dogs

Ejo #121 – Dogs Of Dubai

My family has always been dog people.  We just love dogs, god damn it.  We’ve tried other pets along the way, of course.  Finches, fish, a mouse, a turtle I found in the garden (for about two days, anyway, before my grandfather set it free).  After one of my sister’s school projects, we ended up with a chicken called Tok Tok, which faithfully laid us a double yolked egg every single day until we came home from school one afternoon to be told that Tok Tok had been taken to a farm to live out her retirement years.  If memory serves correctly, we had roast chicken for dinner that night.  There is no correlation between these two events, whatsoever.  I once found a feral kitten in the gutter outside our house and somehow coerced it into my bedroom.  I spent the entire night fighting the damn thing off my face.

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Psycho Kitty.

We kept Kitty for a while, the entire family nursing cuts and bites and scratches for the duration, but Kitty was not meant for domesticity and after a couple of years she obviously found a better home and settled down with her new family (the only logical explanation for why she disappeared without a trace, and no further discussion on the matter is necessary).

But for the Stathopoulos family, our hearts have always belonged to dogs.  I don’t think I need to point this out, but I will anyway.  Dogs are special.  Scientists have shown that dogs have a unique ability to love, not just human beings, but all other species (depending on how early they are exposed to them).  When a dog looks into my eyes, or licks my hand lovingly, or lays it’s paw on my foot or even just leans against me – my heart explodes with love.  If yours doesn’t, I’m afraid there must be something terribly wrong with you.  Please go and see a doctor immediately.

Our first dog wasn’t even ours.  Joshua was a farm dog from the property next to our holiday house in Cape Schanck, but over the years, he lovingly adopted us to (the bemusement of his farmer owner).  He was our first taste of how loyal and loving and fun a dog could be.

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Joshua teaching me how to drive.

Our family loved Joshua so much we decided to get a full time dog of our own and ended up with a Rhodesian Ridgeback St. Bernard cross called Duchess.  She was a big, imposing dog, and she had a big heart to match.  She was definitely our Dad’s dog, but she loved us all and we loved her back.

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Duchess slow-dancing with my Dad.

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Pieta and Duchess being cute together.

A few years after Duchess died, we braved another pet and got a beautiful pure-bred Doberman called Jessica.  Her tail had already been cruelly clipped when we picked her out, but thankfully we got to her before they snipped her beautiful, velvety floppy ears.  Despite looking like a very scary attack dog, Jessica was a gentle soul who would never hurt a fly.  She could, however, turn on a deep, throaty growl when she felt it was necessary and she owned a bark that would scare off the most determined burglar.  When Jessica died, our whole family was heartbroken and my parents decided that was it.  No more Stathopoulos family pets.  The loss was just too painful.

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Jessica and her ball.

Both of my sisters, however, had been bitten by the doggy bug and about a year or so after Jessica died, they both adopted dogs of their own.  Mari brought home an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Barnaby.  And Pieta co-parented a Staffordshire called Subby with her best friend.  

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Pieta and Subby.

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Mari and Barnaby.

Sadly, Barnaby and Subby have moved onto the great kennel in the sky, but they were both very loved members of the Stathopoulos family.  They are both buried in our Mum’s backyard now, which is perhaps a little weird (since the house is no longer ours) but also kinda wonderful that their final resting place is the family home.

Over the years, I’ve always felt a strong desire to add a puppy to my life but sadly, shift work isn’t really conducive to owning a pet, and neither is our tendency to travel as much as possible.  My love of dogs runs deep but I am not so selfish as to subject an animal to a life of solitude in an apartment, interrupted only by regular visits to a kennel.  The answer to my pet dilemma in Dubai has turned out to be K9 Friends, a doggie shelter in an industrial area, near the port of Dubai.  K9 Friends is a non-profit organisation, founded more than 30 years ago, that rescues abandoned dogs (which is a huge problem in Dubai, sadly).  K9 Friends’ ultimate goal is to re-home all the dogs they rescue, but sometimes dogs end up staying with them for years, which is so devastatingly sad.  I do think what they do is amazing though, because if it wasn’t for them, most of these dogs would end up being euthanised.

Obviously, being a volunteer organisation, they rely on donations and the kindness of dog lovers who generously donate their time to looking after the dogs as well as taking care of the administration side of things.  They tend to have about 120-130 dogs kenneled at any one time, so as you can imagine that’s a whole lot of work (as well as a whole lot of poop that needs to be regularly collected).  If you love dogs and want to help, but aren’t able to adopt (or foster) a puppy there are a couple of other ways you can assist.  You can directly sponsor a dog (or a kennel), and that’s something that David and I would like to get involved with.  Each dog costs about 5000dhs a year to house (this includes vet costs, food, grooming etc).  The shelter is happy to accept any amount donation, and every cent helps.  Another way to help out is to take a dog out for the day,  It really is the next best thing to taking a doggo home permanently.

