Doggos Dying, Hoomin Hurting

December 07, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I couldn't save Mizzen. Our sailboat-loving water dog--who a year after diagnosis of incurable degenerative myelopathy (like ALS for humans)--went to his final sleep at the University of Missouri in December five years ago. The loss of this eight-year-young, 125-lb. red-furred gentle giant who loved fetching coconuts left us with a hole in our hearts wider than the Atlantic. The university scientists kept his earthly body, so his death could perhaps help another animal via research for a cure. It was a bitter salve. But better than losing him with no benefit to others: Those who like us must endure as their best pup becomes paralyzed, accepting a giant doggy wheelchair as his only mode of mobility. Strapped into that contraption, Mizzen happily splashed his way into the Chesapeake Bay during his final summer with puppy-like verve.  Bahamas Xmas with Mizzen on SailboatMizzen enjoying a Caribbean sailboat Christmas with author and husband. Staniel Cay, Bahamas. Mizzen Can Dance!Mizzen and Bob dance on the Atlantis pier. Paradise Island, Bahamas. Mizzen: 125 lbs of WheelpowerMizzen learns to walk in his wheelchair, Tighlman Island, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. Special thanks to Sarah and Tim for a special summer on the bay. But I couldn't save him. Haunted, for months I mourned and watched as abandoned dogs on Facebook animal shelters needed homes. It wasn't until my husband and I settled into life abroad outside Naples, Italy, that my heart pounded for a pup I COULD save. He was muzzled and in a dirty cage. Rescued from a field with no mother and eight siblings who all succumbed to starvation. This scrawny cream-colored imp was the only survivor. Blind from an infection in one eye, belly full of worms and other diseases, this long-legged baby was terrified of life and me. Driven to save him, we brought him home from a concrete shelter near the ocean where two older Italian "aunties" tried to explain necessary treatment. Near death, the fragile fellow shrank into our arms after peeing and pooping a greeting as I lifted him and became his mama. We called him Jib. Muzzled: Jib the SurvivorFirst photo I saw of Jib Steven Carl Lindblad. Naples, Italy. My heart yearned to save him.

His first vet trip ended with an IV in the leg and a sad smile from an Italian lady doctor who tried in broken English to explain that she would do her best, but could not promise life. She warned that his ill beginning could belie long-term organ damage. My focus? Save him at any cost.

After many medicines and much love, our new family member #Jibthesurvivor grew stronger. He learned to walk on a leash. We coaxed him from his kennel with a tiny trail of juicy filet mignon. Introduced him to peanut butter. After two months, he wagged his tail for the first time. Baby Jib on LeashJib learns to walk on a leash, Napoli, Italia.

Fast forward five years to today. We live with Jib on the Caribbean side of the Republic of Panama, in the jungle of Dolphin Bay, Bocas del Toro. The years flew past as we flourished along the Gulf of Pozzuoli in Arco Felice, hiking volcano trails and running the beaches of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The once sickly dog lived large, dining on pizza and gelato. He flew to the United States with us, to Washington DC to live on our sailboat. Then, to live on land in Arkansas where we have a second home close to family. Charmed, our lives were. Jib Gazing at the Gulf of Pozzuoli. Jib gazes at the Gulf of Pozzuoli, Napoli, Italia.

Jib at The Wharf in DCSailor Jib on S/V Forward My Calls, Capital Yacht Club, Washington DC. As I type this, my need to save him--again--is powerful. Our Spanish-speaking Panamanian vet says Jib is a happy guy, but even after four months of weekly chemotherapy infusions, lymphoma is raging through his system. He goes by boat to an island for his treatments, tufts of ragged fur blowing aloft. His whiskers lost a month ago. But he smiles and seems glad enough to ride the waves where dolphins play. He licks his lips as saltwater sprays him. Jib on Dock in BocasAfter lymphoma relapse, Jib rests on the dock at Dos Palmas, Bocas del Toro, Republic of Panama.

Jib hates it when I cry. I smile through the tears as I curse his cancer. He's only five! Big brown eyes gaze at me trustingly.

Back on chemo and prednisone for swelling and pain, does he know he's running out of time as he runs our jungle property, splashing in the mangroves while howler monkeys swing on bamboo branches above him and sloths inch to higher tree climes? 

Island vet Dr. Gloria didn't say "months" at the visit yesterday, but it's understood. Alone on the dock in BocasTown with taxi rides, injections, and pills behind us for the day, we shared a peaceful moment. Sun-downing, seawater glistening, his tongue hanging happily to the side--I silently weep. So in love with him and so sorry that I can't save him. So proud of him for his tenacity and willingness to adventure with us across cultures, continents, and oceans. 

I try to grin as I whisper to him about a mutual canine pal he will soon meet. Hoping when he leaves us, Jib goes to the coast of somewhere beautiful, where he and Mizzen happily share a coconut and trade the stories of our travels.  

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