The Gifts of Janis

Janis Joplin Dog was our Hungarian Vizsla. The most insane and awesome dog on the planet! She truly was the closest thing to a daughter that you could actually get with a pet. Janis was family and to Janis, we were her pack. Silvia and I went everywhere with her.

The best thing about having Janis was also the most annoying. Janis was a hunting dog, tried and true. As such, she needed exercise. In other words, she forced us not to be couch potatoes. The three of us shared most of our lives together living meters from the beach in Valencia and in Majorca we were literally a three-minute walk from a hiking trail. So our lives were made much more active than I believe they otherwise would have been. That was one of the gifts that our dog had given us.

She was an integral part of our lives and in 2005 we almost lost her to a serious infection of the uterus. Thankfully, she survived. Sadly, she could never have puppies.

In Majorca we spent hours exploring coves and hiking through coastal hills and mountains. Janis grew older with us, living an ideal life for a dog in a fairly quiet rural area. Eventually, we moved from a town of maybe nine thousand to Madrid. We were careful to choose a place to live right near a park. We did find a good location. The neighborhood in ‘ Barrio del Pilar ‘ was fairly quiet for a big city and full of parks for Janis. There was also a large community of dog lovers that met regularly in the park and we ended up making a few great friends as a result. Another indirect gift from our canine companion.

Our beloved Janis was a happy dog. Yes, very loud – she loved to sing (euphemism for her intimidating barks!) like her namesake. During Christmas vacation of 2011, the three of us stayed a few nights in the medieval city of Avila (its outer wall fully intact). We then went to Segovia, spent a few days in Soria and on Christmas Eve made the drive down to Valencia where we were all reunited with family.

Our new life in Madrid was a big change from bucolic Capdepera and certainly more expensive, but overall a great experience. Then Janis got sick. She had previously had a few benign tumors removed. This time around, we weren’t so fortunate. Janis was just shy of fourteen years old and otherwise robust.

The year wore on and it was clear now that it was cancer. She never ever complained. A lot of times one has to be extra watchful with hunting dogs or you may not be aware that something is wrong. With Janis the only manner of knowing, if something was wrong with her was to observe her eating habits. In the spring, Janis suddenly took a turn for the worse. Her last weeks, we literally had to hand feed her food. Finally on Friday the 29th of June, we took Janis to the clinic and held her as the vet administered the anesthesia first and then euthanized her. She literally died in our arms. We were devastated. The following days were quiet. Our modest one-bedroom was suddenly so silent and so big. The lack of her presence was incredibly acute.

So we loved Janis Joplin Dog and that crazy cinnamon-brown Hungarian beauty loved us right back. Weeks went by quietly. We had to get away and decided to take a train up to Segovia for a few days. Segovia in July is wonderful. Still, Silvia and I were in a sort of dazed state of being. Our brains were going through the slow process of assimilating the loss.

I had already been itching for a change for a couple of months and had been in the process of looking for a new flat. I mention this because on our first morning in Segovia during we began to lay out our plans on a series of napkins with pros and cons written all over them: Should we move to a tiny studio to save up? Should we move closer to the Metro station? Then we talked about short term and long term plans, travel, family etc.

Then it hit me like a lightning bolt. I remembered the Buggs Bunny cartoon with the Gremlin who was busy trying to sabotage the airplanes. I recalled the scene with Buggs showing the Gremlin how to properly smash a blockbuster bomb with a mallet. He freezes in mid-swing and screams: “What am I doing?” So I suddenly had a “what are we doing” moment. It was as if the answers had been in front of us all along and we had been incapable of seeing it!

We were coming to the realization that a window of opportunity had just opened up. Silvia and I were at some sort of crossroads. Without Janis, many previous considerations no longer applied. As we sat and wrote options on napkins, my previous experience volunteering in rural Thailand came to mind. So I posed the idea of getting in touch with my friend Gun in Thailand and go there to volunteer teach English to rural children.

So that sunny afternoon on the 4th of July, 2012, we made the decision to temporarily move back to Valencia and make plans to volunteer in Khorat, Thailand. I emailed my friend in Thailand that very night. She is the coordinator for volunteer teaching in a network of some thirty or more rural schools. She quickly responded telling us to come as soon as possible.

We said our goodbyes to Madrid and by August were in Valencia. Our plans for Asia were now in motion. We spent a little over a month in Valencia, flew to New York for a month to see family – then back to Europe. Just three short weeks after that, we were on a plane heading for Bangkok; our original intention being to stay in Southeast Asia for three to six months only.

This has been Silvia’s first trip to Asia or any nation of the developing world for that matter. The joy in her face is indescribable. The same goes for the experiences that we have both had here. We’ve grown in unexpected ways, since our arrival. So it went that a three-month stay had transformed to nearly two years.

Janis Joplin Dog gave us limitless joy, unconditional love and with bitter-sweet irony, she ended up giving us the freedom to pursue this dream of volunteering and traveling together in Asia. In her nearly 14 years of life Janis lived in a number of very different places – urban and rural. She would go off for long weekends with my father-in-law when he’d go hunting quail and rabbits. I remember that he’d always drop her off Sunday nights and it was always the same scenario. Janis would be tired, full of scratches from rummaging about in the thickets to retrieve the prey and completely, totally happy. That dog had a great life.

The Gifts of Janis is that she forced us to be proactive, responsible and physically active. Moreover, the love she gave us served like a nutrient for the spirit. During her sickness, our life was all about Janis and a lot of our own things were put on hold. With her death, the sensation I received (and here I am anthropomorphizing) was her more or less communicating to us: “Thank you…now I release you…be happylive“. These are the Gifts of Janis.

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