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Posted by Tim on May 31, 2010
Good Boy, Belly

In 2006, in the middle of the Thai jungle, Jessica and I were adopted by a warm-hearted, broad-grinned doggy named Belly. We adopted him right back, and brought him home to the States to live with us.

We made for ourselves a little family: one dog, one cat, and two traveling hedgehogs. And Belly was always the fuzzy, loving heart of that family. He was the center around which the rest of us revolved.

And now he's gone. And it hurts.

It started innocently enough last Monday, with a cough. It was an odd cough, a sort of hacking, wheezing cough. And then, on the way back from a walk down to the beach (only about 500 feet away from our cottage), he became so exhausted that he laid down in the middle of the street to rest. Twice.

'A look back at some of our favorite photos of BellyAfter the second time, I carried him the rest of the way home in my arms.

His breathing became labored, and all of his usual boundless energy evaporated. It became difficult for him to walk very far without having to rest.

Because he'd recently been boarded, our vet thought it was probably kennel cough. (He's vaccinated against that, but there are so many kinds of kennel cough that it's theoretically still possible to get infected while vaccinated.) She prescribed him some doxycycline, and said he should improve markedly in the next 24 to 48 hours.

At first it seemed that his breathing was getting better. His energy levels didn't return to normal, but at least he was once again fishing toys out of his toybox to play with. But it was not to last.

He started vomiting, unable to keep anything down. This is an occasional side-effect of doxycycline in some unlucky doggies, though, and we all thought that must be what was happening to Belly. Our vet did more tests, and tried other medications – a sort of cocktail of antibiotics, designed to protect him against the entire spectrum of possible pathogens.

'Going for a walk down by the waterOn Thursday night, again, it seemed like he might be getting better. He fell into a deep sleep, the first since he'd started getting sick, and he dreamed.

His dreams were always active, vocal affairs, and this one was no different – his little feet wriggling as he dream-ran and dream-played, his nose and lips twitching and quivering, a soft howl or the occasional quiet "whoop, whoop" of muffled dream-barks breaking up his usual snoring and snuffling.

He slept with us in bed that night. In hindsight, actually, he'd spent most of that week cuddling with us. His kitty-cat-sister spent a lot of time cuddling with him, too. It was as if she knew.

I love remembering how many of his favorite things he got to do that week. We didn't know it was his last week at the time, but even if we had we couldn't have packed in many more of his favorite activities. Walking down to the beach together. Sitting together on the front deck in the sun. Watching movies cuddled together on the couch. He played with his toys, slept in bed with us every night, and he got to eat some steamed rice – his favorite food in the world.

'Even though he was born in the jungle, he loved to play in the snowOn Friday morning, when we woke up, he was at his usual place at the sliding glass door, looking out over the yard just as he'd done thousands of times before.

Then things began to go downhill. He vomited twice after taking his pills, and then collapsed. He quickly got back to his feet, but by this time we were terrified. "I wish I could fix him for you," our vet told us, her voice quavering on the phone. She and her whole office adored Belly, and it was killing her that she couldn't nurse him back to perfect health for us. Instead, she referred us to a specialist, an internist. She asked us to come pick up all of his records, and said she'd call ahead so that the other place would know we were coming.

He kept wagging his tail at us, all morning long. He wanted to make us stop worrying. He was trying to take care of us, just as he always had.

When Belly first came home with us, he didn't know any world outside the Thai jungles where he was born. There was so much for him to see, to learn, to discover.

He didn't know what carpeting was, because he was used to wood and bamboo huts. He was confused at first by our windows – the only glass he'd ever seen before were the windows of a car or truck. Everything around him was an object of wonder, and every path led to a new world to explore.

'Going on a fun road trip through Maine with Mommy and Daddy!The collar we put on him at Elephant Nature Park was the first one he'd ever worn. He immediately stood up a little straighter, a little prouder. It was as if he was saying, "I'm a proper dog now!" He loved his collar, and if we ever took it off (like when giving him a bath) he insisted on sniffing it thoroughly, making sure it was ok before we could put it down.

