Article by Colette Kase, first published in Dogs Today June 2018
When you hear about Misty Dawn and her sidekick Epic, you would be forgiven for thinking they are a couple of comic book superhero characters
In fact, Misty is a dancer, writer, artist, photographer and all-round Renaissance woman from California, USA, and Epic is her potlicker extraordinaire from Cayo, Belize. Their story is even better than a graphic novel.
‘Potlicker’ is what any variety of crossbreed dog is called in Belize. Belizeans are very proud of their potlickers and if asked, they will tell you they are the most loyal family protectors you can get. Belize is a country covered in wide expanses of jungle and dotted with little villages. It is the most sparsely populated country in Central America and a haven for wildlife. It can be both enchanting and dangerous, mysterious and fascinating, but it can also be a tough place for a little potlicker to survive.
Misty initially discovered Belize in 2008, crossing the border from Mexico to be surprised that she was in an English-speaking country. She was enthralled with the beauty of Belize and its people and travelled back and forth to the country many times.
Misty was an adventurer, an outdoorswoman and a traveller until she was struck down by a mystery illness that left her virtually bedridden. Doctors in the USA told her that she might never get well. It turns out that Misty has a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos and also suffers symptoms from tick borne Lyme disease.
The combination of these two illnesses was devastating. Misty could barely care for herself. She couldn’t dance. She couldn’t create and she rapidly started losing her will to live. True to her superhero name, Misty Dawn fought for her life and did what many might consider crazy, but which ultimately, saved her life. She returned to Belize to try to get healed or to die trying.
She lived in a tent in the jungle of the Cayo district. She treated herself with intravenous antibiotics for Lyme disease, right there in the jungle. She saw a shaman, who treated her with acupuncture and natural dietary supplements. She struggled, she fought and she started to get better, and was even able to ride her bicycle again and socialise.
One afternoon, she met up with a dear friend of hers. Amanda was an animal rights advocate and conservationist, working in Belize, rehabilitating wildlife. Misty was still frail and weak, but she very much enjoyed Amanda’s great company and they connected on many levels, especially about animals.
It was a beautiful, tropical afternoon and they had gotten lost, looking for one of Belize’s many Maya archaeological sites, called El Pilar. After journeying through the jungle in a four-wheel drive for two hours, they hit the end of the track to discover a paradise-like river with a rope bridge. They didn’t mind being lost, as it was all part of their adventure.
They both spotted the tiny puppy on the other side of the river at the same time and then, to their surprise and horror, watched in slow motion as the puppy jumped into the flowing, wide river and started swimming towards them. There was no doubt that he would drown and without a second thought, Misty channelled her superhero powers and jumped in to save him.
The rivers of Belize can be treacherous and have taken many lives, but Misty had no thought for her own safety. Despite having few strength reserves to call upon, she couldn’t leave that puppy to the wild waters. While random thoughts of how cute his ears were passed through her mind, she finally reached him, hearing Amanda screaming at her and telling her that she was going to drown.
The pup had already gone under once before she made it to him and popped up again just as she snatched him up and somehow managed to get them both, sodden but alive, to the opposite bank of the river. Amanda, thrilled and relieved to see them both crawl out safely, took photos with her camera.
Misty had grown up with dogs, but had travelled so much as a young adult, she never felt that she could take on the responsibility of a dog. She planned to hand the little puppy she’d rescued from the river to the local rescue when they got back to the nearest town. The puppy was very thin, covered in ticks and fleas, and she thought he might die. Out came her superhero cape again and she decided she wasn’t going to let this little fellow go without a fight. He was to be called Epic and he was going to live.
REASON TO LIVE
Misty says of this time, “After we found each other, neither of us had to spend another night alone. He gave me a reason to get up. A reason to walk and gain strength. A reason to smile. The healers loved him and he was always welcome when I went to my acupuncture appointments.
“There have been times I thought about suicide myself, and my mother and Epic were my only reasons to stay here. I don’t want him to ever be alone because we’ve been together 24/7 since we found each other, and what we have is each other. He’s seen me through so much and all I did was pick his little self out of the water and fix him up a bit.”
The first night was touch and go and Misty thought she’d lost him more than once. His worm load was heavy and he was weak. But just like she’d fought to save herself, she fought to save Epic, and suddenly she found herself with a new loyal, beautiful and mischievous companion. She made some agreements with him about not pooping inside and not chewing her things, and put in the work training him to make sure these goals were achieved.
RETURNING THE FAVOUR
As their relationship developed, it turned out that Epic would return the favour of Misty saving his life over and over. Misty took Epic back to the USA, where her strength and good health were not always consistent. When Epic was five months old, Misty started suffering from seizures. Epic seemed incredibly intuitive and knew when a seizure was coming, comforting her as she recovered. Their bond increased, as did Misty’s training, and before long, Epic started picking things up for her when she dropped them, learned to walk properly beside her mobility scooter and, with the use of a vest, helped to stabilise her as she climbed stairs.
Epic is now not only a service dog for Misty, but has become a therapy dog, visiting people in hospital and providing them with the same sort of calm comfort that he has provided to Misty. He visits homes for elderly people and shelters for homeless people, spreading happiness to all.
Misty has learned so much about living from Epic. “He reminds me of joy. There are days when I’m in so much pain that even sounds have sharp edges, and there is Epic. He wakes up and snuggles closer and it’s his favourite thing. He gets up and goes outside to pee and it’s his favourite thing. He gets some food and lays with a paw touching me while I put makeup on and it’s his favourite thing. We might go to the dog park or to a doctor’s office or to the grocery store. They’re all his favourite thing. He’s happy to be alive. He reminds me of a simplicity that escapes us in everyday life, and that’s my favourite thing. “
Misty and Epic haven’t stopped in their adventures and as they move through life, and the world, there is no doubt that these superheroes saved each other’s lives and through doing so, are working together to make the world a better place.
Article by Colette Kase, first published in Dogs Today June 2018