———— Saying Goodbye to Beloved Park Dog Belly ————
Posted by Jessica McHugh on June 14, 2010
Belly was the first dog to be adopted from Elephant Nature Park. He was brought home to the United States by his Mommy and Daddy in late 2006, where he lived a very full and very silly life with them in America, until his recent passing in May 2010.
If you'd like to read the full story of Belly's adoption, you can find more here and here. To read a tribute to Belly after his passing, please read here. Belly is an incredibly beloved member of the Elephant Nature Park family and he will be missed not only by his Mommy and Daddy, but by everyone at the Park.
On April 28, 2006 everything changed for my husband Tim and me. We were toward the end of our 18 month round-the-world trip and weren't expecting too many more surprises in store for us. We had no idea how wrong we were.
April 28, 2006, you see, was our first day at the Park, a day visit that turned into a two month stay, and the beginning of our commitment to the rescued elephants at Elephant Nature Park.
And, most importantly, it was the day our hearts were stolen by a fuzzy little silly doggy named Belly.
Most of the dogs at the Park are incredibly happy: loads of food, room to run, and plenty of cuddles from visitors make for a content dog. But some of the dogs don't fit in as well. Some of the dogs are misfits and trot to the beat of their own drummer. And some of the dogs, like Belly, just want a family of their very own.
Over the next two months, we became inseparable from Belly and he from us. When we went down to the water for ele-bathing time, he'd wait on shore for us. Whenever we'd head back to our hut, he'd trot along in front of us, occasionally looking back over to his shoulder to make sure we were still there. And at night, exhausted from another wonderful day at the Park, he'd climb under the mosquito net to go to sleep with us, snuggled up against me under my arm.
During our time there, it became obvious to Park staff how in love we had fallen with Belly. And Lek had noticed how in love Belly had fallen with us. She often mentioned how much more relaxed he was with us there and how his coat (which was usually quite thin) had gotten thicker. It was partway through our stay when Jodi first mentioned the possibility of our adopting Belly. Not knowing yet if we'd be allowed to bring a dog back into the States, we tried not to get our hopes up too much, but it was becoming painful to imagine our life without him. And more importantly, due to a few stresses Belly had at the Park, it felt unlikely he'd fare well that much longer there. When Lek said, "I think it's best Belly with you" and asked if we would adopt Belly (and we confirmed that we could bring a Thai dog into the US), it seemed like everything was being put into motion. Our baby boy, who was born on the other side of the world from where we lived, would one day come home with us.
Although we desperately wanted to bring him home with us straight away, we couldn't just yet. Prior to leaving for our round-the-world trip, we had quit our jobs and sold everything we owned. We didn't have a home or an apartment, so upon returning to the States at the end of our trip, we'd be starting over again. First and foremost would be the matter of finding an apartment in an area we liked. Of course, now there was an additional criteria for that apartment: it had to be doggy-friendly too.
On our last day at the Park in mid-June, we gave Belly a tearful goodbye and promised we would come back for him. We asked him to stay out of trouble and wait patiently for his Mommy and Daddy to come back for him. And come back we did.
A few months later (having secured a doggy-friendly apartment back in the States) we were back at the Park, and back with our baby boy. When we arrived again at the Park he was sitting with a mahout and snacking on some treats. But when he saw us, he came bounding over, stood on his back legs and started licking our faces and wagging his tail. He knew we had come back to bring him home.
We spent the next several weeks crate-training him and getting him used to his collar and leash. It turned out he didn't need several weeks, though, as he took to both his crate and his collar like a duck to water. It was almost like he knew he needed to master these things before the flight home. It felt like he was telling us, "Come on Mom and Dad, I'm ready. Let's go home!"
When we put his collar on him for the first time, he stood so proudly and then proceeded to trot over to every dog he could find. His sister Nit Noi seemed particularly impressed and also seemed to understand what his collar meant. Although they had never really hung out together, she started hanging out with us and Belly for the last few days we were at the Park. It was like she was telling her brother she was happy for him and that she approved of his choice of Mom and Dad.
The flight home to America was uneventful for Belly, but still incredibly stressful for us. When we changed planes in Bangkok for our direct flight back to New York, one of the ground crew came up to the gate to tell us Belly was doing great. After landing in New York City, we were beside ourselves when we were reunited with him. It didn't feel real yet, having him home in America. It truly was a dream come true for all three of us.
We spent the next several years as an incredibly happy family, the happiest we could have ever been. For the first year and a half we lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, and Belly enjoyed exploring all the monuments in the nation's capitol. He ran with us in the dog parks, learned to chase sticks, and loved going for his daily walkies. He relished playing with all his toys, sometimes burying himself up to his shoulders in his toy bin while he looked for the perfect squeaky playmate. We both worked from home, and he sat happily by our sides during the work day. He'd dance whenever we pulled out his leash or said it was time for a treat. He discovered his shadow and squirrels and his kitty-cat sister China. He went on road trips with us across America to visit friends and family. He learned how to open his own Christmas presents and never missed a moment to cuddle.
And we remember distinctly the first time he saw snow: he watched as a snowflake came dancing down from the sky and looked cross-eyed at it when it landed on his nose.
