|Hi! I'm Coco.|
As you know, we were Romeo's guardians at times when our daughter, Linda was unable to take him with her for certain business engagements and functions. From the time she adopted him, he was never, ever left alone, not at her home or at our home. He was either with her or with us. Our own dogs, Bonny, Heathcliff and Toby grew to love him so much and each 'reunion' was met with boundless joy on all sides. Romeo had been accompanying the big dogs for their daily run on the field when visiting us from the time we all felt it was 'safe' to take him i.e. after he'd completed his puppy vaccination programme and had grown a bit. At first, either Linda or I would accompany my husband and Romeo was kept on his leash at all times. Once the routine had been 'learnt' and Romeo knew the drill, we allowed him to run unhindered, as the field is safe and we were always right there to keep him in check. The Sheps spend their time chasing after and retrieving tennis balls, which my husband whacks hard and far with a tennis racquet. It's a game they love and it gives Toby, our 1 year old German Shepherd an excellent workout. Heathcliff (our own rescue dog) and Romeo would have great fun running about, sniffing and exploring, but always under the attentive and watchful eye of my husband. Romeo loved the freedom of being able to race and jump and dig, kick and dive headlong into the grassy mounds. He was a natural athlete and it was on the cards that he'd be taken to agility training once he was a bit older. Eventually we all seemed to have the routine down to a tee and my husband took over on his own, just as had been the case before Romeo joined our family. The big dogs would run up their ramp and travel safely secured in the canopied bay of our bakkie, while Romeo would sit up front with my husband in air-conditioned comfort, which he absolutely loved. Although our canopy windows have safety bars on the windows to prevent the big dogs from being able to hang out, the width was a little too wide to risk letting Romeo travel in there, too. We were not prepared to take any chances that he might have been able to push himself through the bars. The routine worked so well and they all had so much fun together, our little close-knit pack of four. They would return home ready for a swim on hot days, followed by breakfast and they'd all settle down for a nice nap afterwards.
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On Tuesday 12th April 2011, something went horribly, irreversibly wrong. The dogs had had their after-exercise cool-down and were all standing next to the bakkie, where they'd been given their water. This was all part of the usual routine and they all knew the drill. My husband popped Romeo into the cab and left the door open as usual, as it gets very hot standing in the sun while they are busy on the field. It is safe on the field, and they park well away from the busy main road running adjacent to the field. The dogs were tired and knew it was time to head for home. My husband popped round to the back of the bakkie to load up the ramp and close up the bay to secure the big dogs. Just as he'd done so, Romeo suddenly leapt out of the cab and went scampering across the field towards the trees on the far edge. My husband called and blew the dog whistle, but Romeo just kept going. There is a fence separating the field from the busy main road that runs at some distance from and parallel to it, so my husband quickly gave chase, not for one moment imagining that Romeo would squeeze through the fence and get near the road. He thought it would just be a matter of nabbing Romeo, and running back with him to the bakkie. However, despite the calling and whistling, Romeo just kept going, shot straight through the fence, up the steep bank and into the road. By this time, my husband was already there and witnessed Romeo's tragic ending. The car that hit him didn't stop. My husband says he doubts the driver even registered the collision, it all happened so fast. The saving grace is that Romeo was killed outright. I cannot tell you how hard this was especially as this horrific occurrence took place on 'our watch'. We are so careful and attentive and the safety of our dogs is paramount to us. This should NOT HAVE HAPPENED, yet it did. This beautiful, lovable, wonderful little pup should still be alive, but he is not. This is something that no amount of second-guessing can undo. What happened on Tuesday morning will effectively live with us forever.
Linda was at that precise moment in the car on her way through to us from Cape Town where she lives, so very excited to be coming to spend a couple of days here and to fetch her puppy whom she had missed greatly in the 4 days he'd been staying with us. I need not tell you how heartbreaking it was for us to have to tell her this news or how absolutely devastated she was to hear it (and still is)!
I am not going to go into the whys and wherefores. Believe me, we have agonised over this deeply and we have tried to find the lesson to be learnt. Clearly, no matter how safe and careful you might think things are, no matter how responsible a pet owner you might be, no matter how much love and thought and care you might put into ensuring the safety of your pet 24/7, there are things that, in a matter of seconds, are out of your control. One cannot ever be TOO CAREFUL! Having a dog is as much of a responsibility as having a child.
