The Rip Van Wrinkler, Volume XIX, Issue 3, August 2015

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Kamali's Story

by Chris O'Rear


From the moment I first saw her I knew Kamali was meant to be mine. Her long deer like legs, soft brown eyes, and large mobile ears that expressed her every emotion touched my heart and claimed a place in my life. She was everything a Basenji should be and more. Her curly tail danced on her rump every time she greeted me. It brought a quick smile to my lips because it looked silly and sweet and very much like a cinnamon bun that did not belong at the tail end of a dog. She made so many different sounds. Yodels, chortles of laughter, soft cries and crows of pure delight. Kamali danced and bowed and leaped with unrestrained joy totally forgetting her Basenji dignity but only when alone with me. It was a secret between us, those silly displays. They were treasured. And I looked forward to our private times when she would give me the gifts of herself.

All was not perfect. I had much to learn about this special breed of dog. Mali felt free to initiate me in her ways. Jade plants I had nurtured through winter frost became bits of tattered greenery in my absence. A lovely domed wicker bed lasted but a few hours, reduced to a pile of two inch sticks. Only the bottom of the bed remained intact, resembling a placemat more than a bed. Kamali sat upon it full of dignity with a touch of the devil left in her eyes. Kamali did not like being left alone. She wasn’t secure in the household yet. I would need to move more slowly and build up her confidence that this was, in fact, her home now.

There were many adjustments to be made to accommodate Kamali. The trees along the fence line had to go. Mali did, would and could climb anything. The cats were not pleased to find her perched atop the refrigerator napping in their favorite spot. Escape was an adventure and she would make a mad dash around the house enticing me to give chase. Eventually I learned the ground rules and limitations we would share. Although I was taken by surprise occasionally, it was not an unwelcome occurrence. I would usually end up hiding in the bathroom before bursting out in laughter at Kamali’s latest prank. Laughing out loud tended to either embarrass Mali or spur her on to outdo her herself the next time she saw my attention wander.

As she became more secure in the household Kamali settled into a routine. She adored Dingo the strong and silent watch dog-companion I had lived with for several years. She stopped seeing my absence as her passport to adventure and destruction. Life became easier. She and Dingo spent the days moving from sun to shade napping the afternoons away. Most evenings I would take the dogs to the beach. They loved chasing the birds along the stretch of sand while carefully avoiding any contact with the water. I was astonished when my graceful, fastidious, oh so feminine little dog made a bee line for a pile of dead fish and proceeded to roll and rub her body in that awful stench. She was gloriously happy and pleased with herself, the smells and the beach. She did not enjoy the ride home in a laundry bag with only her head sticking out. She struggled to escape from the bag and the seatbelt restraining her while Dingo danced back and forth from window to window flaunting his freedom. Nor did she enjoy being doused with cider vinegar and bathed in the courtyard while her companion looked on wearing a silly self-satisfied grin. Dingo had long ago resigned himself to this strange human ritual and seemed to be having a bit of fun at Kamali’s expense.

As Kamali became more reliable in her behaviors she became my running companion. Dingo was arthritic now and having difficulty with stiffness after a beach trip. I was running on the beach daily and found physical joy with Kamali racing in circles around me. We would end each run by collapsing in a pile on the beach to catch our breath and stretch out, side by side, in the sun, quietly appreciating being tired, outdoors and together. Weekend hikes turned into photo opportunities with the dogs. Kamali had a regal and dramatic beauty while Dingo was an interesting physical contrast with his soul searching gaze and ability to strike a pose. I saw beauty in my dogs and found my photographic skills improving along with the love I held in my heart for these two special friends.

One aged, one young, to be trained and shown the proper ways of a dog by the more experienced of the two. In the back of my mind the younger of the two, Kamali, would someday help ease the loss of the older, Dingo, when that eventuality came to be. My plans to ensure companionship and have a touchstone to Dingo when he died are common. Many dog owners follow this philosophy and enjoy seeing shadows of their former companions in a new dog. An unexpected flash of a memory of the two together, or an echo of certain behaviors can help to heal the wounds of loss and smooth the way for memories that bring joy. Losing a dog can be devastating and I was trying to cushion the blow.

I was at an inbetween stage of my life. I had taken a leave of absence from my job as a vet tech. The work was rewarding, challenging, and at times overwhelming. I was between relationships.  and between being a student working towards a dream and finding my place in the world beyond the dream. I had worked my way through school holding down a full-time job, a full class load, and a part-time job. As soon as school was over I dived back into work like a demon. It seemed I was spending all my time working with other people’s animals and had little to spend with my own. My faithful companion Dingo was always at my side. He held the different parts of my world together, a common thread that bound my profession, my personal life and my dreams. He was silent and watchful, always accepting and grateful for the smallest gesture of kindness. He made me feel safe in the world for many reasons, but that is Dingo’s story.

