Beezus died in my arms early on May 7, 2020, his 9th birthday. He had led the most extraordinary life and has been described as “legendary” and with every superlative one can think of, but Enid Vickers of Corporate Image coined it in her February 2020 email to me: “Beezus is officially the cutest little dog I have ever seen. He is also the friendliest and calmest.” He was loved by everybody and I became defined by Beezie, as I had been by Akela the wolf before him.
I wrote Goodbye Akela & Kenya in 2012 the night before they died, partially as way of saying my final goodbyes. Today is one month since Beezus died, and I have been struggling to finish this because his death was so unexpected. There are over 9,000 photos of Beezus, each one a memory. So I am putting this up as a Draft and, for the next few weeks, I’ll edit and add to this content. And add captions to all the photos.
Beezus was born in May 2011 and spent the first few weeks of his life in a video rental store in Mokopane, Limpopo. My partner at the time, Stephanie, had seen his parents and eagerly awaited the imminent litter. Just as we were finishing a Sunday lunch, her phone rang and she dashed off. I knew nothing about all of this and was surprised — even aghast — when she came back with this tiny animal that fitted in the palm of her hand.
I had Akela (a grey wolf) and Kenya (a Staffie) as pets, and the wolf loved pawing things… how would this tiny bundle survive!
Stephanie remembers that day. “That Sunday I went to fetch him, he was the only one who wasn’t worried about his mother. Like he was more independent or wanted to get away. He was the smallest of the litter. I didn’t want to leave him there. I didn’t think he would make it if I did. It wasn’t exactly the best circumstances where I picked him up from. Although the lady I got Beezie from had a good heart and loved animals, she hardly had enough money to look after herself.”
Beezus was a cross Pomeranian/Chihuahua — a Pomchi. His name comes from the kids movie Beezus & Ramona and while the Beezus in the movie was a girl, my Beezus made the name his own.
Stephanie recalls that during walks, he always picked up a marula fruit, carried it home and played with it. “He once found a caterpillar in the garden. He brought it inside and played with it, carrying it around until it was as dried out as a mopani worm. Zee and I joked, saying that Beezus had adopted a pet for himself!”
When I met Stephanie, she wasn’t a dog person… she had two cats. She was more than a little apprehensive of Akela & Kenya but had decided that her 5 year old daughter, Jennezee, needed a dog. Of course, Jennezee was delighted. And so Beezus became Jennezee’s companion, and doll to dress up.
Life in Potties: 2011–2013
Beezus had a full childhood! For his first 18 months he was fully involved in all Jennezee’s games — being dressed up, making music and mud puddles, and just being adored.
And to my surprise, he brought out all Akela’s mothering instincts. Each night, she would have her supper and then go to fetch him and take him outside. She regurgitated her food as would happen in the wild and he had to wait until she told him he could eat. As he got older and had his supper with my two, he waited watching Akela eat her supper. She wouldn’t let him near her bowl while she was eating, but always left two or three pellets for him. The moment she finished, she moved away so he could eat the leftovers, and then he tackled his bowl.
He spent hours with her in the garden and I never stopped discovering more things she taught him. How to smell a single leaf for 15 minutes, uncovering who knows what secrets. How to bury things, outside in the garden or under pillows and blankets… with a very careful procedure… only to snatch them out again. She also taught him to assert his independence — if I called him, he copied her habit of first walking away and then coming… unless I had something he really wanted. And she taught him to howl…
Archived story: Lessons for a lapdog
Stephanie was moving and couldn’t keep Beezus, so she asked if I wanted to take him over. I was overjoyed — he was the last link to Akela & Kenya who had died together in November 2012. I was living in Rivonia, Johannesburg, and Stephanie brought him to me on December 14, 2013. It was the start of Travels with Beezus.
Over the next 6½ years, he would travel through all SA’s nine provinces and see more of the country than most South Africans ever see. And his Pet Passport was ready for a trip to Spain!
Tania, who took some of the photos below, drifted in and out of our lives for a few months. After her first departure from my cottage in Rivonia, I found Beezus at the gate howling. It was a tiny howl, but then his whole body was smaller than Akela’s head. I realised… again… that Akela had given him the sense of the pack, and he felt far more than one ever credits a dog for feeling. I was always grateful after that, when Tania kept her emotional distance from him, for respecting the depth of his affections.