The first time it snowed, he couldn't understand what was happening. I remember his eyes tracing a snowflake as it lazily wafted down before him, becoming cross-eyed as it landed on his nose. Then he sneezed and shook his head. I wondered what it must feel like for him, to have the rules of reality so completely rewritten behind your back. How would I respond if the next day a thousand pounds of lavender potato chips fell from the sky? I envied his ability to soak it all in, to adapt to his new world with such ease. Last winter, when eighteen inches fell overnight, he joined his mommy and daddy in making snow-angels.

Over time, Belly became more Americanized. By the time we moved from Washington, DC to Cape Cod, he'd grown to love the snow. (Which was a good thing, because we got a heck of a lot more of it up here!) And this fuzzy little beast, who had spent his life in the forested mountains of northern Thailand, hundreds of miles from the coast... now at last he came to the sea. And he fell in love with it. The jungle-dog became an ocean-dog.

'Tracking a kitty cat through the snowHe would dig little holes in the beach, then turn around three times and settle down into them with his tail tucked over his nose. He would stare in fascination at the seagulls and ducks bobbing along just a few dozen feet away. He would stand at the shore and face into the wind, his fluffy tail and shaggy mane blowing in the breeze, and his nose would wiggle and wriggle and widdle as he took in all of the saltwater smells.

One evening, we came across the remains of a partially-eaten lobster, and Belly was simultaneously terrified and fascinated. He'd approach it slowly for a cautious sniff, then jump back as if it had reared up at him. Then he'd circle it from a safe distance, and repeat the process.

He'd never had a toy of his own before, and now he had a huge box full of them. He didn't play favorites, but would instead rotate his way though them all. He'd bury his head in his mountain of toys, all the way to his shoulders, searching for somebody he hadn't played with recently.

He went on roadtips through thirteen different states. He visited grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, all of whom loved him dearly. He got his first Christmas presents, and learned to open them himself, tearing off the wrapping paper with his fuzzy paws and crooked teeth to get to the squeaky toy inside. He never managed to get his kitty-cat-sister to play with him, but he never stopped trying.

He was beloved by everyone at his wonderful vet's office, and everyone at the amazing little family-owned kennel that cared for and doted on him when his parents were traveling. Our neighbors all adored him, humans and dogs alike. Strangers would stop us on the street to compliment him, to ask what kind of doggy he was. They never seemed to be able to accept that he was a proud mutt, a slapdash blending of a million different dogs.

He had turned 7 years old last November, but he was still just a little pup at heart. One woman who met him while he was happily snuffling through all the toys at PetSmart was stunned to learn he was 7 years old. She had been certain he was just a young puppy.

With a wag of his tail, he would meet the world with bright, inquisitive eyes and a goofy, open-mouthed smile. He was always excited to see what was around the next corner, but never failed to appreciate the joy of a slow stretch or a long cuddle on the couch with his mommy and daddy.

"Belly's in heart failure," the specialist vet said, as gently as she was able.

My own heart seemed to stop beating for a very long time. My body went hot, then cold, then hot again. My eyes became wet and red, and I felt Jessica's soft hand wrap around my own.

'Standing on the shore, sniffing the saltwater breezeHe wasn't in the examination room with us, because he was next door in an oxygen tank. He'd been given an ultrasound, and it showed what was happening to his heart: it was too big, its walls too thin. Fluid surrounded it, pressing on it. There was fluid in his belly, and in his lungs.

It didn't make sense. He'd been just fine only days ago. He'd seemed like he was getting better only hours ago.

It was called cardiomyopathy, and it had probably been going on without symptoms for months and months. A congenital disease that almost entirely affects giant breeds and purebreds (two things little Belly most certainly was not, whatever he may have thought), it's known as the "silent killer" because there is often no way at all to detect it until it's too late.

'Gazing out the window from the comfort of his doggy-bedIn Belly's case, his vet never had a chance of spotting it. The only reason they could even diagnose it at the critical care hospital was because by that time he'd entered congestive heart failure. He had a great big heart, in every sense, and now it was shutting down.

