As we say goodbye to our lovely dog, Romi, I thought I would remember her by writing her story. She had quite an adventure-filled life, from her sad early days when she knew nothing but fear, to her passing when she knew nothing but love
When my husband, Stephen, and I moved to Qatar from Australia to take up our first overseas teaching job, we decided that our labrador, Sanjai, was coming with us. Not knowing what to expect, however, we left him in a boarding kennels until we were settled. He stayed rather longer than he should have and was not the happy-go-lucky boy we’d left behind when he finally joined us and suffered from separation anxiety. We had been discussing getting a second dog to keep him company when Romi came into our lives.
During the summer break of 2008, Sanjai was in his boarding kennels in Qatar. We were speaking to Janet, the lady that runs it, who also operates the local animal welfare shelter in the same location, the boarding paying for the upkeep of the strays. Sanjai, she said, had fallen in love. The dog in question appeared to return his affection and Janet described her as having some labrador in her.
When we returned to Qatar after the holiday, we decided that we might adopt the object of Sanjai’s affection. We drove up to the farm and as we pulled in, we saw a skinny, hairy-faced, spindly-legged mutt. “Oh, god,” we both cried “I hope that’s not her.” Of course it was. Trusting our lab’s judgment more than ours, we arranged for Romi to come for a visit to see how it could all work out. Everyone got along and we realised that beyond the scruffy exterior was a soul in need of love and nurturing and she stayed.
We discovered some of Romi’s history: she had been part of a pack of stray dogs in the desert in Qatar which had been used as target practice by some local boys. She was the only dog to survive. When she was taken in by QAWS, she was pregnant and safely delivered a litter of pups, all but one of which was adopted. The last one, Linus, stayed at the kennels and became part of the family there. Understandably, Romi was, and remained, a nervous dog, pathologically scared of loud noises – and plastic bags.
The day after Romi came to live with us, Sanjai was taken very ill. We knew things were bad as he didn’t eat. An emergency rush to the vet caught it in time and he recovered. We were rather drained when we noticed Romi behaving peculiarly. Having never seen an epileptic seizure before, it took me a second or two to realise what was happening. It was most distressing and we didn’t really know what to do. After another seizure the next day, we took her to the vet who confirmed she had epilepsy and gave us all the information and prescribed phenobarbital. These were not cheap but necessary to stop the fits and so we paid the price. Vet fees and treatment are expensive in Qatar as much of it is imported or outsourced.
By this point, we were already attached to the funny little thing, and so we adopted her. I did ring Janet at QAWS and asked if any of her previous foster carers had mentioned anything, but none of them had. I find it hard to believe that such severe epilepsy could have been undetected and I put it down to lack of care on the fosterer’s part, rather than Janet deliberately keeping us in the dark, which I didn’t want to believe. It was a big undertaking, taking on a dog who needed such careful attention, but as I said we had become attached to her quite quickly and also felt that we couldn’t renege on our agreement just because she was sick. And so she stayed and became part of the family.
Romi, it seemed, was slow to realise how much better off she was with us, and became a bit of an escape artist, which was ironic because when we did take her out for walks, she got bored of them sooner than Sanjai, walked really slowing, and could not wait until we got home. But leave the door open a crack and she was off. We lived in a compound and one time the guards left the gate open when she was in the yard and she ran out. Surrounding the compound was a building site and beyond that, desert. I still remember Stephen running off after her with no shoes on, screaming obscenities at anyone within ear shot, but particularly at the guards. Luckily he managed to grab her before she headed back off into the desert. We pointed out how ungrateful she was, didn’t she realise what a lovely place she had and how much better off she was, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. What didn’t fall on deaf ears, though, was Stephen’s ear-bashing of the guard and the gate was never left open again.
And so the time passed. Her and Sanjai got closer and closer and Romi became a creature of habit. At 9 pm each night, she would take herself off upstairs and go to bed, even if we were still watching TV.
At the end of that academic year, Stephen and I left Qatar for pastures new in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We must be the only crazy people who travel the world with two dogs. It’s very expensive and not an easy proposition either. We had been offered jobs in Bangladesh, jobs which were great for both of us, but after long, hard debate we turned them down, realising that we did not want to take the dogs there with us, but could not contemplate them not being with us. That meant finding jobs in countries where we could take them. $10,000 later, they joined us in Kazakhstan, but not after we’d been fleeced left right and centre by those who know that expats will pay anything to have their pets with them, including the Kazakhstan customs office who decided to charge us a fortune in import duty – on dogs, for god’s sake!
