So, for my first blog, I feel like it should be about something that’s really important to me. I’ve spent a long time trying to think of things to write that aren’t utter piffle! But, when my best friend, furkid and constant companion Bonnie died recently, I realised that that’s what I should write about. Or at least post about. Her. And what a profound effect she had on my life, and in a somewhat biased opinion, the effect she had on everyone who knew her.
To really explain how Bonnie came into my life, I have to go back to before she arrived. My first dog, Suzy, a bossy, confident, happy, cheeky little soul. We got her when I was four years old, and she was very much the cheeky dog of a cheeky child. She was my security blanket when things were bad, and continued in that role for sixteen lovely years. At just two weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday, we knew her time had some. She was still happy, but she wasn’t well. I cried for weeks. I didn’t think I ever wanted another dog. I couldn’t face the thought of going through that grief again. But, as happens, time dulls the pain.
Around the time of my 21st birthday, my best friend tried to suss out if perhaps I was ready for another dog. But felt it wasn’t. Then, two months after my birthday, and just three days shy of a year since Suzy had left us, I saw an ad for the Hahndorf Interim Animal shelter. They only mentioned big dogs in the ad, and I felt that a big dog was too much to care for. I wasn’t physically well enough to manage a big animal. So I rang them. They asked me to hang on while they checked to see if one little girl was ready to be rehomed. They told me they had a little girl, Jack Russell Terrier cross with…well they weren’t really sure, but probably a mini Fox Terrier. She was very shy and timid and would need someone home a lot. The perfect dog for me. I told them due to illness, I was home almost all the time. They were delighted. I said I would be there as soon as they opened for adoption hours the following day!
My best friend drove my mum and I up into the hills to the lovely town of Hahndorf. We waited while the went into the building to bring out the little girl they called Jolie. When they brought her out, I cried. She was so thin and scared looking. Her ears were as long as her poor little face, and those big soft brown eyes. They handed her to me, and with tears streaming down my face, I knew it was love. This was my girl. She still had some stitches from the surgeries she’d had (neutering and she’d had to have dew claws on her back feet removed). They didn’t really know her background, but indicated that there’d been some abuse. Even more confirmation for me that this innocent little dog was the one for me. She would need lots of time and understanding for us to gain her trust. We thought.
As we walked her to the car, away from the shelter that had saved her life, she did her first dance. She never just walked anywhere. There was always a spring in her step. Even when she was mopey, she still had a dancey walk. Our first clue to the personality that would be the lights of our lives for over a decade.
I had already chosen a name, with the thought that if it didn’t suit her, I could change it to something else. I didn’t know then, but it was the best thing I could do for her. When animals are rehomed, a change of name can help them distance themselves from any past traumas. But I didn’t learn that until years later. So, Jolie became Bonnie, and climbed happily onto my lap for the car ride home.
We stopped at my best friends home on our way home. So Bonnie could meet her new doggy friends Daisy B, a mini Foxy cross Foxy, and Jack, a Jack Russell cross. Bonnie and Daisy B hit it off immediately. Not so much with Jack. But Daisy put him in his place quick smart!
Then it was off to her new home. As we neared home, a little over a kilometer away, Bonnie sat up, pricked her ears and sniffed the air. She could tell by the smells, that this was our neighbourhood! We pulled into out driveway, closed the gate and let her check her new surroundings. She took a couple of moments to sniff around, and do what she had to do outside. Then followed me to the door. As she crossed the threshold, she danced again. A skipping, happy, bouncy little dance. She knew this was her home, and she felt safe.
Her first evening, she found a pile of dirty washing, waiting to be done, and parked herself happily in it. I think she was getting used to out scents and smells by burying herself in the washing. And, trying to make herself as little of a nuisance as possible.
On her desexing certificate, it stated her weight at time of surgery was 3.6 kilograms. I still can’t begin to imagine how skinny she must have been. She was up to 4kg when she came home with me. She filled out well with regular healthy sized portions! Being a fair part Jack Russell Terrier, it wasn’t hard to fatten her up. Even her dear little snout filled out a bit.
She started out only wanting raw chicken wings to eat. That was ok, we were prepared to go with what she liked. And she quickly learned that she could eat what she wanted and come back to find more if she wanted.
On her first night with us, she clung to my mum. Clearly deciding that she was the mama and was the one to stick with. I think she quickly viewed me as her equal and something of her baby, as she continued to mother me for the rest of her life.
