Our dog Sadie died yesterday and I’m really sad. She was a big, strong, fast, clumsy, oaf of a black lab with a thick skull, a nearly insatiable desire to run, and a tail as powerful as a bullwhip. We had a complicated relationship. I loved her and at times I wasn’t always as patient or understanding as I could have been. From her view I believe it was a much more straightforward relationship–play with me, run with me, pet me, and feed me. That’s it. Wait, please pet me some more.
The relationship between canines and humans is unlike any other on Earth. There are certainly other domesticated animals but none with the history like dogs. Recently I watched a story on 60 Minutes about canine evolution and the conclusion was that wolves recognized that by simply being nice-by showing humans that they weren’t the threat we felt they were–this is what began the long evolutionary process from wild predator to domesticated house dog.
For as long as I can remember my family has had a dog, sometimes two, and I’ve learned a lot by the examples and lessons set with pet ownership. Rusty was an Irish Setter. Rommel was a floppy-eared Doberman Pinscher we adopted who could balance food on his nose and on command snatch it out of midair. He also loved to chase squirrels. Muffin was a stray, gray toy poodle my Grandma brought home from a vacation in California. We had a cat that once broke Muffin’s jaw with a fierce paw swing, but that’s a story for another time.
Our Mom and Dad adopted Sadie as a puppy. Her and her siblings had been abandoned, found living under a vacant home. Through the end Sadie had a food scarcity mentality and would devour anything in front of her at record speed. Sometimes when I watch one of my boys devouring food I’ll remark “Take it easy Sadie.” 🙂
The adoption made little sense to us at the time, still befuddles us today to be frank. My parents were elderly at the time and like now, lack the physical capability to reciprocate the energy and effort required to help an energetic labrador thrive. The yard where we lived is a large, atypically-suburban, double lot in an unincorporated area and when I would visit, Sadie would eagerly jump, whip her tail, and stay by my side until I took her out to run. She would run and run and run and then run some more. I would run too. Pure, unbridled joy. Back and forth, over and over, a panting, slobbering mess by the end, Sadie too. It was these regular visits with my parents that cemented our relationship and informed our dynamic through the end.
About a year and a half ago, when my parents sold their home and moved into an assisted living facility, Sadie joined our already-blended family. She joined Hurley, Kelly’s black lab, to round out the family at 5 kids and two dogs. Her new human siblings, Evan and Ella, took a love to her to the same degree they loved Hurley. Between Kelly, Evan, Ella and Sadie, I’m learning a lot about patience and unconditional love. The park behind our home was a perfect place for us to take both dogs. Hurley had a calm indifference to his new friend, even when he was being whipped by her manic tail.
It was the times out back I’ll cherish most. “I’m gonna getcha’. I’m gonna’ getcha!!’ “Sadie, go find Kelly. Find Kelly!’ Once again, Sadie had a place to run and run and run. Back and forth, over and over. Our yard is bordered with a wood fence and gate that leads directly to the park. As we would return towards the yard, we taught Sadie to “Go to the gate, go to the gate!” Off she would go like she was shot from a cannon, eagerly waiting for us to open it for her.
Sadie hurt her spine and neck in a collision at the Montrose dog beach this summer and she slowly declined from that point on. Even when the nerve damage made it hard, she would still run. That clip was from a few weeks ago. It would be one of the last times we enjoyed the sun and the park.
So now what? I’ve never been here before. Time for reflection, time for smiles, and perhaps a few more tears I suppose. Sadie and I both had a second chance, an opportunity to begin again with a family that would embrace and love us for all we brought. What can I do to feel that same unbridled joy Sadie felt when she ran? Can I work to simultaneously honor her and work towards practicing the same kind of unconditional love she showed me through to the end? I’m certain I don’t believe in the construct of Heaven, at least in human terms. Yet I knowingly set aside that view and imagine, through tears, Sadie in Dog Heaven, running and running and running, her tail whipping, ears flopping. Rest in Peace sweet girl, rest in peace. You made it to the last Gate. I miss you so much already.