Anyway, they settled well into their new home. We had no garden in our first apartment, which was on the 13th floor, so the dogs had to be taken down in the lift to the street to pee. Romi was quite wary of the lift at first and needed much cajoling, but she soon got used to it. I don’t think, however, that she ever got used to the snow and ice, something I can sympathise with. We would walk along the pavement, dogs and us slipping and sliding. Romi’s paws were designed for hot sand, and they splayed out when she walked. This meant that the ice would become embedded between her pads and she would stop and lift up her paw, looking at me rather pathetically. I would have to dig the ice out of her paws before she would go another step. On more than one occasion Stephen would have to carry her home as she refused to move. She always was an ornery dog.
Luckily, after a year in the apartment, which meant 4am trips downstairs when one or other of them decided to pee, and then after 20 minutes of getting dressed because it was -20°, they would get downstairs and change their mind, we moved into a house with a large, secure garden. Oh, the joys of just opening the door! Romi continued to dislike the snow and really would have preferred never to have to go out in it but of course needs must. The ‘joy’ for us of spring was clearing away all the poo that had accumulated over the winter which we had not been able to clean up because it was embedded in the ice. That was a pleasant job. Not.
One of the good things about being in Kazakhstan was that we found a wonderful boarding kennels for them both. Romi really never liked anyone but us – ornery to the core – but when Andrei used to come and collect them to take them out to the farm for the summer, or whenever we went on holiday, she would turn herself inside out with joy in the way she did whenever we came home from school. It made my heart glad to see as I knew they were well looked after while we were away. The not so good thing, was the difficulty we had in getting phenobarbital for her. Our vet would write prescriptions but then we would have to go to pharmacy after pharmacy to get them filled as the pharmacies would not dispense for an animal. It became a huge worry and eventually I went to my GP whose clinic had its own dispensary and we were able to maintain a supply. When we went on holiday to Australia, our vet friend there was also able to provide them. Thanks to both of them, we were able to control Romi’s epilepsy.
And so time passed pleasantly and routinely. After four years of Kazakh winters, I had had enough and so we decided to move to pastures new. Sanjai had become deaf and somewhat blind in the meantime, and was getting sicker and sicker. We knew he was not going to make our next journey with us, and before we left Kazakhstan, he went over the rainbow bridge. We were worried about how Romi might react, as they were so close, but this was only a day or two before we left for China and she seemed less fazed than expected. Secretly, I think she enjoyed being top dog for a change. Whenever we walked the two of them, people would make a huge fuss of Sanjai because he was so gorgeous and poor Romi would get short shift. Mind you, she never did anything to be friendly or appealing to others, that was not her nature.
Her journey to China was uneventful, I’m happy to say, and she seemed none the worse for the journey. She settled into her new home, but continued to make no effort to make friends of other humans, not even our friends and neighbours who missed having a dog and so would come and walk her every evening around 8pm. Once she was out she would enjoy it, but on more than one occasion we had to drag her to the lift.
All this time, she would continue to have a seizure once every couple of months but for the most part the phenobarbital would keep her epilepsy under control. Earlier this year, she had a catastrophic day of seizures, having one after another. The seizures themselves were not bad ones, but with each one she got weaker and weaker. We took her to the vet who suggested adding some potassium bromide to her phenobarbital, which we did. Her liver enzymes were high, a result of the phenobarb, and she was losing weight, which was hardly surprising as she was always a fussy eater but had become more and more so. The combination was not good for her and she began to collapse which after investigation I found out was ataxia, a condition which causes dogs to appear drunk.
I don’t really want to dwell on the latter part of her life, which got progressively less pleasant. We found a good balance of medication, taking her off phenobarb altogether and using just potassium bromide, which controlled the fits but it all took more and more of a toll on her, until this week when she went downhill rapidly. We took the decision that her quality of life was unacceptably low and so she went to join her beloved Sanjai over the rainbow bridge.
It is now two days later, and of course my eyes are filling up as I write this. However, I will concentrate on the love we gave her, the wonderful life we gave her, and the pleasure she gave us. She remained an ornery, unfriendly bitch to every human and dog she met, but to us she was loving and fun and soulful. We loved her to bits and will miss her sorely. Last night was somewhat poignant as we sat down to eat dinner. We had salmon, always her favourite as she got to devour the skin. It will take a few days to readjust as our routine totally centred around her and it will be the first time in our life together that Stephen and I have been without a dog. We will resist getting another one as we will be moving on again at the end of this academic year and it would be selfish. But it will be difficult and the apartment is quiet and empty. I won’t miss all the dog hair, it has to be said, although I think I’ll be finding it tucked into all sorts of places for some time yet.
Goodbye, sweet Romi. Give Sanjai a kiss from us. x