Bonnie’s Story – Part Five – A Full Life

Last September when we returned from the UK I was hardly able to walk as the tendinitis in my left ankle was getting worse rather than better. Of course this had an impact on Bonnie as I had to find new ways to make sure she had enough exercise.  We did more town walks normally ending up in a cafe in the sunshine

Or we went along the river path with me on the bike and Bonnie bounding along beside me.  On one of these bike rides I noticed she was slowing down – instead of me racing to catch her it was the other way around. A subtle change but I noticed it and stored it away

In October some of my family came to have their first holiday at Sant Nicolau.   It was a good opportunity to see how much Bonnie had changed over the years.  She used to be famous for barking at strangers – anyone arriving at my house would have to pass a collie test before they could approach her.  Almost before saying ‘Hello’ I would have told them, speaking over loud barks, “Please ignore her, don’t look at her, don’t try to touch her for at least half an hour. DON’T LOOK AT HER”

But living in Granollers helped her to trust life and people more.  We walked so often through the town with children running about or whizzing by on scooters, there were lots of dogs, cars, motorbikes, the constant scream of the ambulance sirens.  Living with the Resident Adolescent got her accustomed to visitors coming and going, large groups of tall gangly boys would walk past where she lay sleeping and she would hardly bother to lift her head. In general they would ignore her – not because I asked them to but they weren’t interested and so perhaps she didn’t feel they were a threat.

My ankle stopped me doing many things which in a way was a gift as I spent more time at home with Bonnie. She was quite happy to potter around the nearby parks, to come with us to the beach and play on the sand

 And to go out in the car at weekends for longer walks with Pep while I sat in the sunshine and read

These stripped trees are cork oaks

In early November we went to explore another part of the Costa Brava near Palafrugells. It was sunny and extremely windy and in the evening we looked for a hotel to stay overnight.  Llafranc is a lovely village by the sea, the sort of place you dream of settling down in for the rest of your life. The first hotel didn’t accept dogs but the second one was very welcoming and gave us a beautiful room overlooking the bay.   I loved that place and it will always remain in my memory as our last holiday together before we found out Bonnie had cancer.

When we returned home I noticed that same night that she had trouble climbing the stairs to the bedroom.  Again thinking I was being over-anxious I took her to the vet the next day. After the Erlichiosis attack I was always quick to pick up signs of possible aenemia as you never completely clear the system of the parasite and it could reappear.  But this time the bad news was different, and worse. After X-rays and ultrasound as well as blood tests they decided to operate as there was a large mass in her abdomen.  We had to wait for biopsy results to be sure but just the look of the tumour convinced them it was a lymphoma and fairly untreatable.

There are two types of lymphoma – one is multicentric and results in lumps which can be felt superficially around the body. This type can be treated with chemotherapy and has high success rates for remission. The other sort is an internal tumour, often attached to the intestines and is less common and extremely aggressive. We had this one.

We were told Bonnie had 4-6 weeks to live

She actually lived for 14 more weeks

Every week was a victory and at the time I felt very proud that she was so well, happy and alive in spite of the poor prognosis.  Never give up hope – or not until they do

We ticked off each week as a gain and at our fortnightly visit the vet was surprised how well she was.

I spent hours researching remedies, diets, supplements, and was in contact with several groups of people on the internet who are using alternative remedies to treat their dogs with cancer.  If I had relied on the vet I would have despaired. They had nothing to offer except regular visits and blood tests and a lot of caring concern

Life for Bonnie continued with walks and games and my full time attention. I was lucky to be able to drop almost everything else and just be with her. The problem with having been told 4-6 weeks is that you can’t forget it and so I was on constant alert for signs that she was in pain or the tumour was about to explode or block her digestive tract. If I had known we had that little bit longer then I could have relaxed in those early weeks. But living on a knife edge is not very relaxing.
At this time we spent a lot of time outside together, walking and then sitting on benches just being quiet and watching the world

We were very close and had some of our happiest times just relaxing into the present moment

A high priority was to stay somewhere in the country and so I rented out one of the apartments at Sant Nicolau.  It was the best decision I made and we drove up and down between there and Granollers just when the mood took us.  We spent weeks up there, just being together, it was lovely

