and grandparents within four years of each other.
“Having Apollo around really helped me de-stress,” she says.
Growing up in Zadar, Karmela’s family lived across the street from a veterinarian, and they ended up adopting several ‘second-hand pets’, including many cats and a black hyper Cocker Spaniel called Nera -
“We were not prepared for that level of energy!” she says.
But it was Karmela’s wife Gabriela who initially wanted a dachshund. Unfortunately, Gabriela was too busy researching dachshunds to find the time to adopt one.
“One day, I was fed up with all the research,” says Karmela, “and I said to her to get either a brown boy or a black girl. So, she went online and found him.
“We went to see him and fell in love right there. The breeder’s yard was full of the most adorable puppies, it was like a doggo fun park. Apollo was the most handsome one, of course.”
Apart from being handsome, Karmela describes Api as ‘smart, and he has saintly patience with children. He is also a diva, manipulative, spoiled, cunning and has a long memory! All of that combined causes some funny situations.
“He is very good at getting food, either by staring at strangers who are eating until they cave, or by stealing. One time there was a croissant incident involving some tourists. Another time he stole a panini from a boy on a dog beach, and then washed it down with someone else’s coffee. Having a long nose is handy for doing mischief, I guess.
“One of his favourite moves is literally stealing candy from babies. Unbelievably embarrassing. But of course, he is easily forgiven as he is so cute,” said Karmela.
“There have been many funny and sweet moments over the years,” says Karmela, “but one thing that makes me happy every day is the way people respond to Apollo. Their faces light up, women and children squeal in delight, men smile broadly, elderly people nod affectionately. It’s like you’re giving them a small gift or telling them a good joke.”
When he’s not stealing food from unsuspecting civilians, Apollo’s greatest pleasures are ‘sunshine, sleep, people… and hot water bottles.
Karmela said: “This winter, we were sitting outside a pub in Blackrock, and Api started shivering. Our friend, a regular there, asked if they could spare a blanket. Instead, they gave him a hot water bottle and he loved it!”
Api was a passionate digger before he moved to Ireland, but unfortunately the soil here isn’t up to his standards.
“Either the soil here is no good for digging, or the mice aren’t as tasty,” says Karmela.
“In Croatia, he would spend three quarters of the year digging, for several hours a day, then eat the mice he caught. It was disgusting and it would take hours.
“I would pack a bag with essentials - a book or a crossword puzzle, water, an extra phone battery - for scrolling and games.
“A lot of people in the neighbourhood knew us already, but the ones that didn’t probably thought I was a random freak, sitting in the weirdest places for no reason.
“The thing is, if you didn’t know Api was there, you wouldn’t see him because he spent most of his time below the ground.”
Apollo has taught Karmela much about life, including: “You can get away with anything when you’re cute, street food is the best, and everybody loves you when you’re gorgeous.”
But she admits her greatest lesson has been that “everything is much easier with a furry friend around”.
Follow apollo.doxie on Instagram to see more of Api’s adventures