A blog to honor the lives and souls of animals and the people who love them

Remembering Kanaloa

Remembering Kanaloa

“Kanaloa” is Polynesian for “god of the oceans” and it was an altogether fitting name for the scruffy Rhodesian Ridgeback and Golden Labrador puppy who found us on the beaches of Kauai. Like a visitation from the gods, we had no ikling of the literal miracles that Kanaloa would bring into our lives in the subsequent decade of our all too short time together.

Predictably it was my wife, Elizabeth, who first spotted him trotting across the street to greet us with a toothy smile and tail waving high in the air. “Oh look at the starving puppy,” were the first words I heard. To which I emphatically responded, “We are not bringing him home!”  My resolute stance was born out of many years of rescuing dogs, cats, horses, birds, and innumerable members of of our growing four and two footed family.

To be sure, it was not love at first sight. He was so thin that every vertebrae protruded from his back, his furry coast was virtually nonexistent due to malnutrition and mange (which we later found to be a life threatening strain), both eyes were infected and oozing, and a doggy smell that was clearly not an island plumeria! Although he followed us to the one small Chinese market in Hanalea so we could feed him, we (at least I) thought this would be the end of our relationship.

Day after day, we would watch him playing on the beach with an affectionate female whom we dubbed “Mom Dog” and a three-legged German Shepherd with the highly original name of “Three-Legged Dog.” Together they were quite a pack of ragamuffins who compensated for their physical shortcomings with seemingly endless exuberance and games of chase along the length of the huge crescent beach and shallows of the breaking waves. As we watched the starving puppy we were struck by an inner poise, dignity, and bearing that belied his shabby exterior. We fed him modest amounts of food so as not to overwhelm his digestion and although he was literally starving, he would sit quietly and then eat slowly and methodically with impeccable manners and a disarmingly quiet presence. There were children on the beach who played with the dogs and although he ws often too weak to even stand, he would pounce and play with his gentle demeanor to the delight of every child as though they were the center of his universe, and they were.

Little did I know how Kanaloa’s love opened our hearts and how many, many literal miracles would occur with us and all who came to know and love him.

Over the course of a week, we fed him as he slowly gained weight; had many wonderful walks with him and his equally scruffy companions at sunrise and sunset; gave him a bath to try to help his sores and mange although he emerged no closer to breeder show quality than before; watched over him as he sought the shelter of our desk in the warm trade wind rains, and fell in love with his indomitable, loving and compassionate spirit. Each day we asked both local residents and beach tourists if anyone knew him or where he came from but this was met with an indifferent shrug and a dismissive snort about the overpopulation of stray dogs in paradise Toward the end of the next week we started in earnest to talk with the residents along the beach to see if they would give him a home provided that we could pay for all his veterinary bills and food for at least a year. At one point, a young woman and her son who owned a local store said they would be willing to take him. But later that night we found him laying patiently on the grass mat outside their door long past when they had locked up and gone home.

Seeing him be so loving, trusting, forgiving, and loyal against all odds just broke our hearts. That night ny wife and I had a very long, emotional talk when my indifferent demeanor finally cracked and I had to admit that both of us had fallen in love. At sunrise we walked to the beach and as the three dogs joined us, my wife asked that we might know the scruffy puppy’s name and immediately she heard “Kanaloa” not knowing its meaning at the time. Although the day started with a glorious sunrise, it soon changed into a monsoon-like deluge. Since it was near time for us to leave in a few days, we committed to taking him home. But the last we saw of him that rainy day was that he was running full tilt down the beach and disappearing into the rain and mist.

Reluctantly we went downstairs to the laundry room to prepare for leaving when my wife whispered to look down where I saw the bright, shiny yellow brown eyes staring silently up at me from the height of my right knee. It was that sight of his great soul starting out at us that galvanized us to race all over the island to find the one available dog kennel for his flight; find a veterinarian at the end of a dusty lava road for the necessary vaccinations and to check for heart worms; call the airline for another ticket; and realize that we had a new family member. That night he slept quietly on the deck outside of our bedroom while “Mom Dog” and “Three-Legged Dog” stood a silent vigil all night long for their beloved friend.

With his astounding grace, composure, and lion-hearted dignity, he braved the noise of two major airports and the confinement of a kennel which surely must have intimidated him with its constraints to the churning of ocean waves and endless expanse of his beach. As thought in a cosmic reciprocation to us, he brought a miracle into our lives as we changed flights in Honolulu. Actually, we had escaped to Kauai to retreat from what was an overwhelming sense of too many responsibilities at home and a conflict I was having with a higher level faculty member at my medical school. Suddenly, in the gate area lounge, that very individual and I came face to face and in a very brief matter of minutes, on a neutral ground, with my being with with Kanaloas’ love, that individual and I set aside years of conflict in a most miraculous encounter.