Beezus, Tania and I left Johannesburg for the Western Cape at the end of January 2014. He would drive to Stellenbosch taking in Clarens, Prince Albert, Cape St Francis, Plettenberg Bay (from where we went to the real wolf sanctuary in the Tjitsikamma forest), Stilbaai, Arniston, Cape Agulhas, Swellendam, Stanford, Hermanus, Cape Town and a few months in Pringle Bay.
Archived story — Beezus revists a Wolf pack: South Africa’s little-known Wolf Sanctuary
Pringle Bay was where Beezus became a regular beach dog. He loved the freedom and it’s where I made the decision to toughen him up — to grow his confidence and security so he could run free with other dogs and other people. He did this so well, although often displaying Akela’s traits by choosing friends carefully.
But it’s a place where he also showed how much he missed Jennezee. He would run up to every little girl he saw on the beach in the hope that this was his missing playmate. He really needed women in his life.
But then came the baboons! One entered the house and he was after it like a shot! I got the baboon out and Beezus seemed fine. But two days later he went completely lame in his hind quarters. The vet said an operation at Panorama Mediclinic costing R22,000 was the normal solution, but seeing it was Easter weekend that wasn’t possible. It had to be done as soon as this situation occurred. The alternative was caging for three weeks, so his movement was restricted. I couldn’t consider the trauma of that so I covered my bed with towels, got my laptop and books, and spent the long weekend on the bed with him. He gradually recovered.
Druing 2014 and 2015, we spent a lot of time at Otters bend Lodge in Franschhoek with the Mark & Mary Heistein, and Mark asked me to join the board of the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve. This became his happy place.
In 2014, Beezus went on his first trip up the West Coast and loved Riebeek Kasteel, Darling and Paternoster as much as Akela and Kenya had, and got to know Tubagh. At the end of 2014 we met Ian & Debbie Taverner, who were looking for a housesitter. Shumba, a ridgeback, and Acorn, a jack Russell, became Beezus’ best friends and the Taverners became closer than any family I have.
In the first half of 2015, he visited Montagu, Swellendam, Vermaaklikheid, Mossel Bay, George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Nature’s Valley, Storms River, Jeffreys Bay, Hankie, Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Port Alfred, East London, Coffee Bay, Kokstad, Howick, Winterton, Bethlehem, Bloemfontein, Prince Albert and back to Cape Town,
Archived story: The Best Picture from a 6,000km trip around South Africa — Mandela Capture Site
In the second half of 2015, he was hosted at the remarkable and pet-friendly Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town. Dinner was from the pet’s menu! We drove to Hermanus and, the next day, he slowly became lame back again, Another vet suggested the same operation and supplied copious pills, which made him manic. I stopped the pills and took him to my chiropractor. He was completely better four days later!
So we set off again to Darling (where the winemaker at Groote Post Vineyards said he loved Beezus’ name and wanted to make a wine named after him), Sutherland, Calvinia, Carnarvon, Kimberley, Bloemhof, Potchefstroom and Johannesburg.
Joy & Delinght! — Reunions in Joburg & Mokopane September 2015
Stephanie & Beezus were reunited in Johannesburg. We met on the grassy banks of the Sandspruit River in Rivonia, where he had played when he came to live with me nearly two years before. Then we drove to Windsong Cottages, one of my favourite places in the Waterberg, to see the Calcotts and Babers. Beezus and the one Calcott dog became inseparable, just as Akela and Richard, the labrador, had become 6 years prior.
And the I took the drive to Potties/Mokopane to take Beezus to visit Jennezee. They hadn’t seen each other for almost two years. I was waiting for her when she left school and … what a happy reunion!
From Potties we drove to Magoebaskloof, my other Limpopo favourite, and saw two special people from Akela & Kenya’s visits there: Louis Changuion and Colleen Ballenden. From there it was a short, but stunning drive, to Tzaneen and the incomparable Tzaneen Country Lodge. The remarkable Faan and Adri Kruger had become close friends, and Faan was dying from cancer.
