Bonnie’s Story

Last week my dear dog Bonnie died.  She lived twice as long as the vets predicted but it was only weeks in the end. Some of it felt like years, but it was only 14 weeks from the first diagnosis.

There is so much I could say but I don’t know where to start so I am going to tell Bonnie’s story. While she was ill I often talked to her about her life and adventures so here it is for you.

Part One.   Life in Cornwall.

Born on Midsummer Day in 2001, Bonnie was a much loved puppy in the smallholding in West Cornwall where she started life. Her mother was called Sprout and was black and white but with the prick ears that were passed on to Bonnie. Here is Bonnie with her mum and one of her sisters

Bonnie went to live in Lamorna and this is where I first met her at a neighbour’s house.   She was introduced as the new puppy but I was surprised that she was living in a barn, tied on a long rope.
I fell in love with her from the first moment and whispered to my friend “She’s my dog!”

Her early adventure was to run away at the age of 12 weeks and for 11 days she was lost in the autumn wind and rain.  She survived by eating blackberries and turned up, with a purple muzzle, at a neighbouring farm. Her owner was then persuaded to keep her indoors but left her alone much of the time with a cat for company. Thus started her love of cats.
Circumstances meant that the owner was not able to care for her and Bonnie came to live with me, changing her name from Biscuit to Bonnie.  What a happy day when my Easter Bonnet arrived home!

Home was a Cornish granite cottage and Bonnie had a new big sister – my dog Blue. As you see it is normal in British homes to let your dogs sit on the chairs. It amazed me when she came to Catalunya that she just knew it wasn’t acceptable here.

Nearby there was an ancient stone circle, the Merry Maidens and all year round this was one of our most visited and favourite places

And we had all the Cornish coastal path to explore – Blue always taking the lead

So many friends to play with and when Grace arrived next door Bonnie herself became the big sister

Playing ball was always her favourite game – to the point of obsession. This proved to be a blessing later on as even when she felt lousy she always would perk up at the sight of a ball

Bonnie was a typical collie in that she was suspicious of strangers but adoring of friends

She didn’t like being in town but loved travelling and was always happy to leap into the van for a trip.
We went to Scotland the first Christmas after I got my camper van and while Blue had to have a large cage in order to feel safe, Bonnie was happy to lounge on the seat

When I went to Catalunya I didn’t intend to stay forever but life takes you by surprise and when I met my partner and moved in with him I had to make decisions about my dogs. It feels like a huge thing to take dogs out of the UK and especially to bring them to a hot country to live in a town.  So I arranged for them to stay in their familiar home with friends of mine moving in to look after them. It was one of the hardest times for us all. I enjoyed my life here and they enjoyed their life there  – but we missed each other and my visits were bitter sweet for me and –  perhaps –  for them

With other people living in my house, I often stayed at my friends who live next door.  The dogs came over too and we would all sleep together as cuddled up as possible.
When I think back on it I can hardly believe that we all lived like this for so long.

There was another problem at this time. My partner also had a dog and when she first came to visit Cornwall it seemed they would all make a happy family.  We hoped to find another house with a garden so we could all live together in Catalunya. But Duna never accepted Bonnie. And she came to hate her. It came on gradually but there were signs from the start

The summer we visited Cornwall with Duna and then left my dogs behind again was terrible for me. I knew they were happy at home and I didn’t know if they would adapt to a new life in Catalunya but I had to find a way to bring us all back together. I started work on organising to rent out my house, create a living space for us to stay in when we visited and to get pet passports for Bonnie and Blue.  I knew Bonnie would be fine but would dear Blue, so connected to home, benefit from the change? 
My only certainty was that the weather in Catalunya would be better for their joints.

In December 2011 we set off to begin our new life. The journey took us from Lamorna to Folkstone, through the Channel Tunnel and all the way down through France.
It was the beginning of a great adventure.
I was terrified. Blue was willing and Bonnie was keen to get going!

Tomorrow Part Two – Life – and Death – in Catalunya

Coming closer to the edge

When I am out walking I have lots of ideas for things to write here but once I sit down in front of the computer my mind goes blank. It is a strange and unusual symptom for me, usually so verbal.

If you have been visiting this blog for any length of time you will know that I have a dog, Bonnie, and that she has cancer. Sometimes I write about this and sometimes I leave it alone – this blog is supposed to be about Catalan life and not to be a record of my dogs illness.

