I’ve been thinking about Sadie a lot.
Probably because of writing – I find myself wading through so many good memories.
It’s been two and a half years.
Only recently am I able to wholly miss Sadie.
As I type, my eyes track Boo – she flies by – Kong barbell in her mouth, the giant cyan beach ball we call “Cy” is jubilant as it spins and rolls out in front of her nose, paws and legs outstretched as she herds it along.
She is one of the happiest dogs I have ever known, and the happiest dog I have ever owned.
Boo loves to play.
She will play by herself for hours in the yard.
She would play for days if you play with her.
Fifteen years ago, same yard.
An intense young Border Collie rockets past to launch with ease and confidence from the side of the pool – plucking a Frisbee from the air with precision timing before splashing into the water.
She would surface with the stoic manner of an elite athlete in training, pop out at the stairs like a cork escaping the hold of the sea, spit out the Frisbee, shake, pick it up and round the corner, dropping it at my feet as she took off to get set for another fling.
She was all business.
I feel my heart fill.
I had discovered some old electronic folders that I have moved from computer to external back to computer over the years.
I opened a document I typed on December 2, 2014.
It was a Pandora’s Box heavy with emotions and memories.
I remember the day I wrote it with distinct clarity.
I woke up knowing I had to write that day. Not what my work dictated I write about, but subjects I really wanted to write about.
I jotted down a few thoughts.
It felt very good.
Three years later, I have reflective insight to many of the thoughts I wrote down that day.
“I suppose the question in anyone’s mind will be, why are you doing this? The simple answer is that I love my dog. She got old. That’s not her fault.”
Although that particular date has other meaning, I mostly remember December 2, 2014, as the day I came to terms with the sad and terrifying conclusion of gathered facts.
We were losing Sadie, piece by piece, to Canine Cognitive Disorder.
I had begun working to understand the disease and what it would require for her to have a good quality of life for whatever time we were blessed to have her.
It’s what our lives became about.
Good days for Sadie.
“Why Your Old Dog Needs Engagement. Every Day.”
Sadie swam every day – every morning, afternoon and sometimes, she swam at night.
Swimming became her purpose.
It was how she remembered who she was as the dementia chipped away at her.
Didn’t matter what the temperature was or if I was ready for her to get in the pool or not.
That was nothing new.
Sadie was her own dog.
It was one of the things that endeared her to us.
To everyone who knew her.
Sadie was never – all the way to the end – a follower.
I don’t know that her frustration level with her condition would have been manageable at all if she did not retain her ability to get in that pool daily.
Sadie was all about purpose and a schedule. I referred to her as my “Time Management Specialist” – we called her “The General.” Her orders were issued with a low “wooooo-OOoooof!” and a marching stamp of those little front feet.
She let us know – always with purpose – what her specific needs were and when they needed to be serviced all throughout her life.
We worked with that – not against it – as the illness progressed.
All dogs need exercise.
All dogs need engagement.
Most especially old dogs.
They need a sense of their life and how they lived it as they fall into old age.
We had a Nina Olsson game we worked with and Mr. Fleecy Ball, who squeaked.
Mr. Fleecy Ball engaged her and pissed her off at the same time. Which was good for Sadie.
She had always despised squeaky toys, but we found during the advancement of the cognizance issues, the squeaky noise would evoke curiosity – it would again – help her remember she did NOT like it.
It helped her remember who she was.
She would get up and move it and want to play catch with it, shake it and spit it out and stamp at it – even though she acted completely disgusted by it.
Mr. Fleecy Ball brought out Sadie.
Mr. Fleecy Ball performed his job well.
We ordered an “Eddie’s Wheels” cart after her IVS episode in 2013. The IVS wrecked havoc with her balance. She had always had very bad hips, though you would never know it when she was healthy otherwise. We didn’t want her leg muscles and back muscles to atrophy as her nerve center healed after the IVS.
It was a great tool then and Sadie returned to it in December of 2014.
I’ll never forget the look in her eyes as she realized she would not fall down catching a Frisbee in it.
It renewed her spirit and gave her another avenue to physical exertion.
She became very adept in it and we took walks up and down the road, another “normal” reset for her.
In her youth and adult life, a big purpose of hers was to walk me.
She was able to do this again with the cart.
She often displayed such frustration at not being able to do – or remember how to do – the simple things she loved – furious at her inability to focus, causing her anxiety to spiral.
