We didn’t need a big dog, we already had two big dogs, but that brown lab was the saddest animal I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t walk away. I did at first, I left the pet store where the rescue group was set up, drove home, but she wouldn’t leave me alone. She was found at an abandoned house, her owners had moved and left her alone with no food or water, with a small pup from her last litter and she was pregnant again. The poor dog had been bred nearly to death, practically crippled from being kept in a small crate and she had heartworms. A rescuer had pulled her from a county shelter on the day she and her pup were to be euthanized, brought her home and set up a place for her to have the new puppies. Soon the puppies were old enough and all were adopted, but no one had showed interest in this big sad girl. Her story stayed with me. I gave up and made a call.
She lumbered along, head and tail down, and she didn’t resist when I brought her in the house, she had long ago given up her spirit to humans. This dog had no expectations of kindness or comfort and had simply resigned herself to bear whatever was next. I led her to a huge soft bed, she stopped, lifted her head and looked at me, puzzled, and then with hesitation, stepped up on the bed. I sat down beside her for a while, rubbed her head and told her that her name was Sadie, that she was safe and that our hands would never hurt her and then I left her alone to rest, but I could feel her eyes following me.
She was a beautiful dog, dark brown with a ridge of hair down her back like a Rhodesian Ridgeback, which was probably one of the reasons she was being bred, but her beautiful body was ravaged after so many years of starvation, breeding and neglect. Her heartworms were very severe, her teeth were ground down, from chewing on a kennel or fencing, her joints were stiff and muscles atrophied from a life of confinement, but with patience over time her sadness lightened and her eyes shone with intelligence and interest. The vet told us we could try the heartworm shots to possibly slow down the progressive destruction of her heart, but we needed to understand she was not going to survive the heartworms, the damage was already done. We tried one shot, but after witnessing her pain, we said, no more, and took her home to live out the rest of her life. And Sadie did live.
She decided early on that she was queen and made sure the rest of the pack understood this completely. She installed her throne (foam bed) in the foyer so she could look out the front door to keep an eye on the neighborhood and nothing escaped her notice. Our world was a far safer place when Sadie was on guard. The other dogs acknowledged her superiority and avoided the foyer, any ball or toy that landed near her was lost, they would not cross the invisible boundary she had established. They simply waited until she went outside to make a dash to claim the errant item. Having raised many puppies, Sadie was quick to mete out discipline in the form of a gentle nip to either human or canine should they get out of line. More than once have I been in her way or a little too slow and received a small nip as she passed, but she was quick to show love by butting her head against our legs and holding her it there for just a moment, and then moving on.
Sadie loved to go for long slow walks by herself in the fields around our house and being that the property was fenced and she too hefty to fit under or through the fence rails, we let her go. Every morning at about 5:00 am, she would stand outside our bedroom door and flap her jaws until one of us surrendered and got up to let her outside. She would wander around the fields and yards for about an hour and then bark at the back door to be let back in and you better be quick to respond, or you were in for a nip as she walked past. This routine would take place each morning until the day she died, and nothing stood in her way, not anything or anyone. One morning, still half asleep, I missed a step and fell to the tile, breaking my leg. Sadie stood at the top of the steps looking at me, obviously annoyed, then ambled down and flapped her jaws until I pulled myself over to the door and let her out. Only then did I yell for my husband.
Although her health deteriorated over the two years she was here, I believe she was happy with us. She knew what it was to lay her head down in comfort and safety, she knew the freedom of wandering and following scents on the wind, and she knew we loved her, of that I’m sure. That morning I knew something was up as she wandered room to room as if looking for something and kept coming back to me in my study. I followed her to her bed by the door and she stood there waiting for me to sit down. I sat on the floor and she climbed on her bed just as the sun rays were starting to move through the glass across the floor. We stayed there together for some time while I rubbed her head and body, but her eyes didn’t leave me and when her breathing changed, I knew where we were going. I stretched out beside her on her big bed, put my arm across her softly trembling body, held her close and whispered to her. She lifted her head to look at me a final time, gently sighed, and then she left me. The other dogs had gathered and lay near us, but still outside her invisible line until that last breath and then they silently moved closer and settled around her bed. We laid there awhile, all of us still and quiet, but when I finally got up and was walking away, I looked back and saw little Shasta crawl closer, put her two front paws on the bed, and lick Sadie’s face.
Some mornings I look across the wet fields and I expect to see her plodding gait, brown nose to the wind, as she follows the smells leading her back home. You take grace where you find it and sometimes it nips you on the leg as it passes by. I miss her still.
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