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July 30, 2020

Gigi, R.I.P.

Filed under: Dog, Europe, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , — anotherheader @ 12:37 am

Gigi ball in mouth on her last day

In late October 2010 we traveled to see a litter of puppies at their Modesto foster home. The pups had recently been rescued from a stray litter in Sacramento. We sat and watched the pups play awhile. Eventually one of the pups came up behind us and licked our ears. Whether the puppy knew what she was doing or not, she had picked us to be her humans. Soon we left Modesto with a puppy sitting comfortably in Becky’s lap like she had been there all her life.

On the way back we named our new pup Gigi, a French name that by chance fit with her future. Gigi looked like a bit of trouble, a bit mischievous. But that’s OK. The good ones often do.

In Modesto we had been told that Gigi’s mother was a Border Collie. Later we had her breed mix checked by DNA. It came back as a quarter Border Collie, a quarter Chihuahua, an eighth Chinook (a near extinct sled dog brought back near where Gigi was found), an eighth Yorkshire Terrier, and a quarter of something even more complex. Given her temperament, we decided that she was definitively a Bordachinhuahua Terrorist, a rare breed indeed.

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A dog’s early experiences shape their lives. In Gigi’s case within a week of coming home with us we took her to stay overnight in a hotel in Healdsburg. It was there where our young pup gained her love of all things about hotels: Stairs, elevators, and room service trays left out in the hallways were joys she never lost. The rest of her life she never saw an elevator she didn’t want to ride nor a hotel tray she didn’t want to sniff. And she had plenty of opportunities.

Becky was very conscientious about Gigi’s training, taking Gigi to obedience classes and later agility training. Though Gigi loved to learn new things, her training didn’t start out well. During the first class she cowered behind the shelves in the pet store’s training room that doubled as storage area. Gigi was terrified of a German Shepherd and a little Pug, both puppies too. It took us minutes to lure our shaking puppy out. Her fear lessened as the classes continued but she never ever completely got over her deep dislike of Pugs.

After her inauspicious start with other dogs Becky took Gigi to doggy daycare so she could learn the dog socialization rules. It worked, though unfortunately it worked too well. Gigi quickly learned all of the dog rules and began using them to intimidate other dogs. She wasn’t getting into fights. Instead she’d stiffen her back, coil her tail, and show the other dogs just how her fine dental work was. After several weeks of doggie daycare we were informed that Gigi was no longer welcome: She had been kicked out of doggy daycare for not playing well with others.

As time went on Gigi and our lives grew together. We trained her to follow us as we mountain biked. Soon Gigi was sniffing the smells out the window of the pick-up truck as we traveled around the West with our Airstream trailer. Traveling was natural to her and she loved running with us as we biked.

Gigi in Sedona Arizona

In 2011 we headed out on a hire boat cruise through southern France. It was a two month-long trip and there was no way we could or wanted to leave our young dog behind. So we figured out how to take her with us.

Thus Gigi flew with us to Germany in her newly purchased overly large cage, her airline travel palace as it became known, which was designed to be loaded into the plane’s cargo area. From Frankfurt we traveled to France via Luxembourg. Before she was a year and a half old, Gigi had been to five countries. She was now an expert at hotels, cars, elevators, international pee-mail, and staying at our feet in French restaurants as we dined.

Towards the end of our Canal des Deux Mers cruise Gigi met a friend in a young male Border Collie Kes in Moissac France. Though she hated Pugs and big fuzzy dogs, Gigi liked Border Collies. Soon Kes’s human showed Becky her barge, which she lived on. It was the first step in the chain of events that led us to have Wanderlust built.

In the end we figure that our life on Wanderlust was Gigi’s fault. We hadn’t thought of it at the time, but Gigi friendship with another dog changed our lives. She would continue to do so as time went on.

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Gigi’s fleeting moment of puppy love ended up taking our home base to Europe. We now spent the summers cruising the French waterways, often with Gigi holding station on Wanderlust’s bow barking at any blue heron she saw so it would fly away. If we stayed too long in one spot Gigi would subtlety tell us it was time to move the boat. She always had more of the world to see and she expected us to keep on traveling.

At the end of the cruising seasons, as the canals shut down, we would typically do long trips to explore other parts of Europe. With Gigi along it meant that we’d usually travel by car and ferry, as the logistics of plane and train travel with a dog are more challenging. With a car our travel focus was now often on out of the way places, places that we might never have seen if not for Gigi. Traveling with a dog takes more effort and more planning. But seeing the world through a dog’s itinerary has its rewards.

On road trips Gigi developed her own set of expectations. Each arrival in a new hotel meant that Gigi would give us about 15 minutes to get comfortable in the room and then she’d insistently ask to go out and explore. From her view, we were in these new places for her. So tired from the road or not, the pack would dutifully go out and explore each new location.

Last year a drought closed the canals so we departed earlier than normal on a long road trip through the Baltic. Near the beginning of the trip we noticed that Gigi was leaving her mark more frequently than usual. We weren’t sure whether there was something wrong or she just decided that her ever-expanding territory needed to be better labeled. Just in case we had Gigi checked by a vet in Poland. The vet found no obvious problem and her lab work came back normal.