I had observed her closely her whole life, so it was second nature when I began to feel it when she was thinking about her confusion.
This allowed me to get in front of various situations and help her along or avoid a potentially bad or stressful situation with fairly regular success.
This became the make up of our days.
And for the most part, the days were very good.
Her frustration at losing her bladder control, forgetting where she was going after getting up or what she was in the middle of doing, the inability to distinguish shadows from reality, was very all-consuming to her.
Sadie was a dog who thought about things – too much. She was proud and a fighter. That her mind was failing her flat out pissed her off.
We got a lot of things sorted out medically working with our vets.
Whatever it took, we did to ensure her time was as high quality as it could be.
There was a long string of good months.
“The Heartbreak of Losing Your Dog Before She’s Really Gone”
As the disease progressed, our efforts had a lesser impact on Sadie’s well being.
The dementia grew from a mental state to a physical one as well.
It is a terrible transition.
The frequency of the very good days dwindled.
As the good portions of her days shortened, I changed how, when and where I worked, eventually completely moving my office desk to the living room for the time being.
If I was in her sight, she was calm and would rest. She liked being in the living room, but not so much in my office.
She would lay herself against the back of my computer desk and sleep.
We called it the “kissing booth.”
In the “old days” Sadie went to work with me every day to the office. On Fridays, we lugged home what at the time felt like 400 pounds of computer equipment so we could enjoy our time at home and still hit our deadlines.
Time was filled with a lot of “pool-bee” play during the weekends.
From the time she was a puppy, Sadie loved her home, her pool and yard.
It was her entire world – the Sadie World Resort.
She didn’t want to be anywhere else.
As a young dog, after the dry-off from Frisbee and the pool, I would work while she recharged blissfully, in her signature paws up sleep position, under an AC vent, next to me on the couch while I worked.
I believe she related the “kissing booth” arrangement with those days when she was healthy and young. The security and joy of a world she recalled in increasingly scattered bits and pieces somewhere brought her peace.
“Whatever It Takes”
Sadie woke up every day and continued to fight.
We used to say she was born fighting. I have never known a dog that could resist the way Sadie did. She had been like that her whole life.
On Memorial Day weekend she had a major seizure.
I honestly did not think she would recover.
I thought she was dying in my arms that day.
Sadie being Sadie, she fought straight back.
But damage was done.
It had left her very weak.
She lost the desire to use her cart, refused to pick up her Frisbees.
Her tail did not curl in a fabulous plume over her back again.
It would only wag now and then, when a moment of clarity blew across her.
Or during one of the many visits Susie made that last month and a half.
The only activity Sadie demanded on completing each day was her swim.
The demons came to her earlier, more terrifying and more often in the day.
Nights were not for sleep, but for release to sheer exhaustion.
The discomfort of the tumor began to steal the short hours of the day that the dementia did not rule her.
I would pray each morning for the intuition to follow her needs.
Each morning she stamped those determined little General’s paws under her and set out to tackle another day.
I would give her the day.
Though Sadie continued to get up and go at life every morning through that month, the inevitability of what was to come – and soon – whispered daily in my ear.
June 22 was the last truly good day Sadie had.
She woke up bright-eyed and surprised me by wanting to get in her cart and play Frisbee in the back yard after her swim.
She was exceptionally “in the present.”
She had a bit of her old prance to her step and good balance, so we took a short walk on the street – without the cart.
She took her time and sniffed everything, taking deep breaths, looking up at me and half-squinting her eyes in the way she would, nose working and putting the smell together with the image that formed in her mind.
She stopped and leaned against me several times during the walk, going still, her head to my knee, my hand would fall and toss her ears.
Dear old friends.
I watched as the breeze played in her long, beautiful coat. What was to be – and soon – was surreal to me.
We sat still on the couch that day without speaking for a long while, my hand wrapped in her fur, she dozed peacefully in the sunbeam.
She swam several times, relishing each stroke, even gathering a Frisbee and dropping it for a short toss as she swam past me.
Her tail came up and curled over her back later in the day after it dried.
It was still so silky and plush. Sadie had the best tail ever.
Her eyes were still clear as the day drew to a close.
She pranced to greet her Dad when he came home.
We had pizza. Her favorite.
That day was a gift from God to be taken as just that and nothing more.
