In Tribute To Bounce
July 2009 was a bad month for myself and my Jack Russell, Bounce. We had been hunting buddies for nearly nine years. I seldom went anywhere without him. If he wasn’t on my hunting rig load tray, he was upfront in the cab, or he was inside our house, or out in the yard shadowing me, wherever I went. Alongside my bed, Bounce had his own armchair, blanket covered, and with a bowl of water next to it. He had a habit of fixing his hazel eyes on me and holding my gaze. Brenda my wife called it the 'Bounce stare' – he held it unwavering and it was always me who broke eye contact because I had things to do, or maybe I was trying to drive. Eye contact for dogs is important.
When readying ourselves for departure on safari Bounce’s excitement levels grew as we loaded the truck, and when I opened the gun safe to remove my rifles, he looked like he was going to wag his tail off. Throughout the period of my packing, he liked to supervise. It was also important to him that as I packed, he be allowed to carefully sniff and give approval of certain items. My rifles, binoculars, camera bag, shooting sticks, ammo belt, sheath knife, gun bags etc. As soon as he saw me place his food and water bowl onto the rig, and push his folded blanket into his ‘sleeping’ corner in the load tray, he knew we were off on safari.
On 22 July 2009 Dr. Nick Fisher the local vet, examined an extremely uncomfortable and bloated Bounce on the surgery table, while I held my struggling and mega-stressed friend. Two weeks prior, a veterinary colleague of Fisher’s, Dr. Leon de Bruin had sedated, then X-rayed Bounce and taken blood samples. His prognosis wasn’t good, enlarged heart, shifted liver, suspected cancerous growth behind the heart, suspected intestinal blockage etc. A few days later when the blood tests came back, they also indicated serious liver problems.
Despite all of these negative test results I didn’t want to have Bounce put down. He had been my loyal companion and safari buddy for too long, although he seemed to sense our time together was drawing to a close. At night, during those remaining weeks of his life, Bounce begged through subtle body language, to be allowed to sleep next to me on the bed, and I consented. Back during March/ April he had developed what we affectionally referred to as Jack Russell speak. It was a series of whimpers, snorts, quiet grunts, and a variety of other soft vocal noises, none of which gave any indication of pain. With hindsight, I now think it was Bounce’s way of trying to let us know he was terminally ill. And he knew it.
Dr. Nick Fisher is a compassionate vet, he’s a sort of Dr. James Herriot type, living and working in the Eastern Cape countryside. Nick examined Bounce thoroughly and then quietly advised me that there was nothing more we could do. Bounce was indeed terminally ill, suffering, and wouldn’t last long. His recommendation was that Bounce be put down, and despite my having known that it would come to this, I was extremely emotional and still holding my struggling little buddy who was trying so desperately to get off the stainless-steel surgery table, I managed to whisper three choked words, 'Let’s do it'. Nick, understanding my anguish, said he would first tranquilise Bounce and suggested once he had done that, I take Bounce out into the garden and let him run around doing dog things until the tranquiliser took effect, which would be about 15 minutes.
After the tranquiliser had been given, I carried Bounce out into the garden and put him down. He immediately took off, sniffing things, cocking his leg against shrubs and trees before using his hind legs to kick grass and leaves flying with his old style ‘attitude’. He thoroughly explored Nick’s front garden while we stood in the sun, watching him, and making small talk.
After the allotted 15 minutes Bounce started to weary so I crouched down on my haunches and called the little guy, and as fast as his tired body could move, he ran towards me, his trusting hazel eyes already droopy, and then with his last bit of energy he piled into my arms for a final long hug. Nick knew of my anguish and mentioned that maybe I should let an assistant of his hold Bounce while he put him to sleep. As choked up as I was and due to Bounce’s unquestioning loyalty and absolute trust in me throughout his life, I knew that I and nobody else had to be with him during this sad time. So, holding him tight against my chest, while breathing in his familiar Jack Russell smell I returned to the surgery and held him in my arms while Nick administered the intravenous that would free Bounce of his pain, and help him on his way across the Rainbow Bridge.
When it was finally all over, Nick kindly carried my canine friend’s limp form out to the rig and helped me lay Bounce on my hunting jacket, his favourite ‘comfy’. After I had carefully closed Bounce’s eyes I took what seemed like a long drive home, the dirt road to my front a mere blur through my burning eyes. Throughout the trip I kept my left hand on Bounce’s head giving his ears a final rub, and chatting all the while to his still form, about the good times we always had on safari.
Above: We laid Bounce to rest, wrapped in his blanket under a line of trees and brush along the edge of our garden, and as Lloyd, a Xhosa tribesman who had once worked for me as a skinner, dug the grave, tears trickled down his ebony cheeks, he had known Bounce well.
Whenever I stood at my upstairs office window, I could look down onto the grave, which we bordered with a low green wooden picket fence that had been lying unused behind the garage. Of an evening, I could go out into the garden and with a glass of wine, sit on the bench and looking down the slope towards the grave – reminisce. In the early mornings we would often hear the liquid and melodious notes of a Cape robin chat, singing in the brush near the grave, and one morning as I sat at the bedroom window drinking my first coffee of the day, I initially heard the robin chat, then saw it flit out of the brush and alight on the top of Bounce’s wooden cross, where it sat while heralding the day. Often too, and throughout the day, we'd hear a ubiquitous red-eyed dove, known to the Xhosa as Indlasidudu, sitting high up in the avocado tree that casts its shadow over the grave. The dove’s call is far more fitting for a hunting terrier’s spirit in the sky, for it sounds not unlike a question being asked, ‘Who’s that with a two-two? Who’s that with a two-two?’ In Africa we call the .22 calibre a two two and not a twenty-two as is the case in the USA.
Some might think I overdid it with Bounce’s grave and all, but I care not because I consider myself through and through a dog lover, and there’s the old adage that we only ever get one really good dog in our lives. For my part, I have been blessed with three, one a yellow lab cross called Shandy, and the other a re-homed adult yellow-lab called Brutus, and then Bounce. All three lived the life of the hunt, and during the late eighties Shandy would ultimately pay with his life when a bushpig boar got the better of him. In 1970 Brutus died of old age, and a broken heart, after I very sadly had to rehome him when I went off to Mozambique on a whim. A sad story indeed, because I never stayed in Mozambique, and to this day I feel I let Brutus down. Now, at age 72, I doubt I will ever own another dog as the thought of it having to be rehomed once I pass on isn't a pleasant thought. I have no fear of the afterlife but would hate for a dog to think I had betrayed its trust in me.
Above: Bounce loved interacting with clients while on safari.
Above: In the Northern Cape Karoo during a gemsbok hunt. The landowner and his staff pose with a gemsbok and a proud Bounce.
Bounce was about as fine a friend as I’ve ever had, and whether he was sitting alongside us as we glassed the valleys and mountain slopes, or was sleeping on my hunting jacket on my bed when we were on safari, or warning us with a gentle growl of an unseen animal’s approach, I will never forget the nearly nine special years he shared with me, and gave to me. One day perhaps, when I too, cross the Rainbow Bridge we’ll pick up where we left off and until then, I can only say “Hamba Kakuhle (Go Well) Bounce boy!”
Above: Bounce with lynx pack houndsman Elliot after the pack had treed a lynx.