There was nothing to be done – nor had there ever been anything that could have been done, even if we had somehow known. Even the most aggressive treatment would only extend his life a matter of days or weeks – three months at the very very most. And during that time, he'd be unable to walk very far, unable to run at all. He'd be uncomfortable, taking eight pills a day, probably vomiting many of them right back up. His kidneys would likely fail if his heart didn't first.

We wanted every second we could have with him. We wanted every last snuggle, every kiss, every single second of his company we could get. But we'd made him a promise when we'd adopted him. We told him we'd take care of him. And now, as hard as it was to accept, taking care of him meant letting him go.

Lek Chailert, the woman who founded the elephant sanctuary where we first met Belly, once called him the "luckiest dog in the world."

'Belly loved going on walks with his Mommy and DaddyAt his kennel, Belly has a friend named Jillian, who would dote on him and curl up and cuddle with him, and who drew us the most beautiful picture of him. She told us that we had made all of Belly's dreams come true.

I'd like to think those things are true. What I know for sure, though, is that Jessica and I feel like we're the lucky ones. It was Belly who was a dream come true for us.

He made it his fuzzy little mission in life to keep us happy. Once, several years ago, something heartbreaking had happened. Jessica and I were both in tears, and I was sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth. Belly came tearing around the corner, and panicked. He didn't know what to do, how to stop his mommy and daddy from crying.

And so, apparently not knowing what else to try... he started "humping" me.

Jessica and I both immediately started laughing hysterically, and spent the next several minutes soothing him, letting him know that everything was ok.

That experience taught him, of course, that if either of us started crying, he had the power to make everything better. All he had to do was latch onto one of us and start humping away. And that's what he would do. If one of us got upset or sad, he would bound right over, examining us to see if his services were required. If he determined that they were, in short order he'd have us both laughing instead of crying.

It never ever failed.

He walked into the exam room, wagging his tail at us weakly. His paws were wrapped in elastic purple bandages with polka dots, from beneath one of which extended the small rubber tube of his IV shunt. Part of his chest had been shaved for the ultrasound, revealing the elaborate network of black belly-spots that covered his entire body beneath his thick coat of fur.

'At the beach with his DaddyThe vet, who could not have been more caring or kind, came back in with a blanket for us all to lay on, and then left the room so we could have some privacy.

We all curled up together on the floor. Jessica and I had promised ourselves and each other that we'd try our best not to cry in front of him. We worried that he'd still think it was his job to take care of us, to stop us from crying, to make us happy again. As exhausted as he was, we knew he wouldn't hesitate to use up whatever energy he had left humping away our tears. For the most part we were able to keep from crying in front of him.

We reminisced with him, remembering some of our favorite times together. We sang to him, one of the songs that he'd always loved. We thanked him for everything he'd done for us, for everything he'd taught us, and for the unparalleled joy he'd brought into our lives.

'Happy in the sun with his MommyWe kissed his face, and he kissed ours. He licked away our tears.

We told him that he was a good boy. We told him that we loved him. We told him that he was going to be okay, and that we would meet him in our dreams every single night.

He seemed very calm, almost serene. He was relaxed, content, happy. He was at peace.

When the vet came back in, he was ready. Our baby boy was tired and it was time for him to rest. We hugged him as she gave him his first shot, a sedative to help him get comfortable, to help him sleep.

He stretched his head out onto Jessica's arm, and laid it there. We continued to pet him the entire time, talking to him, telling him he was a good boy, and that everything would be okay. There was a second injection, and then a third. He wasn't moving anymore.

The vet took out her stethoscope, and examined him for several moments, first on one side and then the other.

"He's gone," she said quietly. She told us how sorry she was and to take all the time we needed, and then left us alone again.

We spent another thirty minutes or so with him, hugging him and crying. We could cry as loud and as long as we needed. Now that Belly was gone, there was no one to stop us from crying anymore.

There are no words to convey what Belly means to us. His courage and hope and loyalty and love came wrapped in a warm and fuzzy little package, and they were all of the very best things in the world. We always thought he'd be with us forever.

But it wasn't meant to be. His heart was just too big.

You're such a good boy, Belly. We love you very, very much. And we'll see you in our dreams tonight.

'Good boy, Belly. Good boy.