Not a foundation upon which to build new hope.
Just one last good day.
We shared a lot of cheesey poofs on that couch that night as I worked from my laptop, baseball on the television, Sadie next to me.
It could have been any other normal night from years past, but it wasn’t.
It felt so good.
Sadie had a way of chewing gleefully, her mouth would open wide and she would crunch as if whatever it was it must be the most delectable food ever known to man or dog.
Her eyes would go wide with the pure enjoyment of the moment and she would finish by smacking her lips with extreme satisfaction, ears up.
She would look around as if to say surely everyone feels this way about food?
It always made me laugh.
Sadie did everything – and I mean everything – with gusto.
She fell deeply asleep next to me fully content with her day – with her life.
I didn’t want that day to end.
The next day, the demons came early and hard charging and I began to prepare her crossing.
The event could not be stressful.
She needed to leave at a time when she still possessed a sense of dignity and grace.
An end on her terms, as her life had always been.
“It’s Time When It’s Time”
It was then July.
Sadie had a horrible seizure.
I cradled her in my arms until she calmed.
Slowly, she came back to me.
She looked deep into my soul – her message crystal clear.
My little Warrior had put her fate into my hands where she knew it would be safest.
When Donna arrived at the house that last day, Sadie leaned forward to her, kissed her and placed her head in her hands.
She knew who Donna was and why she was here.
“Love. Pure and Simple.”
I wouldn’t have done this any other way.
I held her head in my lap, my husband’s hand stroked her back. She had always loved that from him.
Sadie kissed us both one last time.
She looked around her beloved home.
Her eyes stopped on her Dad.
She then looked to me.
The trust of what was to come in her release was tangible. I felt as if I could break a piece off of where it formed in front of us and put it in a box for safe keeping for all time.
Our souls promised we would meet again, that this Golden Thread could never be severed.
We were bound for life.
“That’ll do,” I whispered in her ear, a command that we didn’t share for sheep, but for Frisbee play ending.
The sedation took affect, Sadie’s eyes closed and she relaxed.
I stroked her head lightly over her eyes, just how she liked.
The peace-giving fluid was then administered.
I breathed in Sadie’s last breath.
It was beautiful.
Her spirit rose.
It was immediate.
She did not linger.
Always “Mrs. Gusto,” even in her spirit release from a mind and a body that had begun to hold her an unwilling captive.
We used to say when Sadie made up her mind it was “go-time” it had better happen.
If not, she made it happen.
Sadie had departed her binds void of fear and anxiety, with only joy and a new sense of adventure to prance over the bridge to where her forever friend Hazel waited. I could feel the rush of air in the room from Hazel’s whip-like tail as it expressed her glee at her dear friend joining her.
Donna, my husband and I cried together over Sadie’s quiet, empty vehicle.
The glory was in knowing she was freed.
“I’m Being Followed By a Moon Shadow”
All of my dogs have shared my love of the night sky and standing under the expanse of wonder, head tilted up during that last pee of the night, or during an after supper walk.
That night, I stood outside alone for the first time in fourteen and a half years.
I was lost.
I felt odd and unhinged at the joints and in my mind.
No dog needed me.
I was suddenly empty and without responsibility.
I looked up to witness a shower of shooting stars spray across the sky, leaving sparking trails in their wake.
Sadie and Hazel chasing the moon.
The loneliness was crowded out by wistful joy in the knowledge that these two dear, old friends were wide open on the throttle with the clear night sky as their playground.
“Hazel and the Rainbow”
“Lord make me a rainbow and shine down on my mother, she’ll know I’m safe with you when she stands under your colors.” –The Band Perry
A week later to that day we picked up Sadie’s remains.
That afternoon the Florida summer threw a double rainbow – the magnitude of it was unlike any I had ever seen up to that point or since.
Its image made the local newspaper and television channels.
The yellow was so vibrant it had a visual rhythm as if it were beating.
If the sky could play the drums, I thought.
Yellow was the color of the ribbon that Donna had chosen to tie a lock of Sadie’s fur she sent with a kind note.
She said she related Sadie with yellow.
I was thinking about that when my phone dinged.
“Our Girls,” Susie’s text read under the picture of the expansive double rainbow she took from her house.
Susie hurt as badly as us.
Sadie adored Susie and Susie adored Sadie.
