Honoring Karim, the shaman

Eight years ago, in September 2011, we walked into the animal shelter in Santa Fe to meet the Bull Terrier, who at the time was known as Blue and when he came home with us a few days later we chose the name Karim. In Urdu, Karim means blessing. At the shelter, they estimated that he was 3 years old; we have since wondered if he was as old as 5 back then. Either way, that would make the last Tuesday in September, the 24th, his 11th (or possibly 13th) birthday.

This past Saturday, October 12, Karim died. We buried him at midday on Sunday, the 13th, in a grave that I began to dig (15% of what was the needed size and depth) in mid-September when I wondered and worried if he would day in the 48 hours that I was out of town. He didn’t die while I was gone, so I got to dig the grave that he and I needed. Since late August, we have known that his right kidney was inflamed and there was blood in urine. (Looking through photos after he died, we saw one from six months ago, from March that showed a few drops of blood in pee in the foyer.)

In Advice for Future Corpses: And Those Who Love Them, Sallie Tisdale writes (on page 88), “If you are going to help someone who is dying, you should be prepared to help in the toilet.” In a way, Karim had us (and many friends and dog sitters who came to care for him and Jataka when we were away at births or vacations), preparing for his death for years. Coming home to find piss or shit in the foyer became so frequent upon returning home that I was at ease cleaning it up some days and at other times I was livid. In recent months, I got into the habit of walking from the parked car to the front door quickly and by myself to see if there was anything awaiting us. And the day before he died, it dawned on me that I had been doing this quick walk to the front door because I anticipated that I would come home and find Karim dead in the foyer, on the couch, or on the dog bed. All that urine and poop was getting me ready for death. On Saturday, I came home to find him on the dog bed in front of the wood stove before walking back outside to let Brinda and Sabiya know that he had died before we walked in together to see him, sit with him, be with him and be with one another in the presence of his death.

It was a sobering last month or six weeks of his life as his weight declined quickly. I could see it first in his vertebrae along his back, then the ribs along his formerly stout midsection, and finally in the hip bones that portruded at angles that had never been evident before. When I would rub his neck, there was much less muscle and mass to massage.

The disintegrating, disappearing body was simultaneously jarring and expected as he loved so many foods. Before Karim, I had not known that a dog would chew up carrots, cabbage and broccoli. A constant topic of debate was whether Karim’s favorite fruit was peach, mango, apple or whatever was in season. In preparing for  his burial, I pulled out one peach pit and two cherry pits from a katori in the fridge for Sabiya to throw into the grave along with a pink collar and a white blanket that we wrapped him in. He loved blankets, and I have learned from Karim and Brinda that (some or most) dogs love sleeping partially or fully under a blanket. Whenever a blanket or a jacket, a pile of clean laundry or a pile of pillows and blankets for the bed were available, he would go settle in for a most comfortable snuggle — it didn’t matter to him if he slept so long as he got to snuggle in a makeshift bed.

Even as he was getting weaker and slower and skinnier, he walked over to a chair on the portal to lay outside for less than an hour. The autumn air was crisp in the shade and he would go to the green chair to get a few more minutes outside before I carried him back inside. In the last week, there were three nights that I took him out to pee when we were greeted with the hoo hoo hooting of an owl; one night, there were two owls in the valley hooting for the few minutes that Karim and I were out in the dark. On the morning of his death, a magpie — a bird totem for entering other realms — jumped under a table on the portal less than 10 feet from his dying body.

 ***
Karim was Brinda and my first dog together, who we got to through some incredbile and unpredictable circumstances, three months after moving to Santa Fe and 14 months after our relationships started. She was volunteering at the animal shelter and met him one week that I was out of town. 

     “You have to come home,” she said. “Bud, is everything all right?” “Yes, there’s a Bull Terrierr at the shelter!” “I will become in eight days.” “He won’t be here in eight days.”

I did not come home early but in that time, Blue, as he was known, was adopted by an elderly woman despite the concerns about his strength and temperament voiced by one of the employees. He was returned less than 24 hours later, then acquired kennel cough placing him in quarantine the entire time that I was gone. 

Brinda told me in the last few days that it is through Karim that like dthat I was along guy. It was through July 2014 reading/consultation with Lena Barrios, a Mayan healer, that I learned that my birth corresponds with the nahual of Tz’i

As our first dog, he was also our first child who instilled parental duties, responsibilities, existential questions, dilemmas and delights that we had not entertained or experienced prior to his arrival. We had innumerable, amazing experiences with him in eight years:

  • The first Halloween when children came knocking at the door and lost interest in candy when they saw the dog who they asked to pet.
  • When we sat in a hot tub outside the bedroom windows while he sat on the bed and watched us. After a few minutes of watching and waiting for me to get out of the tub, he squatted and peed on the middle of the bed to convey (what we understood at the time as) his displeasure of being left inside while we reveled outside. 
  • Another time, I was working upstairs, and one of us had let him into the backyard and then a few minutes later, inquired where he was. Brinda asked if he was upstairs with me. When I told her no, we ran to the back to look and wonder and wander around the backyard until we saw the hole under the fence. We ran out the front door scrambling and ran to the park less than a block away to find him accttached to the face of a 14 year old, large, female Husky with three adults trying to pull his jaw off of her. One trick that we had learned from a dog trainer a EDs or months earlier was to pull and pinch the inner thigh to get him to unlatch. I learned that and had to use it just that one time. (Some comic relief afterwards, when the Husky was safe back at her home and we were back in ours was to replay the one adult who was tossing — more accurately described as sprinkling — water onto Karim’s muzzle like he was a boxer.
  • When we moved all the furniture out of a previous home and left Karim with a bowl of water and bed. In four hours of isolation, he walked into and apparently rolled all over the inside of the empty, ashy fireplace because we came back to find his coat gray  from nose to tail. We will never know if it was some sort of cleansing practice or despair or simply some BT mischief.
  • This summer, we knew that he was getting closer to death, so we would let him go “sojourn” as he wandered for 20 to 30 minutes. Solo adventures had been inconceivable in his spry years because he likely would have gotten into a fight with the larger, older dog next door or been picked up by someone who fights dogs. But, the two things that we imagine that he was doing while sojourning were eating acorns and looking for an arroyo or a bed of leave, a shady spot or a sunny spot where he could choose to die. But, we stopped permitting the sojourns after a few instances where coagulated blood showed that the impact that the acorns were having on his kidney(s).
  • Four years ago, he ate so many acorns on walks with a leash that he had incontinence causing him to pee while laying on the dog bed. After consulting a neighbor who is a veterinarian and the Internet, we learned that acorns are toxic for dogs.
  • And the time that he saw a mouse in the foyer, snapped into terrier mode launching his 40 pound body into the air, using his muzzle to stun the mouse, before grabbing it with his teeth and throwing it down his throat.

Karim was the ultimate blessing as he prepared me for fatherhood. In the early years of our relationship, there were many a night that we would watch the dizzying and hilarious antics of Bull Terriers — splashing, spinning (or as we called it helicoptering), cuddling, and trancing — in videos online that had us laughing for hours at their joy, persistence, and intensity. There was the first year when we strapped a child’s pair of butterfly wings onto his back and paraded him around the kitchen. In those early years, we learned that in England, Bull Terriers were bred and raised to accompany and protect children in the countryside and I took this distinct lineage as a sign that child or children were coming, I just had to work with my own patience/impatience and trust some forces greater than I could imagine. By some miracle, he endured and lived long to support us with the arrival of two children before his time to go back to the mountain.

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