And yet.

I am here in Catalunya. And this is my life. Some of it would be pretty much the same if I was still in Cornwall and some of it is particular to here and now and this place I am calling home.

The photos that follow were taken on the hill above Granollers a few days ago and today on our trip to the beach at Premia. Bonnie is wearing the fluffy coat because it was raining and she is rather thin now and vulnerable to cold and damp.

 Why I am glad I am in Catalunya while my dog is ill

  • The weather is good. We can go out and sit in the sunshine in what might be her last days
  • The vets I use are wonderful. They are a 24 hour hospital so I can relax around the idea that Bonnie could take a turn for the worse in the middle of the night or at the weekend. If we bundle into the car we can be at the clinic in five minutes, no problem parking, open night and day.  It is also the first time in many years that I have felt welcome and cared for by all the staff at a vets clinic. Everyone knows Bonnie and greets us when we arrive. It makes all the difference.
  • We have been going regularly to Sant Nicolau for rest and respite from city life and the walks there are better than any I had near home in Cornwall. The place is reached by small quiet rough lanes and you can walk straight from the house without having to see a car.
  • The weather – no excuses for putting it twice as it is so important. Sunshine and warmth mean we can be outside where Bonnie is happy.

Why it is hard being in Catalunya while my dog is ill

  • It can be hard  explaining things in another language
  • I had to order all herbs and supplements from the UK and US and it took ages!
  • I wish I had a wider circle of friends here to keep me company on walks, vet visits. I am used to spending a lot of time alone here but right now I do miss so many friends from home.
  • It is hard being in Granollers because of having no garden. Poor Bonnie has to race across the road to the square for her toilet needs – no fun when you are poorly.

I think guilt is part of the process when someone is dying. It almost can’t be avoided no matter how much we try to talk ourselves out of it. These last days I have been trying to get past my guilt about so many things.  I left Bonnie in the UK for two years when I first came over here. I hated leaving her – and Blue my other collie – but I didn’t want to bring them over until I knew I would be staying.  When I did bring them, I slid smoothly into guilt about that!  One friend from Cornwall even voiced it to me “How can you take them over to Spain, where it is hot and different and they won’t have a garden and all the sounds and smells will be alien?”  She didn’t even mention the tick borne diseases which exist here and got Bonnie last spring, almost killing her.  Or the need for rabies jabs…

Decisions we make have their consequences but I know guilt is not useful. Except that sometimes it makes us behave better in the present.

 So I feel I have done my best since Bonnie got sick. I look after her as well as I can.  I have researched and read and learnt about canine cancer and treatments. I take her to the countryside when possible. I feed her the best diet possible. I sit with her at home. I manage a whole array of bottles of pills and powders that all need to be given in different ways.  In far too short a time all this will be a memory. As will be the feel of her soft silky coat slipping through my fingers. I love this dog with all my heart – too much perhaps – and I fear what will come after she goes. There will be change I am sure and it will be OK and so will I. But for now, I feel I am dangling my feet over a precipice and hoping that when I leap, or fall, or am pushed…. I will find wings and fly.

“Come to the edge, he said.
We are afraid, they said.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came to the edge,
He pushed them and they flew.

Guilliame Apollinaire

Extra Time

It is almost 10 weeks since we had the bad news about Bonnie’s health. The cancer she has is fast growing and aggressive and the statistics say that without chemotherapy treatment a dog would not normally live for more than 4-6 weeks.

But here we still are, in a strange state of limbo, celebrating the extra time we have been given and trying not to just spend the days waiting for something bad to happen.

For the last two months we have been to-ing and fro-ing between town and country. It is much easier making a sick dog happy when you live in a beautiful cottage surrounded by woods and green fields. Granollers is a not a bad place – I love it in many ways and write my other blog to celebrate its many interesting features. But in the end it is an industrial town, with traffic, pollution, people milling around on the streets and even the river side is dirty and litter strewn.

