Divided loyalties, natural charms and wandering ways make a fluffy dog named Bianchino one of the most intriguing and lovable characters to roam across his home turf on Lamma Island in Hong Kong.
Meandering between Lamma’s two largest villages – from Yung Shue Wan in the north, where he has an adoring family and many admirers, to Sok Kwu Wan in the south, where he has another family and more fans – is Bianchino’s routine.
Like a polygamous man, he spends a few hours or days at each home before vanishing, trotting along footpaths through the hills on a one-hour-plus journey to his second abode. Along the way, he takes a keen interest in everyone he meets, consistently making more friends.
To Bianchino’s advantage, he looks a lot like Benji, a canine movie star famous in the 1970s and ‘80s. He combines the celebrity good-looks with potent doggy charm.
Piero Paolini and his girlfriend Sonia, an Italian couple living on northern Lamma, adopted the dog about a year ago and called him Bianchino (meaning “slightly white”). But in Sok Kwu Wan, where he likes to relax and dine at the seafood restaurants, he’s known as Bobo.
“He’s my dog and has a microchip to prove it,” insisted Sonia, who sources fashion accessories for a living. “We took him to the vet and had it implanted.”
“Before that, he was completely unregistered,” Piero said.
At the Lamma Veterinary Clinic in Yung Shue Wan, Dr Hans de Vries estimated Bianchino’s age at three years.
“I love Bianchino’s lifestyle,” Sonia said. “He’s like a typical Italian man with one wife in Rome and another in Milan.”
“He’s such a character, a cocky little bugger,” Piero added. Sometimes Bianchino respects human authority as when trotting hastily past the “No Dogs Allowed” signs at Hung Shing Yeh Beach. At other moments, he doesn’t as when stopping to urinate on bicycles parked outside the police station.
If other dogs show hostility, Bianchino neither fights, nor flees. He freezes submissively until the dangerous moments inevitably pass.
“Bianchino’s special. I respect his personality,” Sonia said. “He’s very clever. When we speak to him, he understands some Italian.”
Seeking their wayward dog, Sonia, originally from Sardinia, and Piero, a fashion consultant from Florence, once walked to Sok Kwu Wan. There, they found him stretched out, relaxing on the main street.
“He looked very shocked to see us,” Sonia said. “I’m sure he thought, ‘What’re you doing here? You’ve discovered my secret life?’ ”
Sonia and Piero spoke to the dog’s Sok Kwu Wan humans, who work in the food industry. The two sides agreed to share custody.
“The Chinese owners are happy that we look after him,” Piero said.
“In Sok Kwu Wan, everyone knows and loves Bianchino too,” Sonia said.
Bianchino first caught Sonia and Piero’s attention a year ago. He had plenty of dirt matted into his long fur, like a homeless mutt badly needing a shower. The Italian pair made friends with him, as did Flo and Tara, their other dogs. “I was convinced he had no home,” Piero said.
Partial to Sok Kwu Wan’s famous seafood, Bianchino initially refused offers of dog-food. “He didn’t know what dog biscuits were,” Piero said. “So we gave him leftovers. Those he ate. Now he eats dog biscuits too.”
With his double-life exposed, Bianchino sometimes visits Sonia and Piero accompanied by two canine pals from Sok Kwu Wan. “Then we have five dogs at home,” Piero said. “It gets a bit much.”
If a closed door or gate hinders Bianchino’s freedom to leave, he scratches and whines until it opens. “This dog must be free, no chains, no gates,” Sonia said.
Not everyone has the charm and audacity to juggle two families, especially once “caught out”, but Bianchino swings it with ease. “He brings us good luck,” Sonia said. “I’m always happy to see him. After he first came to us, my life changed completely. I found a good job and began to make more money. He gives more to us than we give to him.”
Piero adds: “A lot of Chinese people, who never used to speak to us, say hello now because we’re associated with Bianchino, whom they know from one village or the other.”
Lamma Islanders and day-visitors meeting Bianchino on his hikes through the hills shouldn’t be surprised if he stops to shake hands, er, paws and follows them for a spell. That’s his nature. But soon he departs, continuing on his way. He has places to go, people and pals to see.
Call him Bianchino, Bobo, or a two-timer. This renegade dog cares little about names. His priority is the lifestyle he loves.
Bianchino, alias Bobo, relaxes in Sok Kwu Wan.
Always amiable, Bianchino greets a passing pal.
Piero Paolini and Sonia both
admire the come-and-go canine.
On the road again, Bianchino pauses
to pose on his way between villages.
The charming critter steps aside
to greet a fellow hiker.
Bianchino and a pal assess
human traffic along the trail.
Hastily, Bianchino trots past discriminatory
signs at Hung Shing Yeh Beach.
At the beach, Bianchino surveys a sandy expanse.
A face everyone loves: Bianchino, the two-timer.