Our Dog Pualani, 1996-2010
One of the challenges of traveling is what to do with your faithful pets while you are away. In the past, we were able to exchange low-cost rent for those who would watch our dog or let another family with kids have the experience of a dog without the long-term commitment. Usually it works out O.K. When I lived in Chicago and had pet fish, inevitably one of the fish would die (usually the day before I came home), no matter how responsible the person caring for them. So although Barry and I would have preferred that Johnny come with us for our year here in China so he too could have this incredible experience (and perhaps learn Mandarin), we knew that by his staying home that our Pua would have loving attention and company for sure.
Pualani came into our family fourteen years ago. One day when John was six, we had just stopped to look at the dogs at the Maui Humane Society. We had just lost our beloved Ben, a big black dog with a loving spirit, and we didn’t think we were ready for another dog, but we fell in love with a darling little three-month old puppy that had been found at the side of the road on the way to Hana.
John, who was in a Hawaiian immersion after-school program at the time, named her Pualani (“Heavenly Flower”). She was quite different than Ben.
Ben had always tried to protect John. When we were out swimming in the ocean, for instance, Ben would try to push John toward the shore. Pua was not like that. She would try to climb on top of John, which perhaps is one reason that John is so comfortable under the water. Pua was a rascal in many ways, but she was a part of our family and we loved her.
The Humane Society described her as a terrier mix. Our vet later said the mix was pit bull. But she was very cute with short reddish brown fur and big brown eyes. She was given a bath, and I can still remember driving home with John holding her wrapped up warm and cuddly in a towel on his lap.
Quickly we learned she was trouble. Anything on the floor she thought hers for the chewing. Since John was six, many things ended up on the floor, and many of his stuffed toys and other things succumbed to her teeth. Even in her old age, she liked to carry around John’s old stuffed toys. Her last favorite ones were a NY Yankee dog and a mangy looking wolf that no longer howled whenever Pua picked it up. Pua liked company wherever she went.
The terrier part of her background soon became evident. For about the first ten years of her life she was an escape artist. She could dig under our fence or leap over it without much trouble. Despite our best efforts to keep her in our yard, many times she took herself to the ocean for a swim and body surfing and then would come home wet, bedraggled, and exhausted to huddle on our front door step until someone let her into our backyard. She also liked to check out the garbage bin areas of our townhouse complex or stop by our upstairs neighbor’s apartment to eat the available cat food.
One of Pua’s favorite things to do was body surfing. She would watch the waves and time her run so she could catch them and ride them into the shore. With her tongue hanging out, she looked like she had a big grin on her face whenever she was at the beach. People on shore would admire her technique.
The pit bull side of her came out in the little white spot on her nose and in her obvious hatred of most other female dogs. She would go after other females without provocation and without regard to their size. This made walking her at times a tense affair–or if the other dog was small, rather embarrassing. Mainly she ignored other dogs. For a while we would walk her with Simon, another dog without many doggie social skills. They would parallel walk and not pay attention to each other. We thought at least they looked rather normal not the anti-social being toward other dogs that Pua became in her later years. When she was young, she did have a very good dog friend who looked much like her. He would escape his yard and come over to play with Pua. In our backyard, they would tear around for hours, and we had a good excuse then for why things had a hard time growing there. The two dogs had much fun together, but then that family moved away.
Pua did have much time by herself for several years of her life. Barry, John, and I would be at school for at least 10 hours a day. Then when we were on our big trips, she was at the mercy of whomever we were able to get to care for her. Although we thought we were getting good people, some were better than others. The best one was a Maui College lab technician who later went on to med school. But the summer he took care of Pua, she was able to sit in the front seat of his red convertible and have her ears flap in the wind when he took her around. He often took her to her favorite beach too and let her run free, which is something we would seldom do since she was so good at getting into trouble (and because it isn’t legal to let dogs run free). We think she was a bit sorry when we came home especially since we never had a convertible.
The most trouble she ever got into was when she was about 6. One late afternoon while Barry and I were still at work on the other side of the island, John heard shouting and went to our front door to see what the commotion was about. Pua had jumped our fence and had bitten another dog. The drunken owner of the other dog kept yelling obscenities at 12-year-old John. John apologized, got the woman’s information, and dragged Pua–who was hurt–home.