Every time we drove up there my heart would lift at that moment when the fields spread out in front of the car and in the distance you see the mystical peaks of Canigo. And Bonnie would start to squeal as soon as she felt the car turn onto the bumpy lane

I am not going to revisit all the ups and downs of Bonnie’s battle with cancer. It is an incredibly intense experience as anyone will know who has cared for a sick animal.  The hardest part is not being able to ask them if it hurts. Knowing they will hide their suffering as long as possible means that you are constantly alert for signals that the time has come
Through all this we continued to explore Catalunya. Here we are at Sant Aniol in the interior of the Emporda beyond Besalu. It was a long walk but Bonnie continued to surprise us all with her strength

One piece of advice I read was to keep offering new activities and as collies love to learn we decided it was time Bonnie not only brought back the ball but put it in your hand.  Like this
She practised and practised over these months and it was lovely to see her eventually tossing the ball casually into Peps hand as if to say  ‘there you are, what’s next?’

We celebrated New Year at Sant Nicolau and on January 1st a stray kitten arrived in our lives.
We called her Phoenix and she immediately snuggled up to Bonnie even while she remained suspicious of us

Back in Granollers Phoenix gained confidence and Bonnie at last was allowed up onto the sofa – don’t forget that for Catalan people this is quite an honour

On February 17th I decided to take her up to Sant Nicolau again for some country air.  I was caught between wanting her to be in the countryside and yet fearing she would take a turn for the worse when I was alone and more isolated.   She had stopped eating well and continued with terrible diarrhoea.  It was getting harder to give her the remedies as she was so picky about what went into her mouth. I felt we were getting near the end and I wanted her to be somewhere green.
Chosing between fear and love – I suddenly thought I had to go to the place we both loved – my fears might be no more than a spectre.  We would cope.

We had a good day pottering in the garden and taking little walks. The almond blossom was out

Then she had a night where she was in pain.  Neither of us slept and I knew I would call the vet in Figueres in the morning and help her to go.  We went out at dawn to visit Blue’s grave and then to the church that adjoins the property. As I was singing to her in the church Bonnie went outside and when I followed her out she had disappeared.  After half an hour calling her name I found Helen and together we searched the immediate area for over two hours.
The house is surrounded by thick woods and I lost hope but kept calling, growing ever more desperate.  Was this going to be the nightmare end of everything?

I won’t keep you wondering – no it wasn’t.  Mobile phones don’t work there but when I rang home to Granollers I found that someone had called to say Bonnie was at their house.
Thank God for collar tags!  Thanks also to Saint Francis, Saint Anthony and Amma who answered my prayers.   It was like suddenly being rescued from hell.
She had not crept under a bush but kept walking for about an hour till she reached their farm.   I don’t think she was running away from me – only from the disease and perhaps instinct told her to keep going till it all would stop.

We brought her back, very tired but very peaceful.  There seemed to be no more pain.  We slept together for a while with me crying, mostly from relief to have her soft furry body back beside me. How does anyone survive the grief of losing and not being able to find?  It never would get better

So that is how our story ends. Bonnie had her second great walkabout adventure – perhaps remembering the little 12 week old puppy who went missing in the woods in Lamorna and survived. Later that afternoon she left this world surrounded by a circle of friends – Pep came from Granollers, Helen sat with Lucy dog nearby, I held her head cupped in my hands and the same vet who came to help Blue, arrived with her gentle needles and kind smile.  I felt a lightness pass through my heart as she died and I knew she was free

Dear Bonnie Thank you for all the love See you next time   XXXXX

Bonnie’s Story – Part Three – The Love of a Collie

The summer of 2012 was supposed to be our summer of rest and recuperation. After we left Duna in her new Norfolk paradise we travelled slowly down to Cornwall in the camper van, enjoying peace at last.  Bonnie loved camping and it was great to take her to some favourite places like Waylands Smithy the Neolithic Burial Chamber on the ancient Ridgeway. It is a very powerful place.

We parked overnight on the Ridgeway which is one of the oldest highways across England and were kept awake by a strange clicking that couldn’t be turned off in the dashboard.  Every time it stopped and I returned to bed, it started up again. Eventually I decided we must be parked in the middle of the ley line so decided to move the van. Only a few metres back and the sound stopped

We arrived in Cornwall early August and only a few days later received the terrible news of my brothers death in London. Once again we left Bonnie with our friends and returned to London in the van.  A few weeks later we went back yet again for the funeral and by the time we were able to finally settle down in Cornwall, the summer break was almost over. Bonnie and I stayed on for another month and my partner had to fly back to Catalunya.
Can you see her?

