Sunday was a day I was dreading but ready to face as I needed to be released from the anxiety I was carrying around associate with it.
Travis and I both know for the best care of the dogs, the health of the team, and the practicality of the situation, that we need to give our dogs away. However, this has been really difficult as those dogs have been an anchor for our family and the best friend of our little girl.
Only a dog lover can write pages about their dogs. So if you are a dog lover, read on. If you are not, just pray for the heart of our dog-loving daughter as she bravely makes the best of giving away her beloved Bella.
In March of 2010, in our last afternoon in Kampala before we were to make our very first 10 hour drive into Bundibugyo, I had planned to meet the aunt of a friend who had arrive to Uganda only four months prior to us. As Travis was with our team leader Scott shopping for supplies (which really meant that whatever Scott put in his cart to buy, Travis put in his cart too...we were so green we did not even know how to shop or what to buy).
Eventually, I get a call with a very excited Travis who relays that “Scott says we have to get this puppy. It is a pure bred Black Labrador and he has never seen those for sale here. It is only $250 and we really need it.” Need it? I quickly did a mental inventory that we had just sold our house, cars, given away all our belongings and stored the remaining in my parent’s garage, moved two continents away with two children and a two month old, and would in about 12 hours be traveling over some of the worst roads imaginable to our new life. Need it? But Travis sounded so excited and with all of the loss we had just done, we needed a gain. A puppy would be a fun way to start this new life. And our team leader said we should do it. “Ok,” I told Travis, “but this dog is going to be called MAX because this is the max of what I can take!”
So, he brought the sweet bundle of black fur to my new (and gracious) friend’s house, then we sneaked it into the guesthouse, listened to it cry all night, and then headed the next morning for our first drive into Bundibugyo. As our truck was so packed, we did not even have room for a small puppy to ride. Scott said he could ride in a cardboard box on the seat next to him as he led us. Pretty sure that the puppy rode in Scott’s lap the whole way.
Named Bhootu or “friend” in Lebwisi, he truly became a companion for our family. A social dog, he would often dig under or jump over the fence to escape and visit the Myhre dog, Star, who lived across the property and then road from us. After multiple escapes, we nicknamed him “Houdini” and then fortified our fence with taller fencing, planted thorny bouganvillia and buried an American invisible fence system.
During one such escape, I called my teammate Loren to ask if she had seen Bhootu run towards her house. Ever a friend, she went looking for him, calling “Bhootu” in hopes he would come to her. He did not, but a few hours later, she heard a knock on her door. To her surprise, there stood 6 small children who said, “Madame, you were calling for a friend (“bhootu”). We will be your friend!” Precious.
Three times, we had to give Bhootu iv fluids to save his life. The first time, he had yellow tick fever and was paralyzed. The second time, he received too much fly medicine and was so very sick. The third time, he ate the rat poison that I had put in the work room in my war with the rodents. We really thought he was going to die as his blood would not coagulate. We called all the vet-type people we knew, comforted him, gave him IV fluids, and searched for vitamin K. None at any of the local tin-roofed pharmacies. Even at the hospital where babies should receive vitamin K, there was none. I asked Travis to check one more place. He reasoned outloud that if there was none at the hospital where babies lives depended upon it, there would be none at the pharmacy across the street from it. But we did what we always do when stuck, we prayed...outloud...for vitamin k. I almost pushed him into that pharmacy to ask. And they had it. Rushing home, we gave it to Bhootu and he made a quick recovery. (And gave the rest to the hospital for the babies!)
One morning, Bhootu had escaped and an angry neighbor came to our front katubi. He claimed that Bhootu had taken the cow head from his home and was demanding compensation. His wife had just produced a baby and the local belief is that she needs to eat from the head of a cow. As was the custom, we sat and listened and called elders to witnesses and mediate. We knew the price he was demanding was high, but told him that he could bring the remaining head and we would settle with him. What he brought was a partial jawbone, but we also remembered that this man was extremely poor, probably scared of our big black dog, and was trying to give proper nutrition to his wife and baby. We paid.
When a teammate suggested that we breed Bhootu with her female dog, Lilli decided that Bhootu needed a proper wife. Travis, who was now at his max, said no. I understood Lilli’s reasoning and hoped having a mate would help Bhootu stay closer to home, so I said that she should pray about it. Every night for two weeks, Lilli prayed specifically for a yellow lab wife for Bhootu. During our one night stay in Kampala, at 9pm, I noticed a flyer for a yellow lab female puppy and called the number. It was only after the puppy and owner were on their way to meet us did I tell Travis. After all, who can say no to the prayers of a 6 year old girl and the face of a yellow lab puppy? And that is how Bella came to our family.
And Bhootu and Bella did get married and start a family. Seven little puppies were born the week before we left Bundibugyo and are now in missionary homes across Uganda and South Sudan. And Bella has produced another litter of 8 puppies which will also be going to homes in a few weeks.
This recent birth of the puppies was the fun news to share with the kids. New life always brings joy. But doing what is best for the dogs and the team means that Bhootu and Bella need new homes. Telling the kids, breaking their hearts, was not something that I wanted to do, but knew was necessary. So, we all cried on Sunday afternoon and we are in the process of finding new homes and grateful for teammates who will transport them our of Bundibugyo. We have said a lot of goodbyes and hellos and then goodbyes again. We are familiar with the deep ache from saying goodbye to people we love. Now that ache comes from bidding farewell to two dogs that have loved us well.
Farewell, Bhootu and Bella.