It began quietly with a lunar sliver and an invitation to a fabulous party to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
The Dog Year in 2018 started on February 16th. Our dogs were doing great and we imagined we had a many more years of adventures with them.
That week our precious Sizzles started to stumble and within a couple of days couldn’t walk. I missed the party and sat on the veranda with her instead. On Tuesday 20 February our lovely vet people – Trish and Laura – euthanized her right there and we buried her in the garden. We were very sad and surprised at this sudden turn of events.
We planted a grassland on top of her because her absolute favourite thing was romping in long grass. I took this picture of her just a couple of weeks before.
On Thursday morning (two days later) at 5am, Dizzy and I set off for our usual early walk through the suburbs. Autumn was in the air. Along Berea Road, I spotted a dog lying on the corner of Morling Street. I should have turned back immediately, but I didn’t. It looked relaxed, licking it’s legs.
Before I knew it, the dog raced across the road towards us barking furiously. In an instant joined by two others, all snapping while I hung onto Dizzy’s lead, shouting “naughty dogs, go home!” Two more dogs joined in the excitement – now there were five circling us.
While most dogs bark furiously along their fences when we walk by, they usually become quite meek once out of their gardens. Dogs that are bored and escape their gardens to roam the streets commandeer a much wider territory as their own. Clearly, Dizzy and I had crossed an invisible line into their space.
Acting entirely on instinct, I crouched over Dizzy against the Howick Prep School fence, being nipped on all sides and screaming for help. Thinking back, I remember a dog’s face right in mine as it gripped my nose and Dizzy’s legs being yanked in all directions.
Fortunately, residents across the road who were awake, and concerned at the commotion, rushed to our aid. Simon mananged to chase off the dogs. As I sat up, covered in grass and mud, I recall Dizzy sitting quietly next to me with his ears back, as he always does when I sit down during our walks. Elna lead us across the road into her home, where Dizzy immediately helped himself to some of her dogs’ breakfast.
We woke Paul with the news that we had been bitten and he raced over, arriving at the same time as the ambulance. The moment I lay down in the ambulance, I began to tremor. The paramedics were a little concerned, but I was delighted as I know the benefits of TRE (trauma release exercises). I am not sure that I would have thought to do it myself with all the drama, but felt very lucky that it began naturally. Tremoring continued while I was being stitched up, much to the consternation of hospital staff who tried to pile more blankets on me and ‘calm me down’. I explained that this was a fabulous thing, but they were sceptical.
In the meanwhile, Paul had taken Dizzy straight to the vets, who had heard the news (small towns rock!) and were already waiting for him before 7am. Once he was stitched up and sedated, the vets arrived to check on to me in hospital.
This was my first visit ever to hospital and I didn’t really want to stay, but I soon accepted that when you have been bitten by a bunch of dogs it is what happens. It was a remarkably pleasant experience – I loved the skillful Nigerian doctor with a stylish striped shirt who stitched me up, the drugs which had me swirling undersea, all day air-conditioning, streams of interesting visitors and especially the bunches of fragrant garden herbs and flowers. I was delighted at how thoughtful all the gifts were – no palm oil, sugar laden bars of chocolate wrapped in foil – instead soft toys from the SPCA shop, lots of berries, bags of crunchy lettuce and locally crafted cards. A chickpea salad in a china bowl delivered by The Farmer’s Daughter – who shuddered at the thought that I would have to eat hospital food. I must admit I did enjoy the very retro green jelly and custard.
When I felt strong enough to look at my phone after a day or so, I had 287 messages all wishing me well. This flood continued for days and I have little doubt contributed to my recovery. I was ‘love bombed’ back to health.
I was pleased when I was left in the privacy of my hospital bed to continue to tremor occasionally, sometimes with intention and sometimes without. Recovery from the wounds and trauma has been quick and prompted many observers to comment “It is remarkable.” I believe that TRE played an important role in this recovery.
I was home in a few days, sleeping in moonbeams and drinking tea in bed with Dizzy – sunshine on my feet. The best medicine. Paul was a fantastic nurse. I couldn’t drive or bath so simply wallowed in the peace and quiet and didn’t do anything at all. The kids from the Shiyabazali and Mpophomeni Kidz Clubs made me a pile of get well cards – my favourite was the one with this warning:
The local branch of the SPCA was marvellous. These particular dogs had been terrorising school children and other pedestrians for months. After our incident, the Municipality finally gave the SPCA permission to confiscate three of the dogs. They kindly allowed me to visit them in the kennels before they were euthanized. I thought it was important to meet Brown, Bella and Jack as I didn’t blame them, but rather their owners for not paying them proper attention. They were friendly to me, nibbling my fingers gently, but covered in scars so had probably fought quite a lot. I apologised for getting them into such trouble and said goodbye. This photo was taken that day.