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Rob
May 31, 2010 at 11:59am
I'm crying with you this morning. I can't find any words but I want you to know you are both in my thoughts, and I hope there is SOME consolation in the time that you did have with him.

Lots of love to you both. I hope this pain can be turned eventually into love for another lucky dog that needs a mom and dad to show it that there is all the love in the world out there for it.

*hugs*

Shana
May 31, 2010 at 12:02pm
Oh, Belly, the world has lost a very special, good friend. Tim and Jessica are at the core of this sad, sad loss. You were one of the sweetest, best dogs I'd never met!
We're all so lucky to have known you, in any capacity, and your story is a pretty incredible one.

I hope, that if there really is a place where dogs go to play together, free of pain, that you find my Shug – she'd be a great friend.

Noah
May 31, 2010 at 12:13pm
I'm so sorry, Tim, and terribly shocked and saddened. I hope you and Jessica can take some consolation in the fact that you gave Belly some wonderful years, just as he gave them to you. You enriched each other's lives, and what could be better?

Our condolences, my friends.

Maggie (Tim's sister)
May 31, 2010 at 12:28pm
I don't think I will ever stop crying and sadly there is no cute four legged creature ot "hump" me so i can start laughing.

I have been crying my eyes out ever since I heard the news and I have never cried this hard for anyone for anything in my life. Things will never be the same… A wonderful furry light has left the world and there is a HUGE hole in my heart that nothing will ever be able to fill.

He wasn't my dog, but I feel as if an important part of my family is gone forever. The pain will never ease…

Belly, you were a great dog and you shall be missed. Rest in peace dear one and have fun playing with Amber and Puzzle in heaven.

I am going to miss you so darn much!

*sobs uncontrolably*

Connie
May 31, 2010 at 12:59pm
I'm so sorry for your loss. Belly was an awesome pup and will stay with all of us. He was as fortunate to have you as you were to have him. He brought out the best in you as you brought out in him. ;_;
Janet
May 31, 2010 at 1:16pm
There is nothing to say. Love you both.
Janet
otherJess
May 31, 2010 at 3:11pm
My condolences to you both. I don't know the right words to say when someone has lost someone they care about deeply. I'm just going to watch the video of Belly opening his Christmas present a few times and laugh at him being silly because that feels like the right thing right now.

-J

Big Sis Sheila
May 31, 2010 at 3:37pm
My heart breaks a little bit more each day for you and Tim. Remember that Belly is not alone. He is playing and running around with my babies: Calvin, Sarah and Charlie. I am sorry for all your hurt and wish I could take it away for both of you. I love you both and send doggie kisses to Belly.
Sunnie
May 31, 2010 at 7:43pm
Oh, my dears… I am so sorry. Tears are running down my cheeks as I write this. Belly was the most excellent of dogs and he had the best parents of all. I'm so glad that I got to meet him last year when I stayed with you.

As hard as it is, you know you did the right thing for him. He trusted you always and you honored that trust by letting him go peacefully when the alternative was only suffering. My heart is aching for you, though. I love you both dearly, and will send my best thoughts and energy for healing and peace, but do allow yourselves what time you need to grieve, and we your friends will grieve with you from all across the world.

I have a few best-loved, long-lost doggy friends from my childhood, and I hope they are meeting Belly now and running and playing with all their hearts. So much love to you guys.

Andy UK
June 1, 2010 at 7:53am
Like many, I have felt incredibly privileged to have read Belly’s story since his journey from Thailand. I have felt even more blessed that I had the opportunity to have met him personally once he had settled in America. An incredible dog that clearly touched all those that he met, our lives will always be more complete for having met him. He will leave nothing but fantastic memories which is how we should always remember him. Thinking of you both. x
Loofa
June 1, 2010 at 8:04am
I am so sorry! Belly was the best! You both made him so happy, call me if you need anything!
Kevin
June 1, 2010 at 9:14am
Hey guys, I'm so so sorry to hear the news. I can remember when you were in the middle of adopting Belly from Thailand. It's an amazing story and one I've told on your behalf to many of my friends and family. Belly was indeed the luckiest dog.
amie
June 1, 2010 at 9:27am
I'm so sorry for your loss. What a gift he was for you and you for him.
June 1, 2010 at 10:07am
I can't stop sobbing. I think I just heard the sound of my heart breaking into tiny pieces.

