Jan 29, 2011
Kimo in Crisis
Our dog Kimo. Photo taken December, 2010
I’ve been putting this blog off for some time now. Sure, I’ve been busy but I’ve made time to write about teaching and politics, among other subjects, while this entry--not unlike its subject--has been neglected. My Friday night blogging is supposed to be fairly relaxing, but I’ve known this entry is going to hurt. But I feel I can no longer procrastinate; to fail to address this any longer would only compound the wrong already done.
When I was a kid we had a dog named Rex. He was a beautiful animal, a German shepherd/golden retriever mix with a shiny coat and a friendly demeanor. He was an adorable puppy and so much fun to play with. But as the years passed, our childish interest in Rex waned. We were distracted by new adolescent diversions—girls and such--and eventually Rex was relegated to a lonely, all-but-forgotten existence in our backyard. I suppose we figured his basic physical needs were met. Someone usually remembered to scoop out some dry dog food from the roach-infested bag in the shed behind our house and dump it in his bowl; presumably he managed to pick through the bugs to get at his food. But the sad fact is Rex got very little in the way of companionship. Unfortunately, I know little of Rex’s later years because I paid him so little mind.
Rex (Thanks to Dawn for sending me this photo)
I was at college when Mom called with the news Rex had gotten sick and rather than pour untold funds into treating him, she’d elected to have him put to sleep. I was stunned, racked with guilt and grief that Rex should come to such a forlorn end. I vowed then and there I would never again own a dog unless I was 100% willing and able to properly care for it.
For years, Babs talked about getting a dog for and years I was adamant. No. Never again. Not unless we could be sure, really sure we had the means and the will to care for it. And yet, despite that solemn commitment it grieves me to find myself in the very place I swore I’d never be—with a dog that is abandoned and neglected. Only, this time this dog is not forgotten. This time I won’t let myself forget.
How could this have happened? I ask myself. And what can I do to fix it?
We adopted Kimo in the early summer of 2004. We estimate she was just about year old. Our pastor who also lived next door to us had brought her back from a ministry trip to the nearby island of Tinian. We first knew her as a cute, charismatic little puppy who, with a big friendly grin on her face, gamboled over for a little love and attention whenever we came and went from our house. After a time, Kimo seemed to disappear and we weren’t sure what happened to her. Then she reappeared again, as our pastor was preparing to move to a new assignment in Guam. Apparently she’d spent the intervening months tied up behind the pastor’s house. He explained that he’d wanted to keep her out of view of passerby until she grew a little older, as it’s not uncommon in the islands for young dogs in decent shape to be stolen and eaten. Unfortunately, Kimo emerged from her sojourn behind the house worse for the wear. The care-free puppy was long gone and in its place was a true “boonie dog”, as the stray dogs in Saipan are known. She was thin, her coat was marred by bald patches of discolored skin and occasional open sores from the ubiquitous coral dust allergies that afflict all dogs that stay outdoors in Saipan. But she still had a sweet disposition and despite her mangy appearance she won our hearts. With the pastor gone, and Kimo officially homeless, Babs determined to have her. And finally-after she’d spend several hundred dollars in initial veterinary care--I relented. Kimo became part of the family.
Babs with Kimo, Spring 2006
For the next five years, Kimo lived the charmed life of a much beloved pet . In the manner of many couples before they have children, Kimo became our surrogate child, our “baby.” We showered Kimo with love and attention. She got treats, went for car rides and walks, and enjoyed her share of Christmas presents every year. We had her spayed, put her on a regimen to get rid of the heartworms she’d picked up, and kept her on heartworm meds to keep them from coming back. We willingly submitted to the pricey care of the island veterinarian, Dr. Tudor, to make sure that she had everything she needed to be happy and healthy. We loved her, not just in sentiment, but in deed.
Kimo snuggling with her "Mommy."