On her second full day with us, she decided that she wanted to eat in the safety of her bed, and carted her chicken wing up the stairs, and proceeded to demolish it in her basket! Not that she slept much in the basket, but it was there if she chose it. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. This skinny little girl, with great big ears, racing up the stairs, with a chicken wing flapping out of the corner of her mouth! This became something of a habit, until we cut her some slack and just took the food up to her!
On her third full day with us, I had to go to hospital to have my wisdom teeth removed. I looked a sight with all the swelling that was instant rather than the few days they warned us of. I was home in a few hours, and nurse Bonnie took up residence by my bed. Mum put her basket right by me, since Bon was refusing to move. There she stayed for days. She had to be carried down the stairs to go outside, as she flat refused to leave me. I could almost see the thought bubble “she’s been at the vet, I have to make sure she’s ok. She rescued me!” She was fed in my room too, while I battled through the fat head feeling that comes with dental surgery. By a week post op, she had learned how to get up on my bed, and was safely tucked in with me.
She continued to grow and learn. She wasn’t in the least bit house broken when she arrived, but, with positive reinforcement, lots of gentle coaxing, very regular trips outside, and endless praise when she did do her business outside, we had very few accidents inside, and she was house trained within a few weeks.
Her first Christmas with us was funny. My uncle and aunty were hosts, and my cousins two dogs were present, so Bonnie was a part of it all too. Ruby, the eldest family canine, was a tall girl, part Kelpie part Golden Retriever. She was old and arthritic, but very much still enjoying being with her pack. Daisy O (to distinguish from Daisy B), was a bitsa. No vet was able to pin down just what she might have been. But she was like a blonde version of the dog Alfred, in the English series Heartbeat. With much the same odour at times. Ruby and Daisy O were also both pound puppies. Ruby showed no real sign of her previous life. But Daisy O had some real issues with children, particularly boys. We all believed that she’d likely been abused by kids in some way. Her fears included plastic bags too. So I hate to think what might have been done to her. The three girls sorted out the pecking order very quickly. Bonnie being very much the placid girl, she just rolled with it. Ruby established that she was top dog, and Daisy O fell somewhere in between. During the Christmas feast, I peaked out the back door to see how the girls were getting along. I wish I had a photo of what I found. Ruby, the tallest, was right up at the back door, as she could see in without having to stretch. A few feet back sat Daisy O, similar height to Ruby, but knowing her place in the pecking order, gave Rubes her space. And, about four metres back from the door say my Bon. She had placed herself way back so that she could see everyone! It was one of the sweetest dog scenes I’ve ever seen.
That night, when we jangled the keys when we were ready to leave, and Bonnie danced with excitement. Poor old Ruby thought this was a bit show offy and gave a short, sharp bark at her. Bonnie was completely unbothered by this, and I swear, if Ruby could have rolled her eyes, she would have. As would happen often throughout her life, my aunty watched Bon dance, the first time she’d seen the performance. Watching Bon skip and hop about, with one front paw waving in the air, her expression turned to one of concern. “Have you hurt your paw little?” She asked Bon, and us. “It’s how she dances” we assured her. But she would ask that each time Bon did her dance for a long time.
Over the next year, Bonnie blossomed, and really came out of her shell. The tail that had remained firmly tucked into her behind finally popped up, with a cute little curl, and rarely stopped wagging. Every step she took was with a dance in her step. She loved life, and it became a given that she would go almost anywhere we went. She wasn’t just accepted by family and friends, she was loved.
One of the cutest things she learned, very early on, was kisses. First half a dozen times, she was quite taken aback by the puckering up and air kissing her. But, when she had her light bulb moment, and realised that kisses were a good thing, and was just another way to show love, she didn’t just tolerate them, but came to demand and expect them. When doing little air kisses (not all that keen on dog slobber!), she’d often catch me too quickly, and slap a lick anywhere between my chin and nose! She always looked so pleased with herself over these moments.