Romeo was the first puppy Linda had ever owned on her own. He was lovingly chosen and she gave him the very best home. She trusted his care to no one else but us. He travelled everywhere with her when possible and he was with her 24/7 apart from those times when she needed to rely on our help. He loved life to the full. He possessed boundless energy and was an exceptionally intelligent pup. He was by far the most loving and affectionate puppy I have ever personally known. A real little Romeo in every sense of the world. Linda had looked forward to having him share her home and her heart for the full extent of his natural life. This was denied them both. The two of them were a team and were going places, together! She said he was her inspiration to 'go it alone' and run her own business, so they could be together as much as possible. He was devoted to her and she to him and we were given the immense privilege of sharing in this pup's life. He connected deeply and profoundly with us all and everyone who met him was drawn to him. The sudden and tragic way in which his life ended so prematurely has torn through all of us. We are struggling to come to terms with it.
Linda felt she could not allow Romeo's life to go unrecorded and so she has taken on the challenge of setting up a fund in his name and will tirelessly commit herself to raising much needed funds for the Animal Rescue Shelter where Romeo was first taken. She has offered her services free of charge to Furkidz, a wonderful organisation that advertises all the abandoned and abused puppies, dogs, kittens and cats waiting for new homes in South Africa. Linda is on a mission and she always accomplishes whatever she sets out to achieve, so we have no doubt that she will make a difference.
My husband and I made a donation to the shelter yesterday, when we went with Linda to choose another puppy. We were deeply saddened (appalled!) by the very difficult conditions under which both the animals and their carers have to live and work and we too, felt we needed to make a difference.
Linda felt she needed to adopt another pup, as soon as possible, in order to give a home to another rescue pup and thereby try and give some meaning to Romeo's tragic death. She and we will grieve Romeo for a long time, but by doing this, we are dulling some of the immediate pain and focussing our energy on helping to make a difference, albeit only a tiny drop in the vast ocean of abandoned and abused puppies and dogs worldwide. Romeo, a little pup with a vast heart has been the catalyst for this and we salute his soul, for he brought so much love and joy into the world in the few months he was in it.
The new pup that Linda adopted yesterday is already at home with us all. Linda has named her Coco and, in the 24 hours she has been here, she has already found her special place beside Linda and in our physical and emotional space. She seems to have just slotted right in, it's uncanny!
Coco's mother and father were rescued along with their litter. The parents were desperately emaciated and it was decided that they had to be euthanised. The puppies, very small at the time, were equally weakened and it was doubtful that they would pull through. Had it not been for an Angel of Mercy named Helen, who volunteers at the shelter every day, on weekday mornings and who works tirelessly to rescue and foster as many pups as she is able to, asked for a stay of execution. She hand-raised the three puppies herself and Coco is the second to have been adopted. She is gorgeous, healthy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She owes her life to Helen and the animal rescue centre. Romeo, likewise, owed his life to Helen. She took him home and hand-raised him there until Linda adopted him. Now that Coco has found a home, Helen will be on the lookout for the next pup/puppies for whom she can offer a better chance of life. Without people like Helen (also a wife and full-time Mother to her school age children) who see a need and act on it in such a generous and committed way, many more animals would have to be put out of their misery or suffer in appalling circumstances as abandoned street dogs. They are the unsung heroes of this world! I could not do what Helen does. Apart from the awful stench that emanates from the municipal dump adjacent to the shelter and that hangs cloyingly in the air and every nook and cranny, there is the equally serious problem of flies. Although they clearly do the very best they can with the resources at their disposal, they are working under tough conditions.
In honour of their commitment to making a difference, may I suggest that you visit an animal shelter in your own area if this is possible. If you are able and feel drawn to do so, then please make even the smallest donation of funds, food, dishes, towels, blankets, bedding, toys or your time, as your humane contribution to lending assistance to these gentle souls that share our lives and our planet. Even better, if you are wanting to get a dog, consider adopting a rescue animal. They will repay you in love and devotion in immeasurable ways.