This period of being just Bonnie and me in our country cabaña was very peaceful.  I wanted rest and time to grieve and she was happy to just play all day in the field with her friends. We took long walks together and she was the perfect kind companion as I tried to make sense of a senseless death and to somehow come to terms with the loss of a sibling. 
One sunny day we spent hours on the rocks at Perranuthnoe

In the autumn we made the journey down through France this time accompanied by my friend Val. We found wonderful campsites by rivers and on the last night in the Cathar area of south west France we stayed in a hotel that not only allowed dogs in the bedrooms but in the restaurant. Lovely France!

Back in Catalunya we had many more wonderful trips.
We returned again and again to Sant Nicolau where we felt so much at home.
Here we are in St Pere de Pescador

We took the train from Granollers to La Molina. It is a ski resort and quite deserted when there is no snow.  A sagging dolmen reminded us of Cornwall

We went walking in the hills between the Valle Oriental and the Mediteranean, often with our friends Oreneta and Chuck. Don’t they make a lovely couple?

We went to collect water from the natural spring at Santa Fe in Montseny

At Sant Hilari Sacalm – the town with many spring water fountains – Bonnie at last learned how to drink from the fountain but she always preferred the hand method

Here she is at the Font del Ferro – the water is full of iron – you can see how much she adored her new friend. He doesn’t like his picture used here too often but it would be an empty story if he wasn’t included.  After the initial moments of barking at him when they first met, she gave her heart to him completely. She loved me of course but she always went first to Pep when we came home together.
It was a doggy thing!  I didn’t care – I just wanted her to be happy and safe

I took her several times to Barcelona – always feeling very excited to be there with her. She was very good on the train and the only time it felt difficult was when we sat outside a cafe on Enric Grenados in Eixample. I hadn’t realised they use that pedestrian street for skateboarding – her pet hate.
Here she is with Barcelona down below when we went to stay overnight in Nou Barris

In April 2013 we drove to the borders of Catalunya to explore the Ports de Beseit where there are amazing rock formations

 and deep gullies of crystal clear water

We were camping again of course – you can’t have a better holiday from a dogs point of view.
When we were in Granollers most of her walks were in one of the two parks nearby. This is the walkway of Park Ponent. I used to worry she missed the Cornish countryside but I think she was happy anywhere and everywhere so long as I was there and it was quiet and had interesting smells.

And in the Park Nou (new park) she sometimes met friends. She had begun to get over her fear of dogs and was her old friendy self. This is Aslan – a very popular male collie sharing a ball with her

We went back and forth to Sant Nicolau, spending time with Blue

engaging in cat staring competitions

and we celebrated my birthday there with my friends Janet and Bev.
I love this photo

In April 2013 I felt relaxed enough to leave Bonnie in Granollers so I could go to a family wedding in Scotland. After so many separations it never felt easy to leave her but it is also so good to come home to a dog meeting you at the station ( and a man of course!)

A few days later she suddenly seemed strange and I went to the vet feeling like an over anxious owner but as we walked there, she deteriorated and I had to carry her the last few metres. They took blood tests and discovered Erlichiosis, a tick borne disease which is not found in the UK but is quite common here. Sheep carry these ticks and if you are unlucky – the ticks carry the disease

We were so lucky to have the 24 hour Veterinary Hospital Lauro close by. They kept Bonnie in overnight and treated her with fluids and antibiotics and she quickly responded. It had been serious as her platelets were dangerously low and she was very anaemic which is why she couldn’t walk all the way to the vet. There is a sunny bench outside the vets where you can have visiting hours

After this scare I changed her diet to a natural raw one – giving her totally raw meaty bones like chicken legs, quartered rabbits, beef chunks, liver and kidneys, even a whole chicken once, head included. She began to thrive and I had never seen her look so young and so healthy and fit.

