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.
“See what big teeth I’ve got!” Baby Beezus with Akela the 13 year old wolf. For his first 18 months, he was raised by a wolf.
One Saturday morning about three months ago, Beezus was diagnosed with heart failure and acute congestion of the lungs as a result. I had taken him in for a precautionary checkup because of a a very slight dry cough that occurred once a day at the most. I was shocked! The local Stanford vet — who had been seeing Beezus to prepare him for his Pet Passport — was very worried and got Bergview Vet Hospital in Hermanus to see him immediately for x-rays and a second opinion.
They confirmed the diagnosis, prescribed meds to strengthen the heart, another to reduce blood pressure and a diuretic to empty the lungs, and said they hoped I had a vet on 24 hour standby because they didn’t know if he would make it through the night! I didn’t have one, unless I drove back to Hermanus…
The local vet had said that she had a Sunday morning appointment and I should bring him in. The sedation for the x-rays had really knocked Beezus out and he slept through Saturday afternoon and night, but we were waiting at the vet at 9am on Sunday morning. His lungs were much better and it became a matter of keeping him quiet and waiting for all the meds to kick in. The prognosis was that he could live a long life but would be on meds for the rest of his life. (That’s about R500 a month.)
And Beezus slowly became a little of his old self, but tired more easily and needed to be carried after a while on long walks.
The stampede starts… Beezus senses them and starts his rendition of a pack of wild dogs.
Driving back from the Fish River Lighthouse, the road was blocked by a herd of cattle. It was a standoff. Then Beezus sensed what was out there, and exploded into his rendition of a pack of wild dogs on the cattle. The cattle about-faced and cleared the road. Three cheers for Beezus!
Otter’s Bend Lodge in Franschhoek is probably Beezus’ true happy space. Apart from Mark, Mary & Ollie Heistein who he adores, it is an exciting, friendly and unpretentious place. He even gets on with Alex the Doberman, but less so with Sheba the Ridgeback. Maybe he’s just too much, too feisty and too confident for her.
Caracal (Rooikat, Desert Lynx, Caracal caracal) in the pear orchard at Otter’s Bend Lodge
One evening I saw an unusual shape moving through the pear orchard right in front of the house. And the I realised it was a Caracal – but seeing a live one was very different to the stuffed one at the Simonsberg Conservancy’s office at DelVera (where I have to cover Beezus’ eyes when we walk past it). I’d been warned about them in Banhoek because a friend’s cat was taken by one there. I’ve been a little nervous about them (for Beezus’ safety) ever since. It has the mystical quality of most wild animals.
The following morning I took Beezus out to water the garden and the Caracal suddenly appeared in the driveway, and started walking towards me… not furtively or aggressively, but seemingly inquisitive. Beezus had been off to one side but when he came around and saw it, he took off after it like a pack of wild dogs… or made enough noise for a whole pack of wild dogs in a murderous mood.
The following day, after his early morning walk, Beezus decided he wanted to go back to bed and went to sleep. He woke half and hour later making the anguished noises which mean there’s something out there he’s got to get! I got up to look outside and there, about 300 metres away, I saw something jumped through the long grass – a small buck perhaps? No, it was the Caracal again heading towards the furthest boundary of the farm.
Five minutes later I looked up from the laptop through the window, and there it was about 8 metres in front of me! I grabbed the camera to get a decent photo this time… but its battery was flat…
What have I discovered about Caracals? It is a wild cat widely distributed across Africa, Central Asia, and Southwest Asia into India. The specific name is attributed to the German scientist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber who described Felis caracal in 1776 from a specimen collected near the Table Mountain. The generic name Caracal was first used by the British naturalist John Edward Gray in 1843 on the basis of a type specimen collected near the Cape of Good Hope. They weigh between 7.0 & 16kg. They live mainly on prey smaller than 5kg, including hyraxes, springhares, gerbils, mice, and birds. They are capable of taking antelopes, including species such as mountain reedbuck, springbok, common duiker and steenbok.
Historically, caracals have been used in India for hunting and blood sports. A popular sport in India was to have a captive caracal set upon a flock of pigeons, whereupon bets were made on how many birds could be taken down by the cat. A practiced caracal could ground as many as a dozen birds. Today, as well as in the past, caracals have occasionally been kept as exotic pets in Africa, India, North America and elsewhere. It has been claimed caracals are “suitable as pets” because they are “easily tamed”, but caracals have also been claimed to attack people other than their owner. Caracals appear to have held some religious significance for the ancient Egyptians. They were found in wall paintings, their bodies embalmed, and sculptures of caracals and other cats guarded tombs.
Beezus gets his regular nuzzle from Mac the horse.
And then there’s Mac, the horse. He doesn’t take kindly to a saddle or a person on his back, but he’s in his element pulling a carriage which he does with aplomb. He also doesn’t like dogs but suprised everyone by taking to Beezus.
The moment Mac sees Beezus, he runs up and starts nuzzling him gently. At first, Beezus was very apprehensive (and so was I, ready to scoop him up!) and growled softly but allowed the horse to continue. He’s happier about it now.
Some days, Mac comes and whinnies at the door for Beezus to come out. When I walk down the drive, Mac comes trotting up, and I carry Beezus because I worry about those hooves. So Mac walks alongside us nuzzling Beezus’ fur.
