Goodbye Akela & Kenya

The oddest couple – and true soulmates – who were my ‘kids’ for over 14 years, are no more. Akela the Grey Wolf – wilful, insightful, submissive and far more intelligent than any dog. Kenya the Staffie – ‘n liefbare dier in the words of a 4-year old, Mr Personality and loved by all. He lived to please.

Akela’s tongue started bleeding almost a month ago. I took her to Hermanus Animal Hospital where the vet examined her, said it was a cut under the tongue and that there was little she could do, but gave her an injection to stop the bleeding. That didn’t work and was followed by two homeopathic remedies, which worked to a certain degree, and a visit to a second vet. Our travels slowed down completely to give her more “calm time”. Two Saturdays ago, she didn’t want to eat and preferred her bed in the back of the bakkie to anywhere else, but still jumped out on her own when she needed to pee. By Sunday she was really weak and I asked Facebook friends to recommend a very good vet.

I was at Pronkberg Clinic in Stellenbosch at 8am on Monday when they opened and said we’d wait there until Dr Maree Potgieter could see us. She found that Akela had a tumour on a vein and that her red cell count was around 10, a quarter of what it should be. She recommended putting her down because of this combined with her age. I felt I hadn’t done enough and wanted one more try, with the vet saying she would last a week at the most.

She was given medication to stop the bleeding and a tonic for post-operative animals. The bleeding stopped a day later and she started eating – tripe and liver. On Thursday she seemed well on the road to recovery. On Friday morning she seemed to have just given up completely but was better in the afternoon. Over the weekend she devoured almost a kilo of raw ox liver each day and seemed well-enough to share with friends that the battle might be won. Those who saw her said she looked good. But then she ate very little on Monday, just drank milk on Tuesday and nothing since except water. The battle was lost.

Kenya, who’s been ridden with cancer for five years, had the same problem several months ago on his abdomen. He was treated and has been fine since. So I wonder if proper treatment wouldn’t have saved Akela. Kela and Ken are inseparable. Seeing his sister ill has shattered Ken and he hasn’t left her side. She was the one who always looked after him. He was always the one expected to go first and I’ve checked to see that he’s still breathing many mornings over the past two years. And so they went together and are buried together.

They leave a huge void in my life, a quarter of which was defined by a wolf.

Akela chose me when she was five weeks old. Kenya was left with me when he was six months old and Akela was two months. I never wanted a second pet but it’s the best thing that could have happened. The best photo I never got was tiny Akela curled up in Kenya’s tummy space.

The sounds I regret never recording were her deep wolf howls at the door in greeting when I came back from somewhere, and the more typical wolf howls while she was dreaming. Being woken by a wolf howl in the middle of the night is not any everyday experience. When she was younger, she did howl for me when left at home, but it was Kenya who took this up in old age and cried and cried. And there were Akela’s huffs and puffs when a stranger came to the door. Wolves don’t bark.

They grew up on Clifton and Llandudno beaches, where they socialised with other dogs. They enthralled school kids in Bredasdorp, the Cape Flats and at St Cyprian’s & the French School in Cape Town. Akela changed the perceptions among kids that adults so often teach – wolves are not aggressive.

Akela taught me a different language too. A growl or a snarl does not necessary mean aggression. She sometimes climbed onto my lap, snarling ferociously against my face, but then her tongue came out to kiss my cheek. That meant, “I don’t want to be here.”

Kela and Ken have done what few South Africans have done. They’ve been up the Table Mountain Cableway. They’ve travelled from Cape Agulhas to Beit Bridge – SA’s southernmost tip and northernmost border point. On their second visit to the tourism Indaba in Durban, I was asked to keep them away from the entrance of the ICC because they would draw attention away from Jacob Zuma, who was due to arrive. They were good at making friends wherever they went.

It was Kela who gave me the determination to cope when I woke up blind in 2006 – from tick bite fever I didn’t know I had – and was told that all previous recorded cases had resulted in permanent blindness. Turning it around was a first, and my eyes were published.

Kenya had the warmest heart of any dog I’ve ever known. He really tried very hard to be good all the time. And if he was scolded and his feelings were hurt, tears streamed down his cheeks.

Kela on the other hand was a handful, especially when younger. Inquisitive, playful, a tease and a thief. I’ve lost count how many shoes were buried in the garden, food stolen out of the fridge or off the kitchen counter. When I got cross with her, she’d say, “okay, let’s have a game.” They say “if you call a dog, it comes. If you call a cat, it takes a message and gets back to you.” In many respects, Kela was more like a cat, fiercely independent, but very shy.

A dog is a wolf, but a wolf is not a dog. Dogs adapt to a family, but one has to adapt to a wolf, and it is a full-time commitment.

Click on any of the images below for larger images in a slide show.

Postscript: The Hermanus vet got it totally wrong. Had she been thorough, both animals would still have been around for a little longer. She was informed by Dr Potgieter about the correct diagnosis and treatment but when I saw her afterwards, she made no apology nor enquired about Akela’s health. The vet who put Akela down examined her and said she was surprised the first vet had made an incorrect diagnosis. That’s not the sort of vet I’d recommend to anyone. I’m sure others will sing the vet’s praises, but I subsequently emailed the practice to complain and I’m still waiting for the call I was told I would get. That’s not professional!

I subsequently heard from a friend that she had stopped breeding ponies because Hermanus Animal Hospital — the only equine vet in the area — was too unreliable and several ponies had been lost. A breeder must have a reliable vet.

I do recommend Dr Maree Potgieter at Pronkberg Clinic in Stellenbosch. She was very thorough and compassionate.