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Towards the end of our long journey we returned to France via the Netherlands. At this point Gigi had reached her 27th country, a list that includes the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, France, Spain, Portugal, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Malta, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, San Marino, Poland, Lithuania, Lativa, Estonia, and Finland. Unfortunately the Netherlands would turn out to be her last new country.

As we went on, Gigi’s urination problems worsened. Back in France we saw another couple vets. The possibility of a urinary tract infection was ruled out by a course of antibiotics. Then another vet in Gray did an ultrasound scan and found a mass at the distal end of Gigi’s bladder. It was a bad sign; the vet in Gray referred us to a specialized animal hospital in Dijon.

As we left for Dijon on a foggy morning in late October with Gigi in the back seat we weren’t sure we’d have her with us on the return trip. Would this be her last car ride?

The vet in Dijon was very thorough. After another ultrasound and biopsy it was confirmed that Gigi indeed had a tumor at the distal end of her bladder. It’s a particularly troublesome location and thus there was no possibility of surgery. Worse yet, if the tumor grew the urethra could become blocked leading to a painful death. It is something we really wanted to avoid.

The Dijon vet gave us some hope: Gigi’s life might be prolonged by chemotherapy. It seemed worth trying, so we took Gigi in to the vet every three weeks for a round of chemo. This continued for a couple of months.

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Though the vet could see that chemotherapy had shrunk her tumor, Gigi still struggled to urinate. Her symptoms were unchanged as far as we could tell. The side effects of the chemo were significant: It took her about a week to recover from each round. To us it did not seem like the quality of her life had improved. Indeed, it seemed the opposite. So we discontinued the therapy as we returned to the States.

Back in California Gigi’s condition was stable, once we learned to manage her constant urinary tract infections with antibiotics and her incontinence. Inside the condo she wore diapers, which she seemed to like because she knew she was not supposed to dribble inside. Gigi enjoyed the neighborhood and insisted that we take her out to nearby South Park multiple times each day, more than usual. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck we were destined to stay in San Francisco whether we wanted to leave or not. It’s probably just as well, as traveling with a sick dog would be problematic.

Gradually Gigi symptoms worsened. By the end of June she had lost her appetite and with it considerable weight. Eventually she would only eat when hand fed and then would only eat human food, something she had never been allowed to have. She only seemed to want to eat what she could smell we were having. So we started to cook extra so that Gigi could have a portion too. Every nibble she took gave us a small bit of hope. Still there was no mistaking that our once vital canine companion was wasting away. Her mind was there, but her body was giving up.

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With the end near we made a decision that we would let Gigi’s joy be the measure how long we’d let her continue. As difficult as it was to see her struggle to get comfortable at night, even with the meds, the next day there would be the same delight on her walk that she had as a puppy. As long as there was joy we could justify delaying the inevitable.

Even towards the end Gigi never lost her love of playing with her humans. She would still balk at leaving the condo if we didn’t grab her ball to bring along. Ten years old and she still wanted to chase her ball, squeak her toys, and master any challenging game we could come up. And as she did when we first met, she would still come up from behind and lick my ear. Some things never changed.

But unfortunately the time came when Gigi started to fade. When we went out we could see that much of the joy had drained away. We knew then that the end was near.

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On the morning of the 6th of July we made arrangements with what we call the grim reaper, what we call the mobile vet that comes to your home to administer euthanasia. We made an appointment for the following afternoon.

Before the grim reaper came to the condo we took Gigi out for a last trip to South Park. It was good, though somewhat bittersweet, to see her rebound a bit after her rough weekend. And as always, she paused at the door to make sure we brought her ball with us. Though diminished, there was some joy remaining in her tank after all. Still we knew there was not much time left.

Not long after we returned to the condo the grim reaper rang the doorbell. Sometime before 3 pm on July 7 2020, Gigi was given a sedative and gently fell asleep for her last time. She had given us eight good months after being diagnosed with cancer, likely in part due to the chemotherapy. But now our canine companion, once full of spunk and joy, was a lifeless body on our floor. Gigi had headed off to a final unknown country without us.

People tell us that we gave Gigi a good life, a great adventure, and that she was lucky to have us. But we don’t think of it that way. It was Gigi that gave us a different path. It was Gigi who gave us a good life. And we will miss her dearly.

We miss this now.



  1. A beautiful eulogy for a very special dog,

    Comment by — July 31, 2020 @ 4:40 am

  2. Beautifully written. Was quite tearful at the end. Was honoured to have met you all. Unless you have a dog, it’s difficult to comprehend the mutual love that ties human to animal and vice versa.

    Best wishes, Glenn and Sally (Boschplaat – and Haggis and Delilah)

    Comment by Harvey Glenn — September 17, 2020 @ 12:35 pm

    • Thanks G&S.

      Comment by anotherheader — September 17, 2020 @ 8:05 pm

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