Next was Sabie, Dullstroom and back to Johannesburg to stay with Caroline Ungersbock and Koki, her dog. The trip back to Stellenbosch was via Parys, Bloemfontein, Prince Albert and Swellendam.
Towards the end of 2015, we moved into a derelict cottage on Boschendal Estate to use to explore how much living off the grid really costs, if you make lifestyle changes. Boschendal, under then-CEO Rob Lundie, was one of the most exciting and inspirational farms to be. Our cottage was right alongside a dam with views across three mountain ranges!
I’d become fascinated by yurts and decided to build and live in one for a few months, before taking a sabbatical from South Africa. We stayed with Ian & Debbie while I built it and then erected it on Stanford Hills Estate (where Akela & Kenya are buried). No-one had realised that the idyllic spot was in fact windiest spot on the whole farm, with gusts of up to 120km/h! The yurt was trashed one night and I worried that I was putting through too much, But after a few changes, the yurt proved to be a haven of calm in the worst storms, and a very comfortable place to live in. The basic structure with an insulated floor cost R15,000 and a bathroom with a biodigestor added R20,000 to the cost.
While in Stanford, I started preparations for a trip to Spain — Beezus’ pet passport. He was microchipped, had the rabies vaccination. I found that KLM/Air France allow pets to fly with the owners in the cabin all the way to the Canary Islands via Amsterdam.
July 22, 2019, started as a normal, sparkling autumnal Saturday morning. We went for our usual 2km morning walk and Beez tired and wanted to be carried part of the way. Nothing too unusual about that. At home he had a very brief dry cough, which he’d done once or twice before, but this time I wondered if it was because he found some chicken bones the night before. So I decided he needed a checkup at the vet.
Olga was a concerned about his noisy lungs and made an urgent appointment for X-rays in Hermanus. She explained that these dogs are prone to congenital heart failure which leads to fluid in the lungs. He was whipped away as soon as Hermanus vet arrived and after sedation and Xrays she confirmed Olga’s fears. As she gave me the medications she asked if Olga was on call 24 hours a day — “I don’t know if he’ll make it through the night,” she said. I couldn’t believe this was happening…
He did make it through the night and saw Olga first thing on Sunday morning. She was happy with the improvement to his lungs. He was going to be on meds for the rest of his life but could still live a long life. He was on Vetmedin (to strenghten his heart), Fortekor (to reduce his blood pressure) and Lasix (a diuretic). The monthly cost was about R780! A Stellenbosch vet subsequently suggested I replace Lasix with Puriesis (R34 vs over R200 a month).
Now the big question was whether he would be able to travel to Spain, so I focused on getting him well enough to fly. All final arrangements had to wait until his health was stable. After a while blood was drawn for Ondersterpoort to do the rabies test and then the problems started. After getting no replies for weeks, we found out that Ondersterpoort had “re-organised” and was facing a backlog of 12,000 tests. And then we were told that all blood samples had been sent to a laboratory in Europe. Eventually I was notified that the test was complete. He was good to go as far as the pet passport was concerned.
Archived story: When conventional medicine and vets fail us
And he got better. He had his bad days and I discovered that his diet played a very important part. It was my chiropractor who emphasized the need for only one meal a day, no treats and bland food. Adjusting the Puriesis dose was also important along with regular but measured exercise.
We spent part of January and February at Cheryl Mulder Verbruggen’s cottage in Sea Point and Beezus’ early morning runs on Clifton beach set him up for the day. He was a new dog!
At the same time I started sorting out the police clearance certificate for my visa. I had my fingerprints taken and was told getting the certificate takes 3-4 months! (The SAPS website says up to 10 days.) “There’s a backlog.” Is SA facing a complete institutional collapse, I wondered. In the end, it took the Western Cape Provincial Government two days to get it for me!
Leaving Cheryl, we headed to Darling for a few days and then a friend’s delightful house on Hanglip beach. When a trip to the Eastern Cape fell through, I was thinking of a road trip while I waited for my visa to get sorted out.
Getting the correct Spanish visa was proving more difficult. The officials at the Consulate aren’t permitted to give advice, but they do tell you what you can’t do. Getting a media visa through the Presidency is easier — and they are very helpful — but has limitations. Then a friend who moved to Barcelona gave me a tip and everything started falling into place… the day before Spain declared a State of Alert, and three days before SA declared a State of Disaster!