Well as you see the story is still not finished – it is like the Arabian Nights as I don’t want it to end!  How did I ever imagine it would be in two parts?  Well, I will continue tomorrow for those of you who are still with me. It is such a pleasure for me to see how full her life was.
Highlights to come include the amazing journey to Scotland in the camper van in one of the hottest summers the UK has known. See you soon

Bonnie’s Story – A Border Collie Goes to Live Abroad

It is a week since Bonnie died.  I have no idea why she got cancer but it is impossible to avoid wondering if something I did caused this change to happen in her body. In this Part Two of her story I will describe the good and the bad experiences that we had after moving. I don’t suppose I will ever know if the big change I put her through could have harmed her health but I do know she had many wonderful adventures and even just the fact of the fabulous weather meant that she was able to go places and do things that would not have been possible if we had stayed in Cornwall. 

Part Two  Bonnie Moves to Catalunya and the Mediterranean

The trip down south went very well. Blue found it tiring but Bonnie of course enjoyed the journey and the feeling of being in a pack on the move. We travelled with my friend Marta and stayed in hotels,stopping off for snacks in French cafes. It was a wonderful moment when we had a break and for the first time felt the warmth of Mediterranean sunshine amidst the scent of wild herbs

It certainly was different to suddenly have three dogs in our house. There were beds, water bowls and cosy corners all over the place and we had to create routines for eating and walking that made everyone happy.  I became the dog woman of Granollers.  I had worried that Blue would hate being in a busy town but actually she began to blossom here. She walked fairly slowly due to her arthritis but on the streets she had a good excuse for dawdling – the smells!  She loved sniffing all the corners, all the smells of other dogs and people. The warmth of that first winter immediately started healing her aches and pains and she got a new jaunty lease of life.
For an older dog I think that a town house is perfect.
People in the street were incredibly friendly and welcoming to us.

We all went to the mountains and the woods and to the beach and enjoyed lots of cafe stops with the dogs happily waiting under the tables for treats to drop down to their level.

Problems started gradually between Duna, the resident springer spaniel and Bonnie.
 Duna couldn’t cope with the new hierarchy and although Bonnie was submissive and avoiding conflict, skirting around the edges of Duna’s domain, it gradually turned nasty.   At first they played together but Duna occasionally would launch herself at Bonnie and fight, tooth and nail. What was amazing was how strong Bonnie was in her own defence. She found her teeth without a doubt. She always won these fights, sometimes having Duna on the floor, bleeding from her face and neck. Bonnie would always walk away at this point and then Duna…..would relaunch the attack.

How do you separate two fighting dogs? 

I searched the internet for advice and found one very useful piece of information that I want to pass on here.
If you try to separate two fighting dogs by holding their collars you will probably get bitten, by mistake, but seriously bitten sometimes to the bone. What you must do is grab the back legs of the aggressor – not the victim who you would make more vulnerable – lift them up and walk backwards as if you have a wheelbarrow. It absolutely works and they can’t reach you to bite. 

Bonnie was well trained and I could stop her fighting with a command but clearly I had to first remove Duna from the battlefield. Bonnie would then stop instantly.
We were all damaged in these struggles. I badly hurt both my hands and dislocated a finger. Bonnie became nervous of meeting other dogs, Duna sustained many wounds, and both Pep and I were bitten before we discovered the above method. Blue was able again to keep a distance from most of these problems but once I saw her go for Duna, nipping her back legs as Bonnie dealt with the front end.
It was a situation that couldn’t go on and we all went through a desperate time.  Duna spent more and more time on the lead and out on the patio.  Fights happened on the street, on the beach, in the woods, at home, in cafes, at the houses of friends. I became increasingly desperate to find a solution.

In spite of this we did have many happy adventures. Duna was unpredictable and sometimes left Bonnie alone for weeks. We went to Almeria in the camper van and impressed our neighbours by our ability to live in such a small space with two people and three dogs, two of whom had to be separate.
They all loved swimming in the warm Mediterranean sea. 

By May things were so bad between Duna and Bonnie that I took her and Blue away for a country break. We went to Sant Nicolau for the first time, a place I had found on the internet and all that interested me was that they welcomed dogs and we could rent a cottage for a week of peace

Blue was ailing by this time and in her doggy wisdom she had several lovely days before going into a rapid decline which meant I let her go while we were there. The vet came to the house and it was a peaceful and gentle death at the end of a long sunny day. The owners – now my friends – could not have been kinder and more helpful and so we were somehow led to the best ending in the best place.