In 2006, (on the day of Steve Irwin’s memorial service), Bonnie had to have a small operation to remove some (benign) lumps and have her teeth cleaned. When we went to collect her, she was still so groggy from the anaesthetic. And to her horror, and shame, she’d have a little accident whilst drugged, and had had to be bathed by the vet nurses. Her eyes really looked like cartoons, and it’s almost impossible to describe how she looked, and do it justice. And, as happens with people after a dental procedure, her mouth was numb and so her lips and tongue were sitting in a comical pose. Poor baby. When she saw me, her eyes opened as far as her drugged system would allow, and she proved once again, she had absolutely no need for speech, she could convey her feelings more thoroughly than if she had spoken. During her teeth clean, the vet, Jess, had found several of Bon’s front teeth to be very loose, and had made the decision to remove them to prevent any trauma a lost tooth may cause. We were relieved, but shattered for Bon’s beautiful smile! Her teeth had been so tiny and even, like a little bitty piano keyboard! We’d called it her piano mouth. She was left with only one top from tooth, and two lower front (fangs and molars all intact), which really did look sad and funny all that the same time. Jess warned us that she’d likely just sleep for the rest of the day, but if she did eat, it would probably come back, all normal and nothing to worry about. In true Bonnie form, she dozed, on a pile of rugs, on the sofa of course, and around evening dinner time, she popped her head up to ask for a feed. Finely diced chicken was her dinner, and it was demolished in her usual hasty time, and she promptly when straight back to sleep. No sick puppy. She liked her food too much to miss a meal too often, even after surgery!
When my baby cousin was born in 2010, we didn’t see him smile until he was two months old, and it was at Bonnie. H had slept most of the time we’d spent with him, and when he was awake, he was rather solemnly summing us up. But, this night, we were holding Bonnie up over his pusher to let her get a look at him, as she’d had a look on her face like we were all quite mad talking into an odd looking shopping trolley (the stroller!). She was a bit mystified by him even after seeing him, but little H opened his eyes wide, and grinned the biggest grin you’ve ever seen from such a tiny baby! It was the start of a beautiful friendship between the two. He learned quickly to be gentle with her, and really just wanted to pat her as soon as he was big enough. Much to (some) people’s horror, when he was 2, he picked her up and put her on the sofa! No complaints from Bon. She was confident he had no intention of hurting her. One of the most touching moments between the two was when he was told to be gentle with her, he very slowly and carefully put his head down on her back to give her a sort of cuddle. A trick A, H’s little sister learned, and repeated often. H and A adored Bonnie, and she them.
Bonnie and children was something we often wondered about from her very first days with us. She was always very interested in strollers. We’ll never know why that was, or if it was just that with her canine sense of smell, and her mummy instinct made her interested in any baby, human or otherwise.
When she met my best friends son D, the friendship was again, immediate. I cemented the friendship for them by giving D some liver treats to feed her. And, when I wrote in a book for D to take home with him, he looked and asked where Bonnie’s name was. I added Bonnie to the “Love from” part of the note. The love of children and animals is something special.
Our neighbours had a cat, Milly, when Bonnie first came to us. Milly was very unsure of Bonnie, as she remembered what a little ratbag Suzy had been. Suzy’s interactions with cats bordered on manic episodes. But not Bon. We long suspected she’d spent more time with cats than dogs, as she was very cat like in some of her behaviours. After Milly, came Madge. A funny, almost entirely black cat, save for a small white smudge just off centre on her chest. From Bonnie and Madge’s first meeting, they became best of friends. Madge would wait for hours for Bon to emerge. They would go so far as to touch noses when greeting each other. Although, not every time. Sometimes Bon would be in a funny mood, and would get excited and bounce at Madge, who was completely confused by this bouncing business. In the evenings, Madge’s mum would call and call her. Clearly not being listened to. I eventually worked out that if I let Bon outside around the time Madge was supposed to go home, Madge would only need to be called once. She would wait to say goodnight to Bon. You wouldn’t believe it without seeing it. But, it happened for around two years. Regularly.
When I had the first of two shoulder reconstructions, she insisted on placing herself between me and the edge of the bed. A little problematic, as I had no hope of moving her one handed! 5.5kg of pure determination is a whole lot of dog! Bless her little heart. She was my nurse again. I would have to call for help. She even gave mum a big dose of talk to the paw while I was in hospital each time. Very miffed that 1) I had been left somewhere she didn’t understand, and then 2) that I came home, again stinking like a people vet!
