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