As Mark asked, “What makes Beezus different to all other dogs?” I can only think that it is because he was raised by a wolf, and has many characteristics he learnt from Akela.
I visited David Daitz about 15 years ago when he was CEO of CapeNature, and was surprised to see a very large and stunning poster of a wolf on his wall. “What on earth?” I asked. David had recently visited the wolf sanctuary in the south of France which, he pointed out, at that time received more tourists than Cape Town did. “It’s a reminder of the attraction of nature,” he said.
One of the packs of the almost 40 wolves at the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary. It should be a much more popular destination. When we enquired about it at the Tsitsikamma tourism office at Storms River bridge, the woman tried to persuade me to go to the one — which by all accounts isn’t a sanctuary at all — on the way to Knysna.
The last time I visited the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary was about 12 years ago, when it opened. I had a pet wolf, Akela, who lived with me for almost 15 years. There were only two enclosures and about 12 wolves. Akela ignored them totally, probably terrified I was going to leave her there… she knew where her bread was buttered! And she ended up living a rather extraordinary life with her best friend, Kenya the Staffie.
This time, I was curious about how Beezus would respond to the wolves. He was raised by Akela for the first 14 months of his life — she regurgitated her food for him and spent hours and hours with him in the garden. Today, Beezus has many characteristics that don’t fit in with his real parents. One example: when he misses someone, he howls… a tiny, tiny howl, but then he is a tiny dog — his whole body is the same size as a wolf’s head!
Akela and Beezus — lessons for a lapdog in 2012
He last saw Akela in September 2012, 20 months earlier. How much does he remember? He doesn’t respond to her name at all.
I carried Beezus into the sanctuary and, when he caught sight of the first wolves, there was the usual low growl. As we got closer, his growl stopped completely and he was silent for the whole time we were there. He just stared at them, even when they came close to the fence to sniff him… and he sniffed back. Usually when he’s intimated by big dogs, he turns his head away… but not there, he just stared and stared. And he was more subdued than usual as we drove on to Plettenberg Bay afterwards… he was dead quiet, lost in thought.
What were they both thinking? What were they communicating?
So like Akela!
For me, seeing a wolf again for the first time in 18 months, when Akela and Kenya died, carried mixed feelings. Yes, some of them looked so like Akela but I realised how different Akela was to all those at the sanctuary. Her pack had been Kenya and me since she was five weeks old… she knew the luxury of beds and couches to lie on; of long, long walks; of farms and beaches to explore. Kenya was her best friend — she looked after him and he was her Linus blanket at the same time. Akela wasn’t phased by cats… and raised Beezus.
These are packs of semi-wild wolves, because they do have regular contact with people and are fed by people. Some came from homes where they couldn’t be managed, but they had formed new packs and I would have been the intruder, interrupting a clear social order. I’d need a lot of re-assurance before I’d step into most of those camps!
It was at the last camp, with the oldest inhabitants of the sanctuary, where my feelings changed. These were the wolves that had been rescued from East London zoo — the Draco Pack. The entire pack wanted to play, and the lead was taken by the alpha male. There was a connection similar to the one I had with Akela.
I left with a very heavy heart.
It’s a pity Tsitsikamma Tourism doesn’t have the same insight as David Daitz. It is an added reason to visit the area; it can benefit tourism.
The Lupus Foundation, trading as the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary, is the only registered Non-Profit Wolf Sanctuary in South Africa.
Prince Albert is an almost compulsory stopover for any north-south trip I make because it is one of South Africa’s most delightful villages… and more importantly, it is home to one of my favourite people. Elaine Hurford has been a close friend for about 30 years and I always find her sense of style and insights inspiring.
We stayed in a house that Elaine has on her books for sale* and a special ‘thank you’ is due to Elise Senekal for having us and especially Beezus to stay. “Bokkie” is a frequent visitor and has his meals on the lawn in front of the house, so pets are usually a no-no here.
One-horned “Bokkie” at Miller’s House
Miller’s House is a delight — two luxurious, en-suite, air-conditioned bedrooms — but it’s the stoep and setting that make it really special. It’s set right alongside a dam… with a rowing boat moored a few steps from the front door!
The spectacular setting of Miller’s House
Prince Albert itself was as spellbinding as ever. The following are Tania’s take on a walkabout the village.
Click here to email Elaine for information about purchasing Miller’s House.
Beezus is the new explorer and follows in the footsteps of Akela and Kenya who explored South Africa with me for nearly 15 years. The full story of how he came into my life is at Lessons for a Lapdog. I left him in September 2012 and he rejoined me shortly before Christmas 2013 when his mom asked if I would take him. How could I refuse? He was raised by Akela for the first year of his life!
His first six weeks back with me were in Johannesburg where he blossomed on walks along the Sandspruit River, socialising with far larger dogs. But it was on his first big adventure — a trip to the Cape — that he really grew up.
The masthead photo and the one below (by Tania Thomson Poole) show him frolicking in the surf at Cape Agulhas, the southermost tip of the African continent where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.
Come back to read the stories about his trip to the Cape and the adventures that will still happen.
Beezus at Cape Agulhas, as far south as you can go on the African continent and where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.