K9’s walking programme has turned out to be perfect for David and me.  In the last month we have taken three wonderful dogs out for the day.  It’s been such a treat to once again have some canine love in our lives, and I’ve really enjoyed having dogs in the house for a few hours a day (even though they’re not all necessarily completely toilet trained).  I also hope that the dogs have enjoyed a break from the shelter as well.  It really is a win-win situation for everyone.  If you live in Dubai and are a dog-lover, I would so highly recommend that you get involved with K9 Friends and take a beautiful, loving dog out for the day.  You never know, you might just end up with a friend for life.

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My favourite of the dogs we took home, Cranberry was found in an abandoned warehouse in an industrial part of town. Look at that face!!!!

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As soon as we brought him home, Cranberry decided he would move into our storage room.  Whenever he got a bit nervous, he would run back in there and crouch down in the corner, in the dark.

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It makes me so sad to think about what Cranberry experienced earlier in his life to make him be such a nervous, timid puppy.

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Cranberry and his new daddy. ❤

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Whilst he was very shy and timid, Cranberry loved going for a walk and meeting other dogs and people.

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Flower’s a slightly older dog who has given birth to loads of puppies before being neutered at K9.  She was a really quiet dog, and even though she was sociable with us, she wasn’t exactly affectionate.

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Flower had a tendency to just sit still, almost as if trying to become invisible.

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Flower loved going out for a walk.

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I really loved it when Flower came and wanted to sit next to me.  She was a very chilled out dog who would really suit an older couple or perhaps a busy family. Even though she was really quiet, the house felt empty when we had to take her back.  

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I have a feeling David developed a bond with Annie.  They really seemed to click.

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When I picked Annie up, the volunteers at K9 Friends warned me that she was “ugly/beautiful” and I guess that’s true.  She got a lot of weird looks on our walk, but she always won strangers over with her warmth and affection.  We were both very sad to take her back to the shelter at the end of the day.

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Annie was a small dog, and a little bit emaciated, but she was very strong and she liked to lead the way on our walks.  She was particularly partial to balls and always wanted to chase them down when we encountered them on our walk.  I think she would be suited to an active family or perhaps a single person that likes to exercise regularly.

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It was tough to drop Annie off at the shelter, and I think that she also wanted to stay with us.  K9 Friends are a very caring dog shelter, but these dogs really need to find permanent, loving homes.  If you want to adopt a dog in Dubai, this is the first place you should check out.  If you want some doggie love, on a more temporary basis, then you should definitely register to take a dog out for a walk.  It’s such a richly rewarding experience, for you and the dog.

 

Ejo #59 – Death (aka Farewell Dear Barnaby)

My whole life I’ve heard that you can never dream about your own death. That you always wake up just before you kick the bucket. Who came up with this nonsense? I dreamt that I died just the other night. And no, it wasn’t a nightmare.

I was involved in a gun fight (as you are, in dreams) and had been shot several times. I had rolled away to try and hide from my attackers and figure out how badly I’d been injured. As the gunfight continued around me, I realised that I was pretty badly injured and that in fact, I was probably not going to make it. This was, as you can imagine, quite a sad feeling. I can’t remember being in too much pain, but I was bleeding a lot and some major organs had been hit. As I lay there contemplating what was next, one of the bad guys found my hiding spot and stood over me with a gun pointed right at me. I wasn’t afraid. He shot me right in the heart – a fatal shot – and I instantly realised that I was dying. My life flowed away from my body, and into an unknown abyss. But it wasn’t at all frightening. Firstly, it felt like a relief, like the fear and sadness had given way to something better. It was a lovely feeling, ecstatic almost, to be aware of death taking hold of me and deciding to not fight it. You could say I actually allowed myself to enjoy and savour the sensation of my life slipping away. It was euphoric, and it was beautiful.

I know it was just a dream, but I woke up from it feeling like I’d experienced some kind of an epiphany. Death itself is nothing to be frightened of. I truly believe that now (yes, thanks to a dream which my subconscious completely made up based on no evidence whatsoever, yes, yes, yes).

The pleasant feeling of having experienced, and even enjoyed, my own death stayed with me for several days and led me to start thinking about my own, actual, imminent death. And what I realised is that even though I am no longer afraid of the act of dying, I really don’t want to die quite yet. This might not seem like a revolutionary thought to most people, but for the last eight years, I’ve actually been “cheating” death. You see, since I was a teenager I had a very strong feeling that I wouldn’t live past the age of 35. I was certain of it. And so, in a way, I kind of lived my life as though I expected it to end in 2006. I don’t mean I was reckless or that I endangered myself. I just had no expectations of life beyond that age. I honestly thought I would be dead. But hey, here I am, very much alive and well.

Since turning 35 (and beyond) the question of my mortality hasn’t really been something that I’ve thought about. Until my death dream the other night. So, when I put the question to myself, “Are you still OK with dying?” the answer came back a resounding NO! I’m not ready. And I’ve never felt that way before. I’d only ever felt some kind of fuzzy acceptance towards my own death. Never before had I experienced resistance. So, was it the dream that caused this adjustment, or is it the fact that as I get older, death changes from being just a nebulous concept into something more real to face head on. I don’t know.

