Tales of A trailing Wife - It's a dog's Life!
Buckley looking out to sea in Menton after receiving his meds and stamps in his passport before our First road trip to London. *
By Angela Barletta
We are dog lovers.......but our track record seems to dispute this fact.
Recently my visiting friend Carina from Cape Town and I were invited out to dinner to my American friend and the subject of dogs came up. Both have dogs and are true dog lovers. Listening to Carina taking care of a blind Bull Terrier and a deaf and diabetic 13-year-old Labrador who has had a few strokes made me re-evaluate if I was a dog lover or just a dog owner.
My first dog at age 2 was a Boxer called Pascha and we grew up together. I loved the porridge my mother made for him as much as Pascha did and he happily allowed me to eat out of his bowl.
Pascha (Left) * Runji (Middle) * Ziggi (Right)
Although so many years ago I vividly remember the day Pascha had to be put to sleep due to cancer complication when he was 14 years old; a good age for his breed. We had survived our move from Namibia to South Africa together; a family of 5 in a VW Beetle following the Moving Truck on a dirt road from Lüderitzbucht to Cape Town, a 1200km journey, with Pascha sitting in front at my moms feet. Whenever my mom’s feet got numb, he would be let out of the car to run after us for exercise! I recall crying loudly wanting my dad to stop, as I feared Pascha could not see the car through the dust cloud, or that he might fall over from exhaustion. Needless to say he survived that trip just like all of us. Another fond memory I have is Pascha chasing boys back over the high garden walls when they tried to visit one of us three girls for a coffee. Some he let in, others not. I could never figure out which one of the boarding school boys were welcomed and why. The second Boxer Boris was over bred and neurotic. He tore the wallpaper off the walls when left alone at home. Nobody jumped over our walls during his time! My husband bought me a black cocker spaniel puppy when we first started dating. He always wanted a dog but was not allowed one at home; he fulfilled a childhood wish as well as earning himself some brownie points with me. It was a crazy and impractical gift; one of many from my HH(Handsome Husband).
Runji went to university with me for 6 months until he got to big to hide in my basket under my feet in the lecture halls. This is when I asked my mom if he could stay with them just until I was done with my degree. Luckily they said yes but that was the end of Runji being my dog. He lived happily together with my parents and Boris to the good old age of 13. After Runji's arrival Boris calmed down a lot and the two of them were inseparable.
Then came Ziggi, an adorable Boxer Female puppy all the way from East London to Cape Town; a present from my mom to me for our first home with a garden. Bettina aged 16 months loved her gentle friend. Ziggi tried to escape to Australia via a huge hole she dug up in the back yard due to boredom as I was still working full time in those days. Circumstances sadly forced us to move from our house into an apartment and we needed a new home for Ziggi who was just over a year old. A good friend of ours had a family member who gave Ziggi a better home than we were able to provide. We were kept updated of Ziggi's well being for years; she made it to the good age of 13 in that loving home and I am forever grateful to them.
We moved to England and again my HH could not resist on getting another dog. This time it was a King Charles spaniel that cost us a month salary in London and did not like us. He kept on running away to our neighbors who were kind enough to bring him back to us on a daily basis.
I never quite understood why Duke did not want to stay with us, we all adored him. Not even 1-year-old and we were moving to Saudi Arabia. Our Veterinarian Doctor advised us that this breed would not survive the 6-month quarantine on our return to the UK and he would strongly advise us to find a new home for him. As luck would have it a close friend had an elderly couple that lost King Charles 2 weeks earlier and were persuaded that this new puppy would help in their grief. Duke found the perfect home and he never ran away again.
Nine years later we moved to Houston from Saudi Arabia. We had not even unpacked the boxes from our move when my HH and daughters came home with a Golden Retriever Puppy called Bongo. Now we had a Texan in the family. We all fell in love with Bongo and so did everyone else who met him. He could hold 5 Tennis Balls in his mouth at one time. Here is a photo to prove it with 4 visible tennis balls. We always wanted to add this achievement into the Word Guinness Book of Records! He knew what I wanted from him before I uttered a word, it felt like he could read my thoughts. Bongo was part of the family and when the marching orders came for us to move to Nigeria there was no question; the dog was coming with us. I had made it clear that never again was I finding a new home for our dog due to another assignment or move. We got all the paper work in order, bookings through a Dog Travel Company.
