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Gremolina, Sweet Wolf-Child

This is a story from one of @ayansartforconservation supporters - David Batt. David is a school friend of my Mom. He is an animal lover like most of you reading this blog, and when he saw my art on Facebook, my Mom connected us.

David asked me to draw his recently passed dog - Gremolina. Before I start drawing, I always like to ask people about their pets. So I asked David to tell me a little bit about Gremi; and what came back was such an amazing amazing LOVE story, of a

man, a woman and a dog. Thank you for allowing me to share your story David!


My wife and I adopted “Gemima” in the summer of 2009 from a kennel/rescue center in southern Portugal, where someone dropped her over the center's wall as a 3 month old. She looked like half Belgian shepherd/Malinois and half something else. We started to foster her a couple of days a week and noticed how starved for affection she was: on one of our first walks, while passing a random stranger sitting on a public bench, she literally hopped into his lap, begging for pets. The lovely kennel ladies told us she wouldn't grow to be very big, but given her huge puppy paws, we should have known better. My wife Vanessa didn't want to keep her as we had adopted Hiroji in Singapore only six months prior, but I figured two dogs would only be marginally more work than one, and had already fallen deeply in love with her. I wept myself to sleep the night Vanessa refused. Vanessa had the final say because she would be the main one walking and training our dogs. No spoiler here, but you can guess that Vanessa softened up over the next few days and we ended up adopting her, for better or worse, due to her latent hunter instinct, which would kick in about a year later. Shortly thereafter, we renamed her Gremolina.

At that time, we were living in Geneva when one day at the dog park we noticed how her regular playful friendliness to other dogs was turning into a weird, unsettling, obsessive vibe, especially with the small dogs. We lived in Russin (semi-rural wine country), so she would regularly roam off leash, when one day she attacked her first little dog. About six months later we moved to the US Virgin Islands, where she did it again a couple of times, so by the time we got to California a year after that, we agreed to never let her off leash unless in a private, enclosed space. We even sent her to an expensive doggy boot camp for 5 weeks to help quell her dog-aggressivity, but she wasn't aggressive to any of the other dogs there, so they couldn't train her out of behavior that did not manifest. It seemed as if she only attacked when Vanessa or I would be present, no doubt out of protection. At any rate, while roaming free in the Virgin Islands, her prey of choice were wild chickens and iguanas, which she would gobble up entirely. She'd often disappear into the mountainous jungle and emerge fifteen minutes later with a yellow chicken foot hanging out of her mouth. One day Vanessa was with some friends at a beach where the jungle meets the coast when all of a sudden they heard a wild commotion in the jungle, followed shortly by a chicken frantically running/flying towards the ocean for its life. A second later, Gremi burst forth from the brush, flying four feet high through the air to intercept the fowl and drag it to a watery grave. I feel sorry for the chicken but would have loved to have seen it. In the process of our move to California, we did a five week road trip from Athens, Georgia through thirteen states. Even though the Virgin Islands are relatively close to Georgia, the flight connections were so inconvenient that Gremi and Hiro spent almost 24 hours en route, with only two or three extended breaks out of their crates. This was when our beloved beast was still young and needed LOTS of exercise. So while driving on the deserted farmland back roads in Georgia, we would do "car work" with her. Me, driving between 15 and 25 mph, with Vanessa holding Gremi outside the car on a double leash while Gremi ran for one or two or three kilometers at a time, displaying her amazing physical form. Some of my fondest lifelong memories include watching her chase hares through the orchards of Russin along the distant horizon. As beautiful as a cheetah in full motion. We eventually reached Oakland, where I immediately started a new job, but initially had to stay in a crappy airport Motel 6 because we were broke at the time. In addition, there was the stress of having to find housing, which in the Bay Area is much harder when you have two big dogs. I remember two events (both on the same day) while walking around San Francisco. We were sitting in a fancy outdoor café having lunch with Gremi under the table when another dog walked by and she lunged, bringing the table (with glasses, plates, and cutlery) crashing to the pavement. About an hour later, when standing at a crosswalk waiting for the lights to change she again lunged for another dog. Vanessa was holding the leash but not paying attention so she tripped and fell to the ground, hurting her ankle. No surprise Vanessa came very close to insisting we give her up for adoption because she was just too much trouble. I can only thank the gods that she changed her mind, no doubt because deep down she knew what a special girl we had. By then (after paying two vet bills for dogs she had injured) we were not letting her off leash and things eventually got better as she aged and mellowed out, but for seven or eight years we had to be so vigilant whenever walking her, constantly scanning the landscape and preparing before turning every street corner just in case there was another dog. She didn't lunge at every dog (maybe half of them) but we were not willing to take the chance. Full credit goes to my wife, her main dog walker and the shining hero of this story. While staying in our next home (a former crack house in Berkeley run by a couple of Craigslist scammers) Gremi added a full grown raccoon to her kill list who was trespassing in the garden. Gruesome stuff indeed. But Gremi was not all killer. She was obsessed with belly rubs and, if laying down, would automatically lift her back leg whenever anyone walked by. She was so, so affectionate with all humans, whatever the age, (even unpredictable toddlers), gravitating to the more vulnerable souls. We have a couple of friends with clinical depression, one even suicidal, and Gremi would always provide extra comfort to them whenever they would drop by for an acupuncture treatment, or otherwise. She also had a thing for married (human) men, often pinning them down, with paws on both shoulders, for a wet and sloppy make-out session. And even though she was spayed and never had her own furbabies, she was so patient and wonderful with young puppies, displaying such genuinely maternal tendencies. Fast forward five or six years to Kolkata, India. Some time around September 2020 (by then she was about eleven and a half years old), her bladder weakened and she started frequently peeing in the apartment. A few weeks after that, she stopped eating her dry food, so we switched her to a raw meat diet, and she promptly regained her lust for life (as well as most of her bladder control, thanks to my wife’s acupuncture treatments). In November, we relocated to glorious Goa, for a final few months before leaving India. The hotel we initially stayed at had a beautiful huge garden, which one day she refused to leave. She just wanted to lay on the earth under the shrubs and didn’t move when we beckoned her to return to our room. My first reaction was that she was ready to die and return to nature. We also noticed that day how she had trouble walking, so I had to carry her to and from the room, up and down the stairs. The next day she stopped eating and drinking and once again refused to leave the garden. Definitely time for a vet appointment. That evening, the reality of the situation was sinking in so we holed up in the hotel room and lay down on the floor cuddling her for at least two, maybe three hours. She spent that night in bed with us for the first time in years; a fitting farewell. The next day at the vet they performed a number of tests and scans and we learned that she had severely congested lungs, failing kidneys and liver, a sky high temperature and a porous spine. We realized we had no choice but to put her down. Frankly, we were shocked at the diagnosis because it was only in the last 48 hours that she displayed any signs of discomfort. Just goes to show how incredibly strong she was. The kind vet offered to let us bury her in her garden. I am grateful that we were able to lay her to rest in such beautiful nature, and not in the concrete and rubble of Kolkata. I am even more grateful that in today’s sterile modern world, we had the privilege of spending the better part of twelve years sharing our lives with a truly wild, but utterly affectionate, creature. R.I.P. sweet wolfchild; you will be missed but never forgotten.

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