When I got home and heard what had happened, I went over to talk to the woman and see how the other dog was. The woman turned out to be the girlfriend of one of my older Maui College students. He is a very nice guy and good student, so I thought we could work out something. The woman said she had been bitten too. She showed me the quarter-inch cut on her little finger. Her dog was her baby, and she was sure he was traumatized. I said we would, of course, pay the vet bill for the dog and the doctor’s bill if she wanted a doctor to look at her finger. I apologized profusely. I was so mad at Pua that I didn’t take her to the vet although she had cuts on her back. I thought the situation seemed really strange because although she did bark at other dogs, she had never jumped the fence to go after one.
The next day when we came home late from school, we had a notice on our door from our Kihei Villages townhouse management that said we must remove Pua from the complex and that we would be charged $200 a day until we did so. Along with that was police ticket charging us with an animal bite to a human and for an unprovoked attack on another dog. There was a day noted to appear in court. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and the Kihei Villages offices were closed for four days, so we could not even talk to anyone. We were distraught. I asked a few neighbors if they had actually seen the incident.
The next day Toby, one of our neighbors a building down from ours, and his 11-year-old son, Robert, came over to talk. When the woman had started screaming, many of our neighbors had run out to see the problem. Toby was actually the one who had pulled Pua away from the other dog and had seen the woman put her hand between the two snarling dogs. The following day Robert told his dad what had happened. He had been afraid to say anything earlier because he thought he would get in trouble. He and our neighbor Casey who was a few years younger than Robert were standing at our curb in clear view of our yard when the woman came by with her dog. She was not holding its leash and the dog jumped up on Robert with its paws on his shoulders. In play, Robert fell to the ground. The dog stood straddling his body with his mouth over Robert’s face. And that is what Pua saw. Pua knew Robert and Casey who were often over at our house playing with her. We think Pua thought Robert was being attacked by the other dog, so she jumped the fence to try to protect him.
With this information, we knew we could fight for Pua. I had said we would pay the vet bill and we did –a couple of hundred of dollars because the vet kept him for observation although I probably could have said it was partially the woman’s fault. But Toby, Robert, and other neighbors came with us to the Kihei Villages Board meeting to protest their order to get rid of Pua. After the board heard the witnesses and the woman didn’t dispute their testimony, Pua got a reprieve from her sentence and our fines were dropped. There was still court, which turned out very interesting since our case was one of the final ones of the day. I have to admit I knew another woman going in front of the judge that day and decided it wasn’t that hard to get into trouble. When it was our turn, I presented the witnesses letters and a letter from the woman saying we had paid the vet bill. The dog’s owner said her vet had insisted that she report the “attack,” but I’m sure she did not tell the whole story. (And I hope my student ended up with a better girlfriend). Pua was given a warning and had a permanent record on file. We needed to be even more careful to keep her in our yard. Actually, we thought she was a hero.
The last few years she has slowed down a lot. She could no longer jump up on Johnny’s bed to sleep. But that also meant that she had no chance of jumping our much higher fence. Since Barry has been retired, most days she has had company at home at least part of the day. She would follow us from room to room just to be near us. She still loved barking at those evil cats that might pass by our front door and at other dogs when we were walking, but she let most pass by without a fuss. Although she wasn’t good about being around many other dogs, Pua was sweet with kids and adults.
When we took her in for her annual checkup in July, she was thin but overall seemed in good health. She had a couple of growths, but they were benign. However after Barry and I left Maui at the end of August, Pua kept getting thinner, and Johnny took her back upcountry to our vet. Johnny didn’t tell us at the time, but the results of tests showed that Pua had cancer in her lymph nodes.
He brought her home and has tried to make her last months as happy for her as possible. About three weeks ago, Johnny took her back up to the vet. She gave him medicine to help make Pua as comfortable as possible. That’s when Johnny broke the news to us that Pua was dying. He made sure Pua had many salmon burgers and roasted Costco chickens to eat. A week ago, she got to take a walk on the beach. Even a few days ago, she barked at another dog. But she was obviously getting sicker and sicker. On Wednesday, Johnny took her by himself back up to the vet for the final time, and he was with her until the end. We are very thankful that Johnny has been there at home to make Pua’s transition to whatever is next as smooth as possible.
In All Dogs Go to Heaven, the illustrator shows that dogs get to play in big fields with lots of friends, and I think that where Pua is now, she will have that field with friendly male dogs, lots of treats, and also a beautiful beach where she can go body surfing much of the day and chase cats when she is not sleeping in the sun. She has been an important member of our family. Home won’t seem the same without Pualani.