In December 2007, our little family moved north, to the shores of Cape Cod. And it was then that our little jungle dog turned into an ocean dog. No matter the season, Belly would excitedly walk with us down to the water every day. While we sat on the shore, he would explore everything the sand and the sea had to offer. He discovered lobsters and crabs, seagulls and seaweed, and he was always eager to see more.
Even in the winter when the snow would be above his head, he'd bound eagerly through the drifts so he could see his ocean covered by ice.
During the day, when he wasn't curled up next to us or sitting under our feet, he'd be looking and sniffing out the sliding glass doors. He'd spend hours just watching and waiting for the local raccoons, opossums, and feral cats to wander by. In the spring and summer, we'd sit outside with him on our deck, the sun warming our souls, and he'd look so content.
We treasured every moment with him, watching him discover his new world around him, so different from the world he lived in the first four years of his life. We watched as he came into his own and became every bit of himself, just as he was always meant to be. Our friends commented that he was a wise dog, and he was indeed. He learned everything so quickly and lived his life with such joy. And he was never happier than when we were both with him, and him with both of us.
Then, on May 28, 2010 everything changed for my husband and me. It was another gorgeous day in Cape Cod, the start of a promising summer. We had been daydreaming about gardening that weekend with Belly by our side, wearing his goofy grin as he panted in the sun. We had no idea how wrong we were.
May 28, 2010, you see, is the day our baby boy left this world. It is the day that our hearts - the same ones who were captured by our fuzzy little guy so many years ago - would break.
It had started slowly a few days earlier with a small cough. His vet, a wonderful woman who adored him, was quick to treat him and antibiotics were prescribed on Tuesday. But over the next few days a few more symptoms appeared, like him being quick to tire and him throwing up a few times. Different antibiotics and treatments were given on Thursday. But by Friday, it was clear something else was going on with Belly. Something very unexpected.
Our vet recommended we take Belly to a specialist, an internet who might have a better chance of narrowing down what Belly was facing. And that she did with the help of an ultrasound and several other doctors' opinions too. Belly, it turned out, had cardiomyopathy. In most cases, and particularly in Belly's case, it is impossible to diagnose ahead of time. And if it is somehow diagnosed, the multiple medicines that are given daily to the doggy have a list of complications and side effects as long as an elephant's trunk. No matter when it is discovered, it cannot be cured. It cannot be stopped.
Often the first signs of cardiomyopathy is a dog going into heart failure. This was the case with Belly too. Our little guy, who was always so focused on making us happy, didn't indicate that much of anything was wrong with him that last week. There were enough symptoms to make it clear he had gotten sick somehow, but not enough to clue anyone in to what extent or how. And so his last week with us - a week we had no idea would be his last - he did so many of the things that made him happiest: walking down to the water with his Mom and Dad, sitting on the deck in the sun with us, cuddling between us on the couch to watch movies, sleeping with us at night, playing with his kitty-cat sister, digging around in his toy bin for toys, and even eating his favorite food, steamed rice.
When Friday morning came and our vet had us go to the specialist, we had no idea we wouldn't be coming back home with Belly later that day. At the very most, we thought he might have to spend the night at the emergency room. And so when the specialist told us Belly was in heart failure as a complication of cardiomyopathy, both of our hearts stopped as well.
We asked question after question to the emergency vet. Could we have known? What if we had done something differently? And every time she told us there was no way to have known, no way anyone could have known, and nothing differently could have been done. Short of having ESP, she said, there was no way Belly's case could have been diagnosed and even then it couldn't be stopped. And there was nothing anyone had done to cause his condition.
Hearing these words might have provided some small comfort, but knowing we had to make a choice for him was devastating us. The vet told us if he managed to make it through the heart failure, he would be taking a minimum of eight pills a day to manage the cardiomyopathy. These pills would change his life, most likely making him very uncomfortable, depressed, and nauseous. His energy would be low, he wouldn't run again, and there would be repeated vet visits to find the right mixture of the drugs. At the most, the pills might buy him a few days, maybe a few weeks. And when I mentioned that Belly was a truly exceptional dog, and maybe he could have an exceptional recovery, she said at the very most he might have a few months on the pills.
When Tim and I adopted Belly, we promised to always take care of him. We promised that no one would ever hurt him. And we promised to love him forever and make the best choices for him. And on this day, these promises meant letting him go. To do anything else would have been just for us, and not for our baby boy.
Saying goodbye to Belly is the hardest thing we have ever had to face. Belly was the center of our happy family, the fuzzy little guy our world revolved around. Knowing we will never be able to hug him or cuddle him again is heartbreaking. And the way everything progressed so quickly means that it is difficult for us to come to terms with him being gone. We find ourselves saying to one another throughout the day, "But he was so healthy. I don't understand."
But if we push ourselves to think like Belly would, we remember that this little guy - when he and his sister Nit Noi were first brought to the Park - wasn't expected to live seven days let alone 7.5 years. Who could have guessed our little jungle pup would become a world traveler and an ocean dog? And who could have known the amount of love his adoption story, not to mention his incredibly goofy grin, would spread around the world?
Belly lives very much on in our hearts and in our memories and in our dreams. As we held him when the vet helped him go to sleep, we promised to meet him in our dreams every night. And we do. In our dreams, our happy little family is together and we walk down to the water. And as we sit in wonder looking out over the ocean, Belly sniffs the ocean breeze alongside us, nuzzling our hands to be petted, his eyes shining brightly as he looks forward to his next great adventure.