Last year, I changed Bon’s food, to a home cooked dog stew, or sorts. She’d always suffered from contact allergies, and by keeping her off lawn, we could keep them to a minimum. But, she continued to itch, so with some homework, and thought, and the help of a home cook for your dog book by a vet, I started cooking Bonnie’s dinner. Chicken, beef, rice, and a range of veg, usually green beans, broccoli or carrot, or a combination of any of the three. From the first serve, she lapped it up. And, almost immediately, her itches eased. Anything with grains seemed to be the problem. Not an uncommon allergy. My hilarious little fuss pot didn’t like her special dinner so much when it had been frozen, so I cooked a fresh batch every 6/7 days.
With her new diet, came an even happier and bouncier Bonnie. We thought she was as confident and happy as she would ever be, until the new food. Everything about her every movement said she felt great. We couldn’t believe that she was 13! She Started learning new tricks, of sorts. When she wanted to be picked up, she would jump as one of us leaned forward to get her, forcing us to catch her (most times) mid air! She seemed to think it was a game, and loved it now end. Her hearing faded, and her vision, seriously hampered by cataracts didn’t slow her at all. Another pick me up trick was biting the rug on the seat of the sofa and yanking it, hard! And, just six weeks or so ago, she learned to bang on the front door when she was ready to come in, or more than ready, as given she almost never barked, it was not uncommon for her to be forgotten, and left outside for a period of time.
In the almost eleven and a half years we were blessed to have Bonnie with us, she barked a total of maybe a dozen times. But, with her failing hearing, she became a little more vocal about some things. When she was left alone downstairs, even for a very short time, she only a few months ago, started to throw the most shocking tantrums. Howling and shrieking for all she was worth. The first time I heard this racket, I panicked and thought she must have injured herself somehow. To my amusement, having raced down the stairs (no mean feat with a very wonky body), I found her standing in the middle of the living room, angrily barking at the sofa! I think she was a cross about being on the floor as she was about being left alone. A creature of comfort to say the least.
On Easter Sunday, we went out for a few hours, leaving Bonnie in her usual miffed, but fine, state. Four hours later, when we returned home, she looked as though she’d had a fall, and hurt her back. Something that had happened a few times in recent years, with her trying to jump up onto furniture, but forgetting she wasn’t able to jump that high any longer. We didn’t immediately hit the panic button. She seemed to be in pain, but happy to just sit with us. The following day she was still off her dinner, but didn’t appear to be in too much pain, so knowing her hatred of the vet, decided to see how she went over the following 24hrs. One the Tuesday, she seemed to improve a little, and ate, a bit of steak from our dinner no less! Begged for more. A good sign. We thought. Wednesday, she was quite, and very unsteady on her feet. We decided if she continued that way, we’d get her to a vet. She had what seemed to be generalised pain late Wednesday night, but it passed, and she slept comfortably through the night. Thursday, she was very weak, and just wanted to lay on my mum all day. I rubbed some honey on her gums, too try and boost her energy a bit. We took her to the vet. The honey kicked in and Bonnie found her voice, and told us exactly how much she still remembered, and hated the vets! For 15 minutes she put on this performance. Then, exhausted, she collapsed into a sulk on mum’s lap. Louise, the vet who examined her, was wonderful. We explained about her fear of vets, and her early issues and our suspicions of her abuse prior to coming to us. Other than some dehydration, Louise couldn’t find too much wrong. Teeth (that were left) very clean and in good shape, a very minor heart murmur (lowest on the scale) which was terrific for a “geriatric” dog. All the same, she admitted her to their hospital, for rehydration, and to run some blood tests.
I rang to see how she was an hour or so later. She was sleeping, as she had been when we left her. Her first blood tests showed some electrolyte imbalances, and an elevated kidney reading. Which could have been due to several factors, and we needed to wait for the big screen the following morning. Neither of us slept too well that night. I think I had about an hour, just before dawn. Each time I rang to see how she was, she was sleeping comfortably.