My sister who lived in Frankfurt at the time picked up Bongo taking are of him for one night while we stopped over in Sanremo to sign the transfer paperwork of our new home, en route to Nigeria. We flew in from Nice and met her and Bongo at the Lufthansa Check-in Counter. We were informed that the dog was not booked on our flight. WHAT - immediately the girls started crying. Well, either Bongo stays behind for a few days or we pay excess baggage. Anyone who is a world traveller knows how much excess baggage costs! We chose excess baggage, as we were not prepared to take a chance of Bongo arriving in Lagos on a different plane than us. I am sure you can imagine why we called him the million-dollar dog after this exercise!!! He weighed 95 pounds, plus his cage!!! Bongo made it to Lagos and got us through customs in no time as I told them that the dog was extremely hungry and needed to get out of his cage which was balancing at an acute angle on a normal baggage cart - I never took a photo of that sight - I was so relieved to get the dog out of the stifling humid heat when we arrived.
Bongo was loved in the compound we lived in by all the families and staff. Sadly, one morning, he was only 6 years old, I woke up to him not wanting to move and only reluctantly go down the elevator to do his morning business. After we got back upstairs I cuddled him and stroked him asking him what was wrong... obviously he just looked at me with those loving eyes and did not answer. I got ready for a Ladies Coffee Morning. As I was leaving I noticed that Bongo was not breathing well and that his tongue was a little blue... lack of oxygen. I called my trusted friend Betsy a nurse. Immediately she was aware that Bongo was in severe distress and started the Heimlich maneuver. (We thought he was choking)... when that was not working, she and our housekeeper Funke decided we needed a vet. All he wanted to do was lie in a corner on the cool floor; all I wanted was to hold him. Poor Bongo was forced to walk to the car via the elevator 9 floors down, heaved into a 4 x 4 Land cruiser and we started to race to find a vet. First of all you do not race anywhere in Lagos due to the traffic congestion, second of all, just because there is a sign VET does not mean there is a Vet which I found out as I was running up the stairs of a derelict building two stairs at a time in my High Heeled Shoes. When I got to the office I was shouting where is the Vet, where is the Vet, is this a Vet.... YES I was told by the Receptionist, where is he..... on holiday until next week!!! I had told Funke to keep the dog in the car.
When I returned I found Bongo on the ground gasping for breath. Funke could not bear to see him suffer and wanted to bring him to me. I crouched down and took his head into my lap and stroked him, he took his last breath looking at me with those beautiful loving eyes. I lost it, started crying and kept on calling his name. By now 400 people had gathered around me to watch this white woman dressed up in her best finery now sobbing over her dog. Funke came up to me and told me gently to get back into the car; she was starting to worry about my safety. I got up; my white pants now black from sitting in the Lagos dirt and asking for help to get Bongo back into the car. Nobody stepped up to help.
In Nigeria touching a dead body means taking responsibility for the deceased, including its burial. This is why you can find corpses lying along the side of the road or floating in the ocean when sailing. Why they would not help me with a dead dog is unknown to me. Even the driver refused to touch the dog. So tiny framed Funke and myself in high heels heaved a dead weight dog of 95 pounds that felt like 200 lbs. up into the Land cruiser and drove back to our compound. I phoned my HH who immediately came home in disbelief and shock. He kept asking if this was the three's they always talked about as he had lost both his mom and dad a few months earlier. Where to bury a big dog in a city of 5 million inhabitants?