Little did I now how Kanaloa’s love opened our hearts and how many, many literal miracles would occur with us and all who came to know and love him. Much to our surprise he grew into a magnificently beautiful dog with a coat as golden as a Kalahari lion, and amber eyes that always looked steadfastly and lovingly into the depths of our very soul. Often times during his life we communicated with him through our friend, Jeri Ryan, and directly after her teaching us the art of contact and communication. His perceptions and wisdom were always inspiring, insightful, and so filled with the “mindfulness” to which we all aspire. With every walk, he taught us to experience the day through the smell of the earth, the sound of quails and red tail hawks, the taste of a mountain stream, delights of rolling in wet grasses, and the immediate present moment of infinite possibilities and exuberance. Throughout his life he remained a puppy at hearts, always signaling with his pounce to come play, chasing his tail in sheer delight, and racing through the tall California grasses or colder Pacific waters with his beloved German Shepherd, and lifelong companion, Zoe, who adored him as much as all of us whose lives he touched. Throughout his life he retained his regal, leonine demeanor when in repose while punctuating those meditations with his sheer joy and exuberance that, even in the midst of difficult days, always reminded us of joy, vitality, forgiveness and love.

His perceptions and wisdom were always inspiring, insightful, and so filled with the “mindfulness” to which we all aspire.

Just after Kanaloa’s tenth birthday, his appetite fell off for a few days but his energy and playfulness was unabated. As a routine precaution we brought him to his lifelong veterinarian who originally saved him from his life threatening mange. All of his blood tests and liver functions were completely normal but the veterinarian detected a large mass in his abdomen that biopsied as a dreaded carcinoma. Within twenty-four hours, our beloved friend and companion was faced with imminent death or a potentially futile surgery.

That night before his surgery, we all slept side by side as a family and never in all my life had I ever wished for the sun not to rise. On that last day we went for our usual walk and literally as Kanaloa jumped into the car to go for his surgery, his eyes were bright and clear, his exuberance for life overflowing, and his gentle kisses as sweet as a puppy.

It was within minutes of his surgery that our friend and veterinarian walked out of the clinic to the tree where we were all waiting for Kanaloa. His posture conveyed what his words confirmed. With all of us in tears we agreed to let Kanaloa die with the grace and dignity that he exhibited throughout his all too short lifetime. Shortly after his death, Jeri assisted us in communicating with Kanaloa who conveyed his unbounded joy at meeting the “Francis man” and hearing the roar of a Kalahari lion to greet him at the end of the Rainbow Bridge. When we talked with our friend and veterinarian a few days later, he conveyed to us that both the primary surgeon and he were overwhelmed by the extent of the metastatic cancer and that Kanaloa should have been dead six months ago. From a medical perspective, only one lobe of his liver was functioning, his spleen and gall bladder were virtually engulfed with intestinal metastases, and he had stopped eating since his stomach had been invaded and consumed by the aggressive carcinoma. From a more spiritual perspective, we all knew that it was Kanaloa’s lionheartedness and soaring spirit that had borne up his body. For all of us who knew him, it was a certainty that his spirit had outgrown the limitations of his earthly body until he burst  with unbounded joy into the infinite light.

On the evening we brought Kanaloa home it was cloudy, but as we approached our house, my wife pointed out a ray of the setting sun that was illuminating Kanaloa’s favorite lookout spot where he would wait to greet us with a bark and an animated run to the gate to coax us into his world of play. It was as though that ray of sunlight echoed “Look at the starving puppy” who had enriched our lives forever. At sunset we buried his body beneath a ginkgo tree that would only be outlived by our memories and love of our most beloved friend and companion.

For all of us who knew him, it was a certainty that his spirit had outgrown the limitations of his earthly body until he burst  with unbounded joy into the infinite light

Now when we see Kanaloa, he is radiant with joy and running with abandon on his crescent beach alongside the turquoise blue waters and pounding surf of a perfect island paradise. His old friends, Mom Dog and Three-Legged Dog, are with him sharing the exuberance of their reunion never to be separated again. No longer a ragamuffin puppy, he is a magnificent, leonine, amber-eyed dog of stature and dignity. With a wisdom on ly borne of being consciously on the other side, Kanaloa conveys to us with a pounce and a way that we will all be together again on his beach where he patiently awaits our arrival.


Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, MD is a Clinical Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine; Department of Family and Community Medicine; and Department of Psychiatry at the University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco (UCSF). At the UCSF School of Medicine, he is Director of the Corporate Health Improvement Program (CHIP) which is a research program between CHIP and 15 of the Fortune 500 corporations including Cisco, IBM, Dow, Prudential, Cummins, Ford, and Pepsico. He also serves as a Vice President with American Specialty Health (ASH). You can read more about Ken and his books on integrative medicine at https://drpelletier.com/.

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