And loving her was easy. She’s unquestionably the best dog I’ve ever had. She was good-natured and easy to care for; she was an outstanding indoor pet. No house training for Kimo—miraculously she came to us perfectly house trained. Not once in all the years we had her did Kimo ever have an accident indoors. Without us having to lift a finger, she knew to always go outside to take care of her business. She was not a chewer, so our furniture remained undamaged. She didn’t even seem to have that strong “doggie smell” that seems to infest some dog owners’ homes. The only damage she ever did was to the front door, through years of scratching to be let in and out. She was the best kind of guard dog too. She could be very intimidating when barking furiously from behind the compound fence or from inside our house. Kimo had a thing about letting people in the house, and as a result while all the other buildings on the teacher’s housing compound were burglarized at one point or another, we never had a single break-in. We always kept Kimo inside while we were away and I’m certain would-be burglars were terrified by the fearsome barking and snarling emanating from our house. What they didn’t know was that if they’d been able to get inside, she’d have been as harmless as a puppy. Kimo was all bark and no bite. Indeed, when we had guests over, we’d always take her upstairs and put her in one of the bedrooms. Once all the guests were in the house, we’d let her out again, and she’d peacefully accept whoever we’d deemed safe for entry.
So Kimo lived the good life, and it might have continued that way for the rest of her life. But things changed. It began with the arrival of our son. With a real baby in the house, Kimo was rudely returned to the status of dog rather than child. She still received plenty of love and care, but she was no longer the center of the household. And that was as it should be. Kimo seemed to recognize and accept her new status, and regarded the interloper with polite disinterest.
Then, Elijah’s arrival led to our departure from Saipan. The plan had always been to take Kimo with us. But the summer embargo on shipping animals as baggage prevented her from flying out with us. Furthermore, we had a month or more of pretty steady travel, and no home of our own yet, so even if we could have shipped her we wouldn’t have known what to do with her. We would wait until we got settled, we decided. Our dear friend Virle, who lived on the compound, agreed to feed her, give her the monthly heartworm meds, and take her to the vet as needed. We sent money to cover whatever expenses arose. This was to be a short term thing, an interim solution until we got our new life in the States in order. But the month or two interlude soon stretched to nine months.
Kimo's last day with her family. July, 2009
When we returned to Saipan to visit last April, Kimo greeted us excitedly. We heard how sad she’d seemed to be after we moved away, moping around our old front door and leaping up excitedly whenever our car would pull into the compound. But new people emerged from the car that used to be ours and went in to the house that used to be hers. They liked Kimo well enough. But she wasn’t theirs. So it was nice to be reunited last spring. We hung out with her, cautiously let Elijah pet her—he pestered us constantly during that week to go out and see the dogs—and even gave her a much needed bath. Still, we left again without taking her with us. We couldn’t, even if we’d wanted to, as we were flying Continental Airlines this time and their small planes couldn’t take a dog Kimo’s size. But the truth was, we weren’t sure we wanted to. Or I wasn’t sure anyway. Babs has always been more amenable to just bringing her over and letting the chips fall where they may. I wasn’t as comfortable with that.
Reunited: Us with Kimo during our visit to Saipan, April, 2010
You see, for all her wonderful qualities, Kimo is not a “kid dog.” You know how some dogs will let kids hang all over them, yank on their ears, poke their eyes and so on? Kimo is not that dog. She’s decidedly of the live and let live variety. She leaves the kids alone, and the kids are expected to do likewise. Even while we were in Saipan, as Elijah was just beginning to become mobile, there were a few scary incidences were Kimo bared her teeth or snapped in his direction when he, in his innocent curiosity, got too familiar. Now that our baby had grown into a very active, inquisitive toddler we began having serious reservations about the two of them sharing a small apartment. I worry also over how the traumatizing flight from Saipan to Ohio would affect her temperament. In the past few months Babs has spoken with several veterinarians about the impact of shipping Kimo over. They have warned that a long-haul flight would be extremely hard on her. While it's possible she could make it with no lasting effects, it's also possible that she could literally not survive the trip or arrive with a serious disruption to her personality.
And, I’ve noted too, that as much as he likes dogs, the Feller also finds them a source of stress and anxiety. I watch his interactions with my sister-in-law’s dogs Bailey and Shiloh when we visit Dayton, and I find he’s always a little bit on edge around the dogs. They excite him, but they also scare him. (Ironically, the safer of the two dogs, Bailey, is the one he’s more scared of. He tends to what go after Shiloh, perhaps because he’s smaller. But Shiloh is older and crankier, and like Kimo, just wishes to be left alone. He also has snapped at Elijah when our boy has disregarded those wishes). In short, I’m not comfortable having my toddler and my dog in such close quarters at this stage in their lives. I love Kimo, but I love my son more. And if it must come to choice in whose welfare must take priority, there is nothing to discuss.
My sister-in-law Jenny with her "babies" Bailey and Shiloh. Elijah enjoys them but also seems a bit freaked out by them, especially when they hover under the table while he's eating hoping he'll drop some food.