Mid morning on the 25th of April, the blood tests still weren’t back. It was a public holiday, Anzac Day. The lab was probably not going to return the tests til the next day, but Will, the vet that took over Bonnie’s treatment that morning, was going to keep checking in case they came in. Shortly after lunch time, I called and asked could we come in and see her. Of course was the answer, but it was tempered with the vet will have a chat with you when you come in. We were taken straight through to see Bon, and found her crying, desperately. Will explained that she was now on methadone, as her pain levels had increased during the morning, likely relating to her now being fully hydrated and her cognitive function really registering the pain. Abdominal was as much as he’d venture. But with no real cause still to be found, they really didn’t know exactly which treatment she needed. He took her from the cage she was in and I held her, while she continued to wail. Mum took a turn at holding her too. I said to the vet that I didn’t know if I could, knowing she was on something like methadone and still in this much pain, allow her to suffer. He took us through to a private room to have some time with Bonnie, and have a think about what we needed to do. We sat, crying, taking turns at holding Bonnie, trying to comfort her. Nothing worked. Until I did what we called the jigsaw proof. My nose fitted right between her eyes, and perfectly up over her forehead. It was only then she seemed to really understand that it was us, me particularly. Her crying eased, but didn’t stop. We took about 90 minutes to come to the decision I think we both knew was the only thing we could do. I asked the vet to come back in, and we asked did he think that euthanasia was an option for her, given how sick she had become in just a few hours (even though she’d been sick during the days leading up to that day, it was a dramatic change in her from the 24th to the 25th). He said he thought it was an appropriate and humane decision. So, we took a few more minutes, so say our last goodbyes. Will explained how it worked. It was very peaceful for her.
We brought her home to bury her. It’s odd, I have no qualms or second thoughts about cremating people, but I couldn’t stand the thought of doing that to Bonnie. So, she’s buried next to my Suzy. It’s funny, because in life, I don’t think they would have got along too well, both very much enjoying their status as only dogs. But, now they’ve both crossed over Rainbow Bridge, I think it’s only fitting they’re together.
Before we buried her, I spent more time just holding her. Trying to burn every last second of time with her into my memory. Her baby soft skin. The funny little swirls in her fur. The long hair on the bottoms of her paws. Her funny pearly sheen. Her satiny ears. Even the way her head often smelled of cheesy corn chips!
As we wrapped her in the sheet to bury her in, our decision was confirmed as the correct one. After death, the body usually lets go of it’s normally continent things. It was clear she’d had a very large intestinal hemorrhage. When we spoke to the vet some days afterwards, and told them that, they weren’t surprised. Her final blood tests had showed severe liver failure, which causes a failure to clot, plus kidney failure, and sepsis. No cause, apart from age. It just sometimes happens in old dogs. It can happen very quickly, and there’s little to be done, besides make them comfortable. I have to say, that’s still of little comfort to me just yet.
The day after Bonnie died, I went outside to get a few breaths of fresh air. And was brought to floods of tears by little Madge. Sitting by Bonnie’s grave, her head hung in a way I’d never seen her do before. She was clearly wondering what had happened. Then, in a completely unprecedented action, Madge looked at me. Made eye contact. She’d never done it before. Any eye contact at all usually sent Madge scurrying away. But not this day. She just sat, and held the look. I believe she was asking me what happened. I’d always wondered if those ‘pet lays on masters grave” stories were made up. But after seeing Madge just sitting by Bon’s grave, in a fairly open spot, so not one of Madge’s preferred spots, I believe she was sitting with her friend. When I told Madge’s mum what had happened, and of Madge and the grave, she told me the night Bonnie got really sick, Madge yowled and wailed all night. Something she’d never done before. And, the day Bonnie died, she was very clingy and subdued. I believe animals know and understand things way beyond our comprehension. Madge is back to not looking us in the eye. I hope when another dog takes up residence here, that he or she and Madge can be friends too.
I don’t think any words, or picture or videos will ever fully capture just how precious Bonnie was. My beautiful friend Brenda wrote the most wonderful poem for Bonnie. And I plan to print it and frame it one day soon. Her words, as only a poet can, capture the pain of losing a most beloved friend.
I will adopt again. And I will take on another adult dog, as they tend to be harder to rehome and cute fluffy puppies. And, for health reasons, I don’t have the energy to cope with a puppy’s energy! I feel so very strongly about adopting from animal shelters, rather than buying from pet shops, unless those pet shops are part of adoption programs run by shelters. But, before I am ready to love another little ball of wonderful, I need time to grieve for Bonnie. She was the most special little girl. Kind, loving, gentle, protective, and nurturing. I know everyone thinks their animals are the most special, but Bonnie really was. There wasn’t a person who met her who didn’t adore her.
It’s a month today since Bonnie left us. I still expect to hear her ears flapping in the morning, and to be greeted by her dancing delight as I walk through the front door. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how empty a house feels without a special little dog.