Note: Although Sadie passed away at home in 2008, I am reminded of her constantly by the two big, goofy Golden Retrievers we have now, of which we are the guardians. In 1996, Bill Clinton was in office, and Google was still two years away from launching. And then, a big, beautiful dog named Sadie was born.
Her life started pretty well. She was the prized companion and friend of an elderly lady in Montrose, CO for the first two years of her life.
Then, the elderly lady died and Sadie was reluctantly taken in by her children. As far as I know, she spent the next 6 years tied to a fence. I don’t know all of the details of her life at that time. I’m not sure I want to know. It’s too painful to imagine the cruelty she had to endure.
At one point, Sadie discovered that she could chew through her lead and she could escape her miserable existence. (She was particularly terrified of lightning and ran away whenever there was a thunderstorm.) Unfortunately for Sadie, her original owner had a chip implanted in her when she was born, so the reluctant owners could always bring her back for further imprisonment. And the kind lady’s children left her there in the dirt, a shivering pile of ears and ground down front teeth. Luckily, for Sadie, they got weary of bringing her back, so they dumped her at a vet hospital in Montrose.
Already well stocked by surrendered dogs, one of the vets called Golden Retriever Rescue of the Rockies and they came to her rescue. It was in late 2005 when our life path crossed that of Sadie's. We had just lost Emma, a beautiful sweet Golden of only 7 years to kidney failure and we wanted another Golden. Encouraged by a friend who had adopted a dog from GRRR, Sadie ended up in the front seat of my car, riding to her new home, her face alight with the pleasure of riding in a car with her head out the window.
For just 3 years, we and Sadie had each other. Owners and dog. Walkers and walkee. Scooper and pooper. We had other dogs, mostly other rescues from GRRR. We lost other dogs; rescue dogs quite often come with problems, behavioral and health. For a while we thought we running a hospice for dogs. Our children grew up and moved out. Our lives moved on. We did what everyone does: we got older.
And Sadie? She got her weight and shiny coat back. She ate poop in the yard and ran away whenever there was a thunderstorm. She was a great dog, but she did what dogs do. She rarely barked, but passed the worst gas imaginable. Got cancer. Got better (for awhile). Got older.
She, like most of the dogs we have ever had, became an ever-shedding marker of time passing — our lives life and hers. Experience and wrinkles. Grey hair and scars.
Spring of 2014 would have been her 18th birthday — that’s what her owner surrender records say anyway —I’m doing what I have so often done when I think of all of the dogs we have had and still have. Bit by bit, nevertheless, I know that the end of their eras always approaches and I do my best to put all this into some kind of context.
When Sadie was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2008, we knew that the odds were pretty good that would be the last birthday we would have with her. She became slow, but still always sweet. The liver cancer caused her to accumulate excess fluid in her abdomen which caused her great discomfort. We would go in every two weeks to get it drained and Sadie would become a pup once again. She wasn’t very hungry, so she got thin. But every two weeks, we would get the once and mighty Sadie back, if only for a few days.
And while we and she prepared for the inevitable, I learned that she had taught me more than most people. I hope I can articulate them as well as she did:
Don’t make others carry your personal baggage.
Sadie was abused and forgotten. Mistreated and abandoned. And yet she never bit a soul. She was gentle and so dear. And she approached everyone as if she had never been hurt before.
Conserve your energy.
Sadie was a napper, like most dogs. She had learned from her long years being tied to the fence that life’s a long haul. There’s more time than you think — and it does no good to push yourself to the breaking point. Naps make those moments when you suddenly break loose in the backyard or flip a chew toy in the air all the more exhilarating.
Be who you are — because that’s enough.
Sadie was not tough. She was beautiful, but not especially smart. But she was content. She was not embarrassed by who she was — she simply was. And she was loved all the more for it.
Know who feeds you.
9 times out of 10, I’m the one in our house who feeds the dogs. Sadie knew this. That’s why she only really listened to me. In her own dog way, she was grateful, I think. I imagine we could all learn to be a lot more loyal and kind and dedicated to the people who do the most for us.
Get old, but don’t age.
Sadie didn’t know that her last day on the Earth was her last. She didn’t have a fear of getting old. She simply lived each day, and the next, and the next. One nap, one meal, one fart at a time. My birthday was two months after hers would have been in 2008 and for the first time in 54 years, I decided to stop obsessing about it. Sadie gave me that gift then and it still gives now. Years only mean something if you’re keeping count.