And so, since we’ve left Saipan, we’ve dithered, argued, and agonized over what to do with our dog. And while we have deliberated, her situation has grown steadily worse. Even while we were in Saipan, unbeknownst to us, Kimo had been taken off her heartworm medications. We found out a month or two after we got back to Ohio that one of the other teachers who had taken Kimo to the vet for Virle had used the money we’d sent to pay for her biannual heartworm medicine supply to treat an infected injury to her ear. Without telling us, she’d decided to stop purchasing the heartworm medication. In addition Kimo has begun fighting with other dogs on a regular basis; most likely they are drawn to the compound by the growing pack of un-spayed dogs left behind by other teachers. Her once perky ears have drooped as a result of cuts that got infected and never healed properly. Her coat is dusty, but mostly still intact though the coral allergies and erlichia disease are making inroads. In Virle’s latest update, just last weekend, she reports that Kimo is beginning to develop mysterious boils on her hindquarters. Virle thinks the other dogs have contagious infections they are passing on to Kimo. Undoubtedly, she has reacquired heartworms in the absence of regular medication for more than a year now. I would ask Virle to do more, but she has her hands full just trying to keep the motley crew of canines in the compound fed. Most folks have just left their dogs without making any arrangements and I feel it’s wrong to push for more from our already overstretched friend.
Kimo with her partner in crime for many years, Jesco. While the compound has a number of left-behind dogs now, for many years it was just the two of them running the place. This photo was taken during a short-lived attempt to turn Jesco into a house dog as well, after his owner moved away and left him behind. Suffice it to say indoor life didn't take--he ran away every chance he had-- and he soon moved back outside. Jesco died just a few months ago.
What saddens me the most is that Kimo is entering her senior years. We estimate that she should be eight or older this year. Our friends Russ and Kanae Quinn had a golden retriever who died last year at the age of eleven, so I figure Kimo will probably live around the same length of time—if she’s healthy. This should be a time of comfort and peace for Kimo, a time of long naps and quiet stability. She’s getting too old to have to scrap with the rest of the pack to survive. As she ages, her body will have less resilience and be less equipped to handle the hard life of a boonie dog.
Kimo posing gracefully. Despite all she's been through of late she still carries herself with such dignity. This photo as welll as the picture at the start of this entry and the one below were taken by Virle at my request last month.
I feel the burden of her care heavily. I feel guilt and shame of once again being responsible for a dog consigned to the same lonely, neglected fate as poor old Rex. What should we do? Leaving her to live out her days on the teacher’s compound in Saipan is unacceptable. Bringing her here to live with us seems unfeasible.
This blog is an appeal—a heartfelt cry for someone to help us find the home for Kimo she deserves. But this is also an admonition, a warning to those who would own a dog in Saipan. My judgment cannot be too harsh in light of my own culpability, but I feel compelled to warn others: Don’t let this happen to your dog. Have a plan. Know what you’re going to do if you plan to leave Saipan in a year or two, or five—any time within your dog’s lifespan. And plan for multiple contingencies; after all we thought we had prepared well for our dog’s care, and yet here we are. Plan to spend the money, sacrifice the time, and exert the considerable effort required to provide for your dog. If you can’t commit to that, then you shouldn’t be getting a dog in the first place. Saipan is afflicted with a serious stray dog problem. In adopting that cute little puppy, don’t contribute to the problem by being merely a temporary solution. Please, learn from our mistakes. A dog needs a home for life, not for a season.
At this point we don’t know what we’re going to do. We are putting the word out—through this blog and on Facebook. We’ll contact PAWS, Saipan’s nod to the Humane Society. At this point, we feel it’s preferable to have Kimo stay in Saipan, but we’d probably pay to have her shipped Stateside if that was the only way we could get her a good home. We’re staying in touch with Virle. And we’re praying. After all the God who knows when a sparrow falls must surely know and care for a beautiful, friendly dog, alone on a little island called Saipan.
I wish this blog had a happy ending. If you, or someone you know, can provide one for Kimo’s story, contact me at email@example.com or Virleshay Gayatin at the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School (670) 234-7326. Just the writing of this blog has sparked a new round of discussion in our home and we may yet just fly her over and figure the rest out from here. If you have any wisdom to share on this, please feel free to comment on this blog or e-mail me.
I know getting someone to adopt an older dog is like getting someone to adopt a teenager. Everyone wants babies. But this Washington Post article makes a beautiful argument for why old dogs are best.