Here at Sant Nicolau we can open the door and hear birdsong. Our morning walk is along a dusty lane which winds through the woods and then opens out onto a wide plane with the mountains rising in the distance. I never get tired of this view of Canigo

We are happy here – Bonnie plays with the other dogs, enjoys the smells of the forest – wild boar I expect – and has no reason to be startled by sirens or horns or people shouting or dogs rushing at her snapping and barking. I am writing and painting, reading and meditating, trying to find a rhythm to my days so that they don’t just feel like an extended holiday

But of course it does also feel strange.
Watching Bonnie so closely makes me tense.   I am alone a lot of the time which I enjoy but there is so much time to think and worry.  I distract myself with Trollope and Downton Abbey.
She has a shelf of bottles containing various anti-cancer supplements and I need to balance giving her as much of these as possible, while not over-loading her weak digestion

Sometimes I forget about the cancer . Of course Bonnie never gives it a thought!
We play or walk and breath each other in each second.
Then I remember with a jolt, asking myself if I am doing it all right?
There is a dog cancer forum which I belong to and the people are immensely generous with their support and knowledge. Which supplements, when to give them, how much, what to expect, and then caring messages when it seems the fight is over and finally, support when the dog has died.

Last weekend I got very anxious about Bonnie’s diarrhoea.  I have tried so many things and yet it continues. It is a possible sign of the disease gripping faster onto her system. Or it could be a reaction to all the supplements. I wrote to the group in the morning and within an hour there were five responses with suggestions and recipes and more information about intestinal lymphoma.

Thank you, internet, for making all this possible!

Support, information, connection and being able to buy stuff from abroad online – I am so thankful for it.  None of the supplements were to be found here in Catalunya or Spain – I have had packets arriving every week from the UK and the USA. If people here needed similar information I wonder where they would find it if they didn’t speak English.  Perhaps it is something to think of in the future – a Spanish/Catalan web site with all the basic information. It all started for me with Dr Dresslers book which I found by chance online and after that the research has never stopped and I am sure what I learned brought us these extra weeks together.

Collecting water from Montseny

We are muddling along.

Bonnie has good and bad days. In general she is happy and full of energy but her digestion is very unstable and this tires her (and me) out.
There is no way of knowing what will happen next.
Or when it will happen.
That is just a fact of life that I must accept.

Our new kitten Phoenix (Fenix in Catalan) has settled into Granollers fairly well. We keep her in one room until she feels more confident and also to avoid her running out of the front door onto the busy street. Once she is calm and comfortable with us all then we will have to trust her not to be foolish. She is still nervous when we make loud or sudden noises but trusts Bonnie totally

Yesterday we went up to Sant Fe in the mountains of Montseny. There is a natural spring there where we fill up our water bottles.  Sometimes when I am writing English I can’t remember which is the correct way to express something. I reverse translate and end up with funny expressions like ‘gather water’ or ‘collect water’. What is the right way to say this in English? Is it just ‘get water’?

 It was Sunday and many other people had the same idea. When we arrived there was a group of neighbours from Sabadell who were just beginning to fill up about 60 eight litre bottles of water. I timed them for a while and realised it takes about one minute each bottle. The stream coming out of the rock was steady but rather slow. The water is delicious and so cold

As we waited three more couples arrived armed with large plastic bottles. It was a bit of a party

The woods around the fountain are mostly beech and the ground was inches deep in reddy brown leaves which perfectly matched Bonnie’s coat

We filled up 30 bottles which should last us a few months. It is one of my great pleasures here – going to collect, or fetch, or catch, or get fresh mountain spring water.

Market Day in Figueres

Up bright and early to go on the school run to Figueres. Bonnie was a bit surprised to be leaving the house at 7.30am when it was still dark.

We had a wander around the market watching them set up their stalls. It was much quieter than the market in Granollers – people standing around chatting rather than shouting at the top of their voices.
But to be fair perhaps they are like that in Granollers too at 8am – I have never been to look!

In the vegetable market there is a large sculpture of George and the Dragon – both looking strong and proud – forever caught in that moment before the fight begins. I much prefer it to depictions of the dragon losing the battle. But whatever George thinks – that Dragon will always rise again!

Beside the police station with it’s Spanish flag there is a window with the Catalan one

A Figueres hotel welcomes old cows like me!  In the Taurean sense of the word.
As we left town it began to rain – I can’t remember the last time it did – and as usual most people had umbrellas handy – except us!
Yesterday we took the Blue Dog sculpture down to sit in place beside Blue’s grave.

A very peaceful place to sit and dream.