They were blissfully shameless in their unabashed love, eternal friends whose souls had traveled time, finding one another along the way each walk about. Their paths will always cross.
I looked up again at the magnificent rainbow.
Hazel and Sadie.
It was a good feeling to know.
But my heart hurt so very, very badly.
“Gonna Try and Love Again”
One week after the rainbow I was standing in that very same spot.
This time I was not alone.
In my arms I held a fuzz ball I named Boo Rowdy.
It had been two weeks to the day Sadie left.
I lifted Boo so we were eye to eye.
She looked straight at me and I looked straight back at her.
I worried that it was too soon for this new soul and mine to develop a Golden Thread.
Was the timing fair to her?
Lightning crashed from nowhere in that way only summer in Florida can and chased me and Boo to the porch.
We sat and watched the weather.
Boo fell asleep in my arms.
Boo and I both love weather.
Puppy was so warm.
I buried my hands in her and held her to me.
Boo immediately gave herself to me the moment we met in a way that Sadie never did.
Thinking of my little rebel and how she made me work for her love – on her terms – made me smile.
This never made me love Sadie less.
I had no doubt Sadie loved me.
I am not ready to tell those stories yet.
I was looking down at Boo as the rain began to let up and I caught a drift of Sadie’s scent on the breezes the coastal rain had pushed in.
Unmistakable, it was.
That tiny hint of vinegar, ground pepper and clove – wafting from a long-saved bit of treasured, vintage, beaded lace, recently pulled from where it was safe, carefully stored in a cedar chest – stirred my heart.
I could feel the blood thumping in tips of my thumbs as I ran them lightly along Puppy’s spine, up her neck and to her forehead. She lay oblivious to it all in my lap, only stirring to nestle closer to me.
I looked up.
Oh, my beautiful Sadie-Girl.
She took my breath away – she always did.
She simply glowed.
I let out a small cry. Puppy stirred, nestling even closer, letting out a sigh and a tiny sound of her own that mirrored mine.
I could not take my eyes off Sadie.
Emotions took on noise that roared in my head.
Only myself, Sadie and Boo existed as time suspended.
Everything else had fallen away.
Sadie stood strong and striking in her stance, gazing at me with that little “almost” grin that always played about her mouth.
Her punk grin, I used to call it.
Her tail moved in slow, long sweeps where it curled over the solid, muscular back of her young adult body.
There was no grey on her muzzle, her swoosh was whole, there was no white over her eyes and the odd light of the day which painted the sky shot through them like two tiger eye icicles reaching down from the roof on a winter day.
She was stunning.
I sent my heart to her.
She lifted her nose daintily to the wind, one front paw raised, and her eyes went soft.
I will always be yours, said her voice on the wind.
It’s Boo’s time. It’s good.
Our eyes still locked, my Sadie-Girl faded – melting into the glorious, soft, better rain.
Our Golden Thread was stronger than ever in its now translucent state.
Puppy stirred and looked at me in her wide-open way, straight into my eyes.
She drank my tears as they fell onto her warm, soft muzzle.
We needed no words.
A new Thread fell from the Spool of Souls.
I saw the glimmer as it fell between us.
Boo and me.
She rolled over on my legs and waved her paws in the air, wriggling on her back. The paws sprung back to a fat little belly, to rise and fall with the beat of the heart of this new tiny soul who placed her fate in the palm of my hands.
I had Sadie’s blessing.
“How Can I Help You To Say Good-bye”
I will never stop missing Sadie.
I am just now able to remember our life together more with laughter rather than that hollow, deep ache of loss.
It takes a very long time for a heart to mend.
My dogs’ deaths have been the most difficult for me.
That sounds hard to some people, cold and wrong to others.
Different people have different experiences, and I know that sometimes people question why they hurt so badly over the loss of a pet.
I never have.
I don’t judge anyone as to how they deal with loss.
I’ve known it on too many levels.
Some people say “never again” after a pet.
I can’t imagine myself saying that, but maybe some day I will.
The hurt is hard, but it makes us know that love lives on in us.
That love is infinite.
Saying good-bye is the part of life that we experience the truest growth through.
It is the only pure inevitable.
I still love you so hard, Sadie.
You brought us so much of everything good.
There will only ever be one of you.
With love, there are no final good-byes.
I will see you again, my dear friend.
Our reunion will be glory-filled.
I’ll bring the Frisbees.
You bring the hops.