What a beautifully written tribute but the pain I am feeling for you now is so raw I can barely sit here.

Life really sucks sometimes. I am just glad you two have each other and that you have the capacity to love so much.

xo
Robin

Rachel D.
June 1, 2010 at 10:26am
I've been sitting here for several minutes trying to conjure up a response worthy of The Belly, but it's just no good. Every time I attempt to type something, my eyes fill with those pesky, office-inappropriate tears and I have to stop.

Quickly, quickly:
I am so, so glad that I had a chance to scritch those sweet little ears and even more glad – a million-billion times more – that you guys found each other. (As someone else commented, the Belly adoption story is one of my favorites; I always leap at the opportunity to share it with people.) Don't tell NSP or Lou^2 that I said this, but doggies really are the best things ever. You can pour all the love in the world into those little critters and they will, without fail, give it all back to you in return. And then some. Because doggies are awesome like that.

Big hugs and just-as-big love to you (and China).

Chris
June 1, 2010 at 11:26am
My two furry creatures (Sid & Pumpkin) send their deepest love and cuddles. As do I. I'm overcome with sadness for you both. Belly will forever be alive in story, in legend, and in hearts. We'll miss you…Mr. Traveling Hedgehog Pup. XO.
June 1, 2010 at 12:59pm
Big hug my friends.

I'm glad all the time with your lobe one. He used to be abandoned, you save his world.

If you want some Thai dogs again, comeback here in Thailand. Oh, don't forget to visit me too!

June 1, 2010 at 1:14pm
Sorry, I mean your love* one – not lobe.
Laura
June 1, 2010 at 2:38pm
What a loved and loving dog. My sadness for your loss is great, but I know the love you both share (because it does continue) with Belly is greater. I'm so sorry.
June 1, 2010 at 7:08pm
I am so so sorry to hear of your loss. Belly's story is an amazing one and he will live on in your love.
Becky
June 2, 2010 at 7:20am
So sorry to hear your sad news– they cycle of life and death is so inevitable but never easy to bear…

Belly was a great dog and you guys did an amazing thing to rescue him, he had a great life with you guys much better than he would have done in Thailand.

Hard to think of now, but where life ends new life begins– that is particular is at the forefront of my mind as we wait patiently for the arrival of our baby boy…

Much love at this difficult time xxx

Maurice and Margot
June 2, 2010 at 3:55pm
Thank you for sharing the joy and pain with us. I hope it may make it a little more bearable for you. Love you both.M&M
daddy
June 2, 2010 at 4:23pm
i cant stop balling i feel so bad for you both but remember belly will always be with you in your hearts and he was very lucky to have been love by both of you love always daddy
Mama Wise
June 2, 2010 at 5:09pm
I was so sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved pet, Belly. You gave Belly a great life and companionship and that is more than any dog could want. I would like to think Belly is with our Kodi now and chasing sticks and playing happily. Tim, I know you remember our big, crazy dog and you know Kodi will take care of Belly. All my love to you both. Mama Wise
Bodhi
June 4, 2010 at 11:07am
I shared Belly's story with my boy just a day or two before your puppy passed. For everyone who hears about him he lives on in their hearts. I wish I'd had a chance to meet him.
Klaus
June 4, 2010 at 11:30am
Aww… I don't know what to say. Poor Belly and poor hedghegogs. Belly will now be in dogs' heaven doing all the things he likes and remembering you. Sending all our love and lots of hugs, Klaus + Agent X
Jennifer
June 4, 2010 at 5:08pm
Sitting here just crying after reading this. Cardiomyopathy was what my cat Killer died of several years ago. Its heart wrenching.

