I'll never forget the moment she chose me;  The moment my soul split wide open and she nestled herself inside, resting her fat paws gently but firmly upon my heart.  It was as if she had been waiting for me... and when I appeared, she knew me already.  It was nothing I'd ever felt before, I had no other choice but to bring her home.  

Her name was going to be Shongi.. Zulu for "filled with love".  But when she slept, she slept hard, and when she curled up on our pillow, this fat little ball of fur filled every crevice of space between our heads, and she would make these little groans…these little moans. Hence, as it turns out, she also chose her name.  Thankfully, one night I decided to record her soft snoring, which I replay on the days I miss her most.  I believe I may have been listening to those sweet moans during the very moments when Mona chose to leave this earth, three days ago.

Of all the animals in Africa, Mona was most terrified of cows.  She would stand in the dark of midnight and stare back at the Wildebeest as their forty eyes shone in our torch light, bark at the massive wart hogs with their long tusks, stare at the giraffes in wonder… But get a cow within 200 yards of her, and she would literally leap into my arms and bury her head in my chest like a little baby.  Cows.  I would laugh at her, but I have to admit that I loved it when I got to hold her and console her when she was afraid.  

Being 1/2 Pit Bull, 1/4 Alsatian, & 1/4 Husky, you would expect her to be a bit wild.  But it was just the opposite.  As soon as she got to greet you, (licking toes was a favorite greeting of hers, to the dismay of those who wore sandals) she just hung out with you.  That was her favorite thing to do, just be next to you.  She was my shadow… I went to the kitchen, so did Mona.  I went to the toilet, Mona laid at my feet.  I showered, Mona… well, Mona moaned if she couldn’t see or touch me.  She would chase the occasional squeaky bat ball toy, but really, she just wanted to lay beside you, wherever you may be.  

Those first days in South Africa were gentle, we weren’t working hard and the days were leisurely.  I had plenty of time to spend training Mona, working with her constantly from the day I brought her home.  She was just seven weeks old, and already following my commands on cue.  I didn’t have to teach her not to stray, because she would never leave my sight.  She learned the natural boundaries of the lodge, and she stayed within them.  I won’t deny that she had a torrid love affair with the kitchen, probably the more logical reason why she never went far!  The lodge staff loved Mona, and Mona truly loved them back.  In Africa, people don’t revere dogs as companions like we do here in the U.S.  So, when the locals fall in love with a dog, you know her soul is out of the ordinary, rather extraordinary.  

When life in my perfect world started to crumble, Mona was the being that kept me from falling apart.  She was my only companion during the long days with my ever more distant husband.  She stayed by my side in bed when he would leave me alone at 2 am.  She would walk every morning with me through the fields at sunrise when he would turn me away and chose solitude.  She would lay with me on the cool floor, chin on my lap, while I caressed her sweet head in the mid day heat.  There were weeks where I wouldn’t really talk much to anyone, my husband sinking every day further into his self destructive abyss.  Without Mona, and the smiles and love she brought to me during that time, my life would have been consumed by sorrow.  And that last night when he yelled and cursed at me at the top of his lungs, when I locked him out of our bedroom crying and shaking, hearing him pound on the door in protest… Mona was right there, nestling into my tears and standing guard against anyone trying to hurt me.  

My heart broke into pieces when I had to leave her.  I promised her I’d be back for her, and I meant it.  There wasn’t a day that went by in those seven weeks that I did not speak to her in my heart and send her love.  But when I returned, I knew she had a new home…with new friends, 7 of them, dogs of all shapes and sizes that she got to love and play with every day.  And most importantly, she had a new woman who loved Mona as much as I did.  I am forever thankful to Marlice for loving her so deeply.  Her heart is also shattered right now, for Mona was no ordinary dog.  She was an angel who came to those who were in need of healing light.  I don’t know why she left, but I know that in her short year here, she saved our lives.  

My mother always tells me, “Shelly, you’ll never know love until you feel the love for your child…you have no idea!”.  This is the closest I can imagine to that kind of love.  If I’m lucky, the day will come when I get to feel it again.  

My sweetest doggie, I know you will always be with me.  I’ll see you in the stars, in the winds that blow, and in every cow that I ever pass.  I love you my Monakie, my Monsie, my Mona filled with love.  

Tagging along to go tagging: Impala

One of my favorite days on the reserve so far has been tagging along with the men on their mission to tag one of Joe's female impalas and move her to another camp within his farm.  She had jumped the fence during a fright from a storm, and now they needed to get her back, as the cold was about to set in and she was terribly frail.  I showed up with Lara, the little beagle pup I was sitting, and we all had coffee while the boys contemplated strategy.  Joe got the syringes ready, loaded up the dart gun, and made his plan.  "It takes eight minutes once the dart hits her, we have to move fast"  he said, eyes squinting with a stern calm.  

After about thirty minutes of slowly preparing, everything moved in warp speed.  Joe shot her through the bathroom window, we roared towards him with the truck, swooping him up, all eyes on the target and where she bolted off to.  "There she is!" shouted one of the guys, "don't lose her!" and we sped over the bumpy road through the bush on her trail.  "Six minutes."  Joe said calmly, but you could feel the tension filling up every inch of the cab we were sitting in.  We had her in sight, and saw her start to wobble as she tried to walk.  "Seven minutes..."  She was frozen now, her gaze in our direction as our eyes darted back and forth between her and the clock.  I was amazed that right at eight minutes, she fell.  And not two milliseconds later, Lara and I were alone in the cab, watching the boys dash out to grab her.  They picked her up and carefully walked back as fast as they could, laying her down in the back of the truck, one stayed in the back cradling the impala while we sped off once again to make it to the other camp.  "We have only a few minutes to get her there before she starts to come to, and she's very fragile right now", Joe explained.  Along the way, we heard a yell from the back, "She's going into shock!", we saw her convulsing, and time seemed to go in slow motion.  We made it to the camp, the truck was not even stopped before Joe popped out and began to assess his girl and administer aid to her.  My heart was pounding!  Was she going to be ok?  We were racing against the clock, both for the dart to wear off, and for her own little body to hold out long enough for Joe to help her.  He gave her several shots, and her body started to recover, her piercing eyes started to open, groggy but alright.  It seemed we were in the clear.  Little by little, she showed more signs of life, I stroked her to say it's okay, and her big brown eyes shone into mine;  I was overwhelmed with appreciation that I got to feel the magnificence of this being.  

There are so many people out there who pay to come to Africa and kill.  I am lucky to be on the side of those whose aim is to protect and care for such beautiful creatures.  When you see and feel these animals close up, you absorb a piece of them into your soul, and you are never the same.  I may have given up some of the creature comforts in life to move to Africa, but what I receive here is beyond what any fancy new app or hot new happy hour can ever give, and I am grateful.  

seven minutes...

seven minutes...