The kind Cook on our compound offered her property on the outskirts of Lagos for a small donation to her building fund. My driver Ato, the compound gardener with a shovel, the property owner, Funke our housekeeper and myself with Bongo wrapped in a sheet left to drive through the normal stand still traffic out of Lagos. It took us no less than 3 hours for a journey that should not have taken longer than 30 minutes. No wonder our vet never made it to us in time. Before we left the compound and while changing out of my high heels, everyone lined up at the open car door to say their farewell to Bongo, one last stroke on his head. I was so touched by this show of affection. As we arrived at the partly built house and got out of the car, people were coming out of the bushes, ever so slowly to see what was going on. I was freaked out by this "mob mentality" of being surrounded by hundreds of curious strangers; not just the vast numbers but also the fact that one never heard them coming. The Staff advised me to keep quiet and keep my distance (which does not come naturally to me) and not to give away the fact that we had a dead dog on the back seat of the car. They reminded me that most of them were starved! They proceeded to tell the onlookers that this white Woman was looking at the property as an investment opportunity, was being spooked by their presence and would they kindly go back to where they came from and would benefit later if things worked out well! They all left as silently as they appeared.
A big hole was dug between the front door of the unfinished house and the water well. We lowered Bongo into the hole covered in my bed sheet, a prayer was said by the Cook: “Bongo, who came from a far away land, now laid to rest in this new land, loved by so many... I do not remember the rest as I was crying so much. A mango tree was planted above him and I am hoping that this mango tree is bearing many fruits for this generous family. I will always remember these kind Nigerians supporting and providing this foreigner a resting place for her beloved pet in one of the most densely populated cities of the world.
Three years later we moved to Singapore. I did not want another dog knowing this would not be our last move. But I am sure you have noticed a pattern here by now. I tried to talk my family out of it, however by Christmas we welcomed a Cocker Spaniel to our family. His parents were Australian and he was born in Singapore, another Nationality to add to our mix. The girls choose the name Buckley from the movie The Royal Tennenbaums. My Australian friends were baffled. This is a term only known in Australia and New Zealand, meaning slim hope or no chance - a real Buckley! Poor dog. Although I thought I had done my homework well; it soon transpired that he was a sickly puppy bred on one of those puppy farms I never wanted to support. Another lesson learnt. Just because one is in a very efficient and well-organized country; this does not mean everything that looks great on the surface, is. With a lot of love and care we managed to get Buckley doing well and he turned into another special dog. He was so clever, so cute and loved his tennis balls.
He could smell them a mile away; he would find the oldest tennis ball anywhere and bring it home. We lived in a complex with a couple of Tennis Courts. You cannot believe how many balls Buckley would find and bring home and they all landed up in his basket. Some I had to wash they were so old, smelly and dirty, but he made sure he got them back into his basket. There must have been more than 40 balls in his bed. He never slept in it. Buckley also enjoyed vegetables and would watch me prepare dinner every day barking for a piece of cucumber or carrot. He loved his walks in the Singapore Botanical Gardens, sitting quietly watching me join the early morning free Tai Chi Exercise. He was my constant companion and I could not move without him following me. When the girls and HH were home it was their turn. And then the day arrived we had to leave again. This time we were going to be prepared! For weeks before our departure we got Buckley used to his crate, a generous gift from a friend. Whilst perusing information on the Internet on long haul travel for dogs I came across many horror stories. This prompted me to write a note to the Captain including a photo of Buckley to remind him he had precious cargo underneath on our flight from Singapore to Paris. The girls stuck drawings with his name on the side of the crate with every available sticker to remind them to give him water etc.
Buckley and I flew on the 31st of December from Singapore via Paris, arriving in the new year of 2013. I was amazed; I walked Buckley through customs with his crate and my two huge suitcases and was never stopped. No papers were checked. Luckily I was in possession of all the necessary documents from this trip, as I needed a European Pet Passport issued in Italy in order to travel by car with Buckley to London. Sadly he started to become ill within a week after our arrival in Europe. He suffered from stomach problems that never cleared. Two years of medications, many vet visits in both Italy, France and England, I had to have my beloved Buckley put down last summer (2015) at the young age of 5 years. I still miss him dearly, so does the whole family.
Here proof that the wonderful saying is true - The owner starts to look like the dog - or maybe the dog starts to look like the owner. I cherish this image taken in the Singapore Botanical Garden where we started our day at 6am each day before the heat took over. A friend took this of us without both of us knowing, although I think Buckley knew and was posing!!