Thinking of you guys..

missy&derick
June 5, 2010 at 8:04am
i can't finish reading this because it makes me sad… and i am a cat person. just know that Belly had a pretty awesome life thanks to you two! ♥♥♥
Amy
June 5, 2010 at 7:48pm
I am so sorry for your loss. The very same day you posted this our four legged best friend Zydeco was diagnosed with bladder cancer that has spread and is beyond treatment. It took me this many days just to read your post and I am filled with sadness for you. Luckily, we have at least (hopefully) a few happy and healthy feeling weeks left with our boy and we will cherish them. I will think of you guys and your strength as I try not to cry when Z's final moments come.
Gwyneth Thomas
June 5, 2010 at 8:43pm
I cannot tell you how sad I am to hear about Belly's passing. Your beautiful tribute here to his life with you moved me to tears. I hope you find comfort in your memories, the laughter he brought (Christmas presents!), and know that Belly had the best of everything anyone, or any dog, could ever want: a loving family.
Aron DiBacco
June 5, 2010 at 9:10pm
Today I brought home the ashes of one of our beloved 12 year old dogs and learned that her sister may have cancer. I have been curled on the couch in stunned grief most of today. Your loving tribute to Belly has opened a way for the tears. Thank you.
June 10, 2010 at 5:43pm
I am so sorry to hear about the loss of Belly. This is such a sweet tribute to him.
yolanda
June 14, 2010 at 11:20pm
I came across your touching tribute to Belly on the Elephant Nature Foundation website. My husband and I were also lucky to have visited the sanctuary 3 1/2 years ago and were filled with joy to have seen how happy the animals are at the sanctuary…especially after seeing so many living in misery on the streets of Thailand. Thanks to you, Belly had a loving family of his own; however I realize that knowing this DOES NOT lessen the pain. My heartfelt condolences on your loss. I pray that both of your hearts will heal within time. We also lost our beloved fur child last year and there isn't a day that goes by that we don't think or miss her dearly. In her honor, we rescued two additional babies in need and know that she had something to do with it. Thank you for making a difference in Belly's life…he will always be with you!
Jane
June 15, 2010 at 8:03am
Today I read the tributes to Belly, posted on the ENF website, and here. I have cried many tears for you – of happiness for you all having found each other, and of sadness for the shortness of his stay. I remember Belly fondly from my early visits to ENP, and loved reading about his magical days with you in his new forever home.
The tributes are lovely. I am so sorry for your loss, but know that he will be with you always and, someday when you are ready, he may bring to you a new furry friend to love and be loved by.
Hugs and sympathy from me to you and China, Jane.
Julie
June 15, 2010 at 9:34pm
I was there when Tim and Jessica made their first visit to the Park and where they would meet Belly and his sister. And by a big twist of fate i meet up with them again at the Park when they were getting ready to leave Thailand with their new family member Belly and the excitement on Tim's and Jessica's face on the empending trip back to the USA and the concern on how Belly would cope. But everyone said their goodbye's including Lek, Michelle and Jodi and off the 3 of them went to start their new lives in the USA.

I have only just this minute received and read the news. Here I am sat at work with tears running down my face with staff and students wondering what the matter was. How do you explain it to them how would they understand, nobody could unless you had known Tim, Jessica and Belly.

My deepest sympathy goes out to you both. But you all gave as much love to each other. You were both special people to take into your lives a dog from across the other side of the world and make him part of your family.

My thoughts are with you. xxxxx

Marina
June 30, 2010 at 11:34pm
Wow. I haven't read your blog in ages. Then suddenly got the urge to check it out today. I'm so sorry to hear about Belly. I remember you guys writing about adopting him and bringing him home to DC. I was so jealous of you for adopting this wonderful Thai jungle dog (there was a dog I fell in love with in S. Africa on my RTW trip years ago and I so wish I could have brought him home with me). This post made me cry big fat crocodile tears. It's so beautifully written. I'm really really sorry for your loss.
December 29, 2010 at 10:18am
I'm reading ur blog at work and I couldn't finish reading this post… it hits a little close to home. I'm so sorry for your loss.
Lizzie
October 4, 2011 at 4:54am
I'm crying as I read this posting. He was one lucky dog, to be loved by his mommy & daddy.
Annabella Dupont
November 4, 2011 at 5:23am
I'm crying as I read this posting. He was one lucky dog, to be loved by his mommy & daddy.
Teresa Shonnry Paparaang
November 4, 2011 at 5:24am
Im a Cryin

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