I am no stranger to death. My father died of lung cancer 11 years ago. I clearly remember finding out that he was terminally ill, ten months earlier. My parents had spent the summer in Greece and while they were gone, my sister who was house-sitting for them bought an adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy to keep her company. She called him Barnaby and she popped him in her handbag when she went to the shop to buy milk. Now, my parents had made it pretty clear that they didn’t want any more pets after our Doberman, Jessica, had died a year before. So we were sure that they would be furious when they got home. But they returned from overseas, and Barnaby’s existence barely registered. There were a few grumbles about it, but that was it. A few days later they told us about Dad being sick. So I guess they just had bigger things to worry about than a dog in the house. And so Barnaby stayed.

Playing with his Mini-Me.

Playing with his Mini-Me.

My father pretended to not love Barnaby, but it was pretty obvious that he did (how could you not love that face?). And I think he provided my Dad with some comfort during his illness. And isn’t that what dogs do best? Isn’t their unconditional loving what makes us love them back so much? Over the years, Barnaby has firmly sealed his place in our family. We’d had dogs before, but they’d always been outside dogs. Barnaby was well and truly an inside dog which is why I think he assimilated into the family more completely than our other pets. He would lounge around watching TV with us, sleep with us and hang around the kitchen while my Mum prepared dinner. He’s always been one of us, and I’m pretty sure he thinks he is too. Barnaby is my sister’s pup, but we all love him as our own. He is the most sweet-natured, playful, gentle, patient and sociable little guy I’ve ever met. People on the street gush over how cute he is and whilst he enjoys the attention, he always prefers the company of our family members to other people (and dogs). Like I said, he’s one of us.

Even though he's 12 he still looks like a little puppy.

Even though he’s 12 he still looks like a little puppy.

This is his bed.  My sister is allowed to sleep in it.

This is his bed. My sister is allowed to sleep in it.

Barnaby’s Mum, my sister Mari, says, “Barn has been a constant companion and mate for me for over 12 years and he’s always been a fantastic personality. If I want to run and throw the ball, so does he. If I want to sit and watch telly, he wants to too, from my lap! But he’s also good at getting me to play ball when I don’t instigate, he cutely nudges the ball at me with his nose. He plays a mean game of soccer, kicking the ball back to me with his front paws! He loves face time and if he wants a cuddle he sits facing me on my lap and just looking into my eyes. Any time I’ve gone through a rough patch in my life and I am demonstrably down he comes and just sits next to me and will sometimes burrow his head under my arm. He’s a face licker and you’ve got to be mad quick to escape his dog kisses!”

I know everyone thinks that their dog is the cutest dog, the smartest dog, the fastest dog etc. And those people can go and write about their dogs on their own ejo. On this site, Barnaby is, hands down, the best dog in the world. Undisputed.

He loves lounging around and getting hugs

He loves lounging around and getting hugs

Over the years Barnaby’s health has, unfortunately, deteriorated to the point where he needs to take a bunch of medication every single day just to stay alive. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are renowned for being susceptible to a number of genetic health problems, and Barnaby has had mitral valve heart disease for a few years. He’s also recently developed a soft tissue sarcoma which has left a golf ball sized tumour on his right thigh, making it painful for him to walk. But despite his aches and pains, despite his failing body, Barnaby, at the ripe old grandfatherly age of 12 has led a pretty good life. He’s been showered with love and affection, he’s been fed well and he’s played a lot. Mari says, “Even though he is increasingly unwell, he still wants to keep going. He will play ball, even if afterwards it takes him two hours to recover instead of ten minutes. If people come over he puts aside his tiredness and gives them attention”.

Yup, the cone of shame.  He wears it with aplomb.

Yup, the cone of shame. He wears it with aplomb.

Today all of that came to an end. Today, we said goodbye to Barnaby. His illnesses became too severe for us to allow him to continue to suffer. And we all realised that keeping him around has been for our benefit, and not for his. We couldn’t do that to him anymore. My sister made the difficult decision to put her baby down today. Barnaby isn’t suffering any more, but our pain has just started. We’ll suffer because we’ll miss him. Because we love him and we don’t want him to be gone. Because he really was one of us.

With his Mum.

With his Mum.

Was Barnaby ready to die? Could he even have had any concept of life and death? Or did the entirety of his consciousness consist of dinner, naps, belly scratches and that damn ball? I think that his quality of life towards the end was pretty poor. He couldn’t walk or see or hear very well. But damn it, he knew he was loved and he loved us back. As he lost consciousness, and as his life slipped away, did he feel relief? I don’t know if Barney was ready for his death, but he probably sensed in some way that we were. Dogs pick up on human emotions, right?? Or maybe he just thought that yesterday was one of the best days of his whole life.

RIP Barnaby.  Good boy.

RIP Barnaby. Good boy.