Saturday, August 8, 2015

Walking My Baby Dog Always

"A really companionable and indispensable dog is an accident of nature. You can't get it by breeding for it, and you can't buy it with money. It just happens along."
                                                  -- E.B. White, American essayist, humorist, and dog lover

         Sadie the Superdawg happened along in our lives almost 15 years ago and today she departed after receiving tearful "I love you's" from the family assembled at her South Carolina home.

         Even 16-month-old Brooks planted a big wet kiss on her before her final ride to the vet. My son, Bobby, who along with his bride-to-be Amanda, rescued Sadie from a Richmond pound in 2001, lifted her onto a comfy day bed -- because a failing liver had made her too weak to stand -- and we both got her in the back of his van with all the loving care we could muster.

Have ball in snow -- my fav Sadie photo
         Sadie was more than companionable; she was my kindred spirit. Often, as her health gradually declined, I wondered how I could ever live without her, and I have sobbed (even more than I did today). However, it is comforting to know that Sadie will be with me always in spirit.

         Until this summer, we had walked practically every day, rain or shine, through the leafy green suburbs of Northern Virginia, along the Blue Ridge Parkway and parts of the Appalachian Trail, and on the beaches of the Grand Strand. I roughly estimate our total miles exceed 10,000.

         Likely, this exercise along with her Science Diet helped her far exceed the average life expectancy of 10 to 12 years for a Golden Retriever or golden mix.

Sadie and Hannah in a Sadie cave
         As I slid into my senior years and semi-retirement, Sadie insisted always that I put on her leash, grab a sturdy walking stick, and go out with her for a brisk walk taking inventory of the birds, squirrels, and other creatures. Her resolve strengthened mine, and probably has helped me stay reasonably spry into my 70s. The challenge I now face is finding a way to sustain this effort without my kindred spirit physically present.

         Along the way, Sadie and I took turns pulling each other through tough times. First came my heavy-duty heart surgery -- aortic valve-and-root replacement -- in 2005. When I returned home to recover, she somehow understood that I couldn't take her outside for walks for a while. She stayed patiently by my side. When Cardiac Rehab came around, and we could walk the trails again, it was a joyous time for both of us.

Singing a Christmas carol

         My turn to be her nurse and therapist came in 2007 when we resided in Blue Ridge, Virginia, just off Mountain Pass Road and one mile from the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. Ironically enough, her crisis began late one Friday afternoon when I came home all happy from receiving a good report from the cardiologist. "Sadie, let's take a long walk on the Parkway to celebrate," I said, and she was pleased to oblige. Unfortunately, as we headed down U.S. 460 toward the Parkway entrance, an old guy in a pickup truck pulled abruptly into our lane and I had to jam on the brakes. Sadie slammed sideways into the dashboard and immediately began crying in pain without ceasing.

          Regular vets' offices had closed for the weekend, so we had to find the emergency veterinary office in Roanoke. The on-duty vet there diagnosed her as having a severely dislocated hip and was not optimistic as to her healing or even surviving long term. By the next morning, he had manipulated the hip back in socket and put her right rear leg in a sling. Over the next month or so, I carefully walked her in the front yard while she hopped gingerly,  inhibited by the sling. Somehow with hard work and the power of prayer, that hip healed completely and carried her through a long and active life. I consider that almost miraculous.

       The largest portion of my memory bank is filled with happy images of sweet Sadie.

Sadie's Mexican hat dance

        I remember . . .

       * My son Bobby heaving a ball as far as he could with his pitcher's arm and Sadie in her youth just being a blur as she chased it down on an Ashland, Va. ballfield, lickety split, time after time, throw after throw.

       * Her glee at jumping into huge piles of oak leaves in our Blue Ridge backyard, disappearing completely, and then popping out.

       * Her mounting excitement as we got within a mile of the beach, knowing that we would be walking on the soft sand and paying our respect to our friends the sandpipers. And maybe getting a few friendly pats from pretty young ladies (her, not me; she was the chick magnet).

       * The excitement she showed also with the approach of every Christmas Day (easily equalling that of the children), poking her nose into every package of presents accessible to her, checking to see if Santa was going to remember her.

      * Her dedication to being a care dog without portfolio to my dear wife, Allyne. One night in Blue Ridge, while I was away on business, Allyne was recovering from injuries suffered in a fall and needed assistance in the middle of the night. She told Sadie to "go get Bobby," who was sleeping in the basement, and she immediately went down the stairs, roused him, and directed him to come upstairs to help his mother.

Dasher the pup & Sadie's bud

       * The games of one-upsmanship she played with Dasher the Wonder Dawg over tennis balls, chew sticks, teddy bears and such. Dasher came into our family members' lives after his birth on Christmas Day 2010, and no doubt his energy helped keep Sadie young in spirit. Though well into her senior years, she was always trying to do what Dasher did as a pup and teen-ager, even showing that she was still up for chasing a ball now and then.

Her face grew gray, but sweeter than ever

      * And every day, the "sad retriever face" she would flash us when we had to go out for errands or appointments without her. And then upon our return, the happy face that would greet us. I have to confess I felt a real emptiness when we returned home from back-to-school shopping with the grandchildren today and there was no Sadie here.

     It hurts.

    Will I ever get another dog? Not anytime soon, but maybe someday if one happens along. But it would have to be a dog just as sweet and smart and sensitive as Sadie, and I don't believe it likely such a dog will ever happen along.

                                                     © Robert G. Holland 2015
Sometimes I look in Ellie's face and I see Sadie looking back at me from Heaven.

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