I had started on the road trip and gone to stay in a cottage at Stone Peak Mountain Lodge in Elgin. When I messaged the owner to give my arrival time, I got a message back that she might be a bit late because she was burying her dog. She wasn’t late and I warmed to her immediately. The place was delightful and had a feel-good factor. Rather than tire Beezus with a trip, I asked if we could stay until we left for overseas. The State of Emergency was announced the same week, with the closure of all air traffic! The lockdown followed, and this was the best place to be locked down.
When I told Cheryl what was happening in Spain, she asked the question I’ve been living with for months.
Then one Tuesday I woke up with a pain in my right shoulder and arm. It lingered all day and was worse on Wednesday morning. So I took my blood pressure and it was 211/104. I was shocked! I made an appointment to see a doctor as soon as possible. I’ve never needed blood pressure meds before but he told me that, like Beezus, I’ll be on meds for the rest of my life, and warned me that they will make me sleepy to start with.
That evening, I fed Beezus and took him for his walk. He had been fine for some time and played his new game at the electric gate — ignoring it as it started closing and rushing through at the last minute. I remember thinking how well he had been and that we would travel as soon as we could. When we got home I lay down for a bit… and fell asleep. I was woken at 5am by Beezus struggling to breathe. His after-supper pills! I hadn’t given them to him! I struggled to get him to swallow his blood pressure and diuretic pills because of his laboured breathing, and then gave him his morning heart pill too.
“I could have done more… or better…
but I could never have done enough.
Beezus was ill.”
He wanted to go outside so I stayed outside with him. He just sat there… so I took him in again, waiting, hoping for the pills to kick in. He wanted to be picked up, and I saw that his gums were now grey. I wondered if I should phone the vet because she had said I must call her in case of an emergency. But I felt that the end was too close. I Whatsapped a friend at 6.17am “Beezus is dying.” It wasn’t long before he made a deep sigh and a cry, and a hard shake, my arms wrapped around him as though a hug would heal the hurt. His heart stopped beating. I Whatsapped again at 6:27 saying “Beezus is dead.”
As his body relaxed, liquid and foam poured out his nose and mouth… this was what was in his lungs and was what Olga had feared in July last year. I immediately thought of Covid-19 victims and how quickly death comes. (A friend’s father had been hospitalised on a Saturday and was dead on Monday morning.)
I cursed myself for not giving Beezus his pills the night before. Would he be alive today if I had? I could have done more… or better… but I could never have done enough. Beezus was ill.
All my animals before him had got old and I had to decide when their quality of life wasn’t what they wanted. I was prepared for their deaths. Beezus’ death was unexpected. I often asked myself if taking him to Spain was unfair, but I have a friend there who is an animal lover, without a dog. Andreina joked that she would kidnap him, but I also knew that he would love her. And that love would invigorate him, even if just for a few months or years. It was the one thing I hadn’t been able to give him. And that hurts more than anything else.
I’ve been blessed by the most extraordinary animals.
First there was Shilo, a Border Collie/German Shepherd cross (1982-1996). He belonged to an acquaintance but adopted me to the extent that it was suggested that I take him over. He became a legend. In about 1986 I was driving into Cape Town’s docklands — a quarantine area. I was waved through customs. Gawie & Gwen Fagan were following me in their car and were stopped: “No dogs allowed,” said the official. “But what about the dog in that car?” they pointed. “Oh, that’s a special dog,” the official responded as they were turned back.
Then there were Akela & Kenya (1998-2012 — See Goodbye Akela & Kenya). Akela crawled from her mother’s litter to me when I first saw her, and the bond was immediate. I went away to think very hard if I was up to raising a wolf. Kenya was dropped off with me in spite of my protestations, and proved to be the best companion Akela & I could have. He was, in 3-year old Jennezee’s words, ”‘n lieflike dier” (a lovable animal) who cried tears if scolded.
If I have one memory of Beezus, it’s the awe in which I will remember him. He was far larger than life, perceptive and intuitive, and he had an exuberant spirit. He was a happy little wolf.