An African's Anecdotes and Accoutrements
|In April 2003 Ivan was offered the job that saw us leave our home, our family and our friends to move to Greece’s second city Thessaloniki. I panicked, worrying about our four dogs: my German Shepherds Matti and Indi (litter brother and sister) and the Giant Schnauzers Chewy and Jabba - brothers from different litters.
Ivan is as much of an animal lover as I am, and we agreed that our dogs are our family. We may not have had human children, so one could probably say the pets are our substitute. So our dogs travelled with us to our new home, flying from Harare to London and on to Athens, before travelling by road north to Thessaloniki. Chewy and Indi flew over on the same flight as me, with Matti and Jabba following two days later.
Our dogs have helped us come to terms with our ex-patriot lives during the last six and a half year. When we were transferred to Izmir we made three trips, driving the ten hours from Thessaloniki and over the Turkish border before travelling along the Turkish coast to our new home. First trip was with Jabba and Chewy, with Chewy treading anxiously every time he needed a pit stop. Jabba would sit up every time the car slowed, peeking out of the windows as if asking: “Are we there yet?” I’m thinking of Donkey in Shrek 2 here...
The second trip we brought Matti and Indi. Both GSDs were classy, chilled out dogs - we stopped at the pit stops Chewy had selected during the first trip, and both German obliged. The final trip was me, Ivan and Kit - my little Citroen Saxo - and much of our household stuff. The day after the last trip we collected our dogs from the kennels, and began our new lives in Turkey.
In September 2006 we lost Chewy, and Indi left us in December 2008. Today we have two rather elderly dogs left; Jabba is soon going to be eleven years old, and Matti is fourteen and a half years old. These last few weeks Matti has been sick, with intermittent diarrhoea. His back legs are weakening, that horrible affliction that strikes so many senior dogs, especially German Shepherds.
I’ve been at the vet with Matti - four trips to the vet last week for intravenous transfusion of electrolytes. When the vet expressed concern about his legs, enquiring if he was in concern I told him I doubted it. I know my dogs, and while Matti’s back legs are not good he doesn’t cry when he gets up, and his wonderful nature is still as fantastic as it was the day I collected our six week old puppy in Harare back in 1995. The vet suggested I try Rimadyl, and gave me some tablets to give him over the weekend.
The tablets made no difference - in fact one of the side effects of Rimadyl is partial paralysis, and during this weekend Matti’s legs have worsened. I gave Matti the tablets on Saturday and Sunday morning, and then stopped. This morning I asked the vet if the tablets could have caused this problem. She acknowledged the side effect, but said the dose was too short and insufficient to have any effect. Instead, she said this is something we can do nothing about - Matti is a very old German Shepherd, and would not be able to withstand an operation. And any medication to improve his hip problems will not have any effect - all we can do is make sure he’s comfortable.
I asked her if she would consider euthanasia, remembering how reluctant vets are in this part of the world to put a suffering animal to sleep. She told me to phone her when I am ready, and she will do it for me.
Naturally I’ve spent the afternoon in tears. Matti is a gentleman - the kindest dog I have ever known. He’s never attacked or bitten anyone or anything... not another dog, a cat or even a human being. When his breeder chose him for us she said he was the gentlest of all the puppies in the litter, and because of my disability she wanted me to have the nicest-natured puppy. Matti never even had to be housetrained. He’s always had a wise head and a sweet nature. The only times he ever needed treatment at the vet - other than annual inoculations - was to remove his testicles which never descended, and to drain a haematoma he got in his ear while we on holiday.
I don’t know how much more time I have with my Matabele dog. We are going to Zimbabwe for ten days during the last week in March, and we will not put him in the kennels in this condition. He’s still eating heartily, drinking water and getting up to greet Ivan and I when we come home. His eyes are still bright golden brown, without the filmy look so common in old dogs. I will watch him closely, treasuring what time we have left with him. I don’t know if he is ready now; maybe he is. Selfishly I want to keep him with me as long as possible, but not if he is in pain or uncomfortable. Am I unreasonable? Perhaps, but this goodbye is going to be one of the hardest we’ve ever gone through.