Dizzy and I began our morning walks again after a few weeks. We were obviously a little more cautious, but not nervous and the sound of dogs barking didn’t bother us as it might have done. Life got back to normalish, except we didn’t have our little Sushi (Sizzles) around anymore. Dizzy and I started regular physiotherapy to work on scar tissue and release trauma tight muscles, and going on lots of little adventures – albeit at a slower pace.
I kept talking about the Year of the Dog as there seemed to be all sorts of dog dramas happening around me. Quite a few friends lost their dogs and only found them a week later after much angst. Many dogs I know and like died during the year. Then I spotted a beautiful rescued dog named Mvungo on the KZN Valley Dogs Facebook group who was racking up a big vet bill in Hillcrest. I sent some cash to help him. To my complete surprise a week later my friend Jessica in Howick sent me a picture of her new dog – it was Mvungo! I was astonished at the coincidence and raced over with welcome biscuits. Isn’t he just lovely?
Dizzy is part of the Funda nenja logo. Funda nenja is my all time favourite cause. Over many years I have observed the very real impact they have had on the lives of dogs and children in Mpophomeni. I visited to write a story about one of their volunteers and they made a lovely fuss on social media celebrating Dizzy, which made me happy. This is the story I wrote about Themba Memela.
So the year trundled along, we fit in as many walks as we could, whatever the weather. In July, on a very cold morning, we headed out to Dargle. I love the contrasts in this picture taken in the -4* frost alongside the Lions River that morning. Note the four legs.
Later that morning, twisting in the back seat of my car, Dizzy broke his femur. Honestly! After all the rocks he has scrambled over, horses chased, hills climbed, wetlands waded through and other adventures, it seemed quite ridiculous that this could happen in the car.
Back to the vet. The best option, considering the location of the break and his obviously brittle bones, was amputation. What a shock for my handsome boy.
He did adjust pretty quickly and four weeks later we were back in the hills walking.
Dizzy had always had imaginary friends, but now they seemed to scare him rather than play with him, and he become very anxious if he couldn’t see where I was.
In September, he decided he didn’t want to walk out of our gate in the streets anymore, so we drove to all our favourite spots for walks – Beacon Hill, Symmonds Stream, uMngeni River Path, Dargle and Karkloof. Our walks were getting shorter and often were more about sitting than strolling.
With plenty of snoozing in the sun in between.
Dizzy didn’t like thunder or fireworks. On Guy Fawkes morning he didn’t eat his breakfast, which is exceptionally unusual. When he still turned up his nose as solar cooked, organic chicken at 11 o’clock, I took him to our vet. Trish suspected a problem with his spleen as his abdomen was very swollen. The pale gums, lethargy and lack of appetite likely caused by intermittent internal bleeding. Without x-rays and probing and more time in hospital, we couldn’t know for sure and unless we wanted to operate (which we didn’t) there was little point in knowing. We made the decision fast. No more prodding my poor boy. We went back home and spent the afternoon snoozing on my bed – I took this picture.
Trish and Laura kindly came around, even though they were off duty, and euthanized him right on my bed. He left like a shooting star. He was completely ready for this and I am so glad we didn’t dither, or wait another day. We buried him beside his sister in the grassland. He missed the fireworks.
I sent some money to my other favourite dog cause TAWI – Transkei Animal Welfare Initiative – in Dizzy’s honour. Paul bought them new tyres for their outreach vehicle. This NGO does incredible work in the remote and difficult to access places around Port St Johns. I met so many beautiful dogs when I hiked in the area, so support them whenever I can. Look them up. How beautiful is this Pondo dog?
I feel fortunate that I still have lots of dogs in my life. I chat to the dogs behind their gates on my walks in the streets. They don’t bark at me anymore.
Saturday mornings are spent walking the dogs awaiting adoption at the SPCA. The Dedicated Dog Walkers are great company – but most of all, it is their commitment that inspires me. Bridget has been doing this every Saturday for the last 15 years. This stimulation and socialization is terribly important for these dogs – who hopefully will get good forever homes. I meet such lovely animals and do have favourites, but am always so delighted when someone adopts rather than shops for a precious companion. If you have an hour or so to spare on Saturday mornings, please join us at 8am. Fabulous conversation and great exercise too.
Since we have been dog less, we have been able to be companions to a variety of hounds when their humans have had to go away. It has been great fun to spend a few days with Cola and to have Pixie, Lucky, Harriet, Samara, McDuff and Toffee visit us. Tummy tickles on tap, late night cuddles, as many treats as one can eat and artichokes for lunch. What’s not to love? This is Toffee Segal.
According to Chinese astrology, people in the year of their birth sign are believed to have bad luck in this year. Dizzy and Sushi were born in 2006 – the Year of the Dog – although I did not realise this until I began writing this story and did an internet search for “year of the dog”. What a good year 2006 was, though!
I don’t believe in astrology, or New Year of any construction, but this title was too good to pass up. To be honest, I will still be pleased when the Year of the Pig starts on 5 February 2019.