Now, I was happy to be "between" and free to just enjoy myself. I was finding out more about myself and the dogs, and growing in ways that there had never been time for before. I was taking pictures, drawing, writing and painting. My subject matter was, of course, the dogs. Kamali was an eager assistant and no so helpful participant in everything I tried. If I was writing she sat on the deck and batted at the mouse as I edited and changed my words around. As I painted t-shirts and dried the paint with a hair dryer, she would jockey for space near the warmth of the dryer leaving little paw prints here and there. In the end she ruined a few shirts and enhanced others with her own personal touches. I enjoyed every side of Kamali, her personality quirks and spontaneity made me laugh on a daily basis. I knew she was full of bad behaviors but I didn’t care. The basic rules were followed even if there was a little creativity thrown in. I had a "good dog" who was obedient and well behaved, that was Dingo’s role, what did I have to prove? Yes, I could train Mali better. But to be honest I loved her just as she was.

As the days went by we slipped into a comfortable pattern. A morning walk and tea in the courtyard followed by data entry work done at home. Afternoon errands, talks with friends followed by an evening run and some creative work at night. Dog clubs and shows provided a fun outlet, while training Mali provided comic relief. For some reason Kamali could not just come straight back to me on a recall in class. She always did a loop-the-loop. Entertaining for everyone but it would never win us a ribbon. Ah well. Kamali was a rescue dog anyway. She was a purebred Basenji that didn’t quite stick in her first home after a new baby was born. The family was gracious enough to let me adopt her and claim this special little treasure as my own.

I had never seen myself as a person who owned purebred dogs. In the past my dogs came to me by some special connection we had made. Dingo was a "school dog" at the tech program I had attended, others found their way into my life via the pound or animal shelter. Kamali’s previous owner found me through the SPCA list where I had voiced a desire for a Basenji. Her connection was instant and electric, just as Dingo’s had been.

As much as I loved Mali I found some of the things she did puzzling. I made a connection with Basenji breeders at a local dog show and they were a wealth of information. A lot of the things she did were typical of her breed, although she was still very much an individual. The way she loved, no make that worshiped, heat in any form was typical. The blow dryer was a warm desert breeze blowing over her body, she would lay on the blacktop in full sun for hours, and I think the electric blanket was close to a religious experience for her. Her ability to run endlessly and with unbelievable speed were to be expected, as were her attempts to take short adventures on her own. The breed is known to escape and wander if they can. I enjoyed learning about her breed and sharing stories with others that were equally enamored of their dogs.

We went to a dog camp in Vermont that summer. I was meeting a new friend I had made through selling some artwork that featured Kamali. Margot also owned two basenji dogs and seemed to have had a good sense of fun and adventure. We all had a blast hiking, swimming, training and playing together. It was like being a kid again. Kamali and I made a good friend that summer. After camp ended we each returned to our homes, using the phone to span the miles between us. Our friendship was to last many years, but that is Margot’s story.

After returning home I noticed Kamali was losing some of her zip at the beach, needing to rest more frequently. She was also starting to drink large quantities of water and making more frequent trips outside. I took her in for a check up and all the blood work was normal. I was still worried. Mali had always been a lean and elegant little dog. Now she was losing weight and was incontinent her sleep.. After a urinalysis I knew we were in trouble, but not what kind. Although Mali’s blood glucose was normal, she was spilling sugar in her urine and having trouble concentrating it. Kamali was afflicted with Fanconi Syndrome. The careful breeding that had created her elegant lines, graceful movement, and lightning speed had also given her a very sick little body. Our time together would be cut short. Now I was more concerned about losing Mali than Dingo and it really shook me up.

We still jogged on the beach, but at a more leisurely pace. We went back to camp and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Most people didn’t know Kamali was sick. They assumed she had a laceration or sore on her leg beneath the bandage she always wore. Her treatments were done in the privacy of our room and outwardly she looked pretty and alert, although delicate. We sat around the campfire at night and I held my girl extra close knowing this would be our last summer. We watched fireflies and she would howl along as we sang songs to the moon, as always, adding that special bit of Kamali to everything we did. I dressed her in bandannas and fancy collars. I carried her to save her energy for a twilight walk . I encouraged her to eat with ice cream and scrambled eggs. And I spent hours trying to manage  what was then a less than manageable disease. The extra time I had with Kamali was through the grace and generosity of Dr Steve Gonto.
{new fanconi protocol by Dr.Gonto}

Dr Gonto was working on perfecting a treatment protocol for Fanconi syndrome. He was more than a lifeline for us, he was our guardian angel following changes in Kamali's labwork and physical condition always there to help support us through a difficult time. Knowing that management of Kamali’s illness was difficult and imperfect I made a conscious decision to pursue a treatment that would allow us to share the best quality of life for what time we could. We would live for the day and see what happened. I started out each day asking "Mali, are you all right?" and I would seek the answer in her eyes. For a while I found joy there. One morning I saw that life, for her, was getting difficult. This little dog that expressed pure joy, glee and abandon was tired. She wanted nothing more than to curl up by my side and sleep. Even the beach held no enticement. I had to let go. As she snuggled in my arms with her head resting on my shoulder Kamali was released from this life and her ailing body.
{DNA test available for fanconi}

And I wept silently with Dingo leaning against me, offering support, knowing we would both mourn her loss greatly. And we have. Kamali of the flashing eyes and spirited wagging tail will always be the girl I remember, and she is the one I see in my dream.

We have a basenji in our lives again. A very special girl named Kiwi. She helped us through the lonely days when missing Kamali was still such a raw pain that our hearts felt torn and empty. She is a very special girl, but that is Kiwi’s story.

 Kiwi in her box.


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