Blue died in this magical place and is buried there under some apple trees, her presence marked by one of my sculptures, the Blue Dog. Bonnie loved to lie on the grassy patch when it regrew.

Bonnie and I were alone for the first time in our lives. The day after Blue died we went to Llança and shared a plate of steak and chips looking out over the sea – comforting each other

Then we went for a swim in one of the lovely coves. This was the day – sorry the photo is not good

It felt strange and exciting to be together alone in this new land, the beginning of something new. I thought it would last for so many more years

Later that summer we yet again made the journey back up through France, camping all the way to Calais and the tunnel. The two dogs were kept apart at all times

By this time we had decided to definitely find another home for Duna. I have to add that Duna was and is a beautiful dog and very loving when she is is not feeling passionate hatred. I knew it would be easier to find the best home in the UK, in the country with someone who was going to give her the outdoor life she deserved. We were so lucky to find exactly the right couple who fell in love with her days after we arrived and she now lives a blissful life. Her days are spent with the man who works on farms and gardens,  evenings are spent either fishing or walking with her new owners, and at night she is to be found lounging on the sofa or the bed, cossetted and adored by the woman. 

From that day in July when Duna was adopted by her new family, Bonnie’s happy and exciting life with us truly began. She became our be-by dog and accompanied us always wherever we went.
We spent the rest of the summer in Cornwall where she was queen of the cabaña where we stay.

In Part Three I will finish Bonnie’s tale of her life with us – till tomorrow

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.

How is Bonnie?

It’s been a long time since I wrote about Bonnie.
How is she getting on?  What are we doing for her?   How am I coping?

  • Sometimes it is hard to believe she is sick and has cancer.  She looks great, her coat is soft and thick, her eyes are bright and she has all her usual energy when she sees you have brought a ball to chase. We went for a walk today for example and when she realised I had not brought the all important ball, she raced off and found a pine cone and dropped it at my feet, teasing me with her eyes, inviting me to play.
  • Sometimes she looks worn out and tired. One of her eyes is weepy and irritated. Her body can feel hot and she drinks a lot.  There are nights when her tummy is gurgling and rumbling for hours and she can’t get comfortable in her bed. She gets up and plonks herself noisily on the floor, only to return to her bed a few minutes later.
  • So as you see, it is up and down. But right now it is more up.  Last week for about 4 days she had terrible diarrhoea.  The kind that you don’t want to happen in the middle of a busy street. She was drinking lots of water and seemed uncomfortable. We travelled back to Granollers and I took her straight to the vets at Veterinari Lauro. They are very nice there and all our checkup visits are free.  After taking antibiotics, a white gooey medicine to coat her stomach and some special digestive tinned food, the next day she was almost totally recovered.
  • I have joined three dog cancer groups on the internet and spend a lot of time trying to sort out which dog lives with who and what kind of cancer they have. There is so much information out there and so many people devoting themselves to caring for their sick dogs.  If not for these sites I wouldn’t know what to do for Bonnie now as the vets here, wonderful though they are, don’t know anything about alternative treatments.
  • Chinese mushrooms, parley, tumeric, wheat germ extract, Krill fish oil, artemesia, broccoli and brussel sprouts, sunshine, lots of hours of sleep in total darkness, learning new tricks, love, happy times, more love……..these are her medicines.
  • It is almost 7 weeks since the diagnosis. I find it impossible not to count the weeks even though I know that there are no accurate survival times. It was good to get past the 4 week mark, then the 6 week and now I am looking at the 8.  The vet said that she probably wouldn’t still be here in three months but who knows?  There are stories of great survivors and these herbal pills are strong allies in the fight to slow down the growth.
  • The major change for us is that we now spend a lot of time at Sant Nicolau. I booked one of the cottages for a month and now will take it for January too.   It is really wonderful to have it as a haven of peace and healing.  We came back to Granollers for Christmas.  I wouldn’t want to wish away any of Bonnie’s precious days but I have to say I am glad those ones are over.  There was nothing bad but I just wasn’t in the mood and had to go through the motions.  Now we can go back to the countryside and I am looking forward to seeing the mountains again and to watch how happily Bonnie races through the woods chasing scents, and rolls in the grass in a doggy ecstasy. Here she is peacefully watching the birds beside Blue.
    The skies were amazing on our morning walks. Would you ever tire of this?