Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Sarah, this is your story. I love you, girl.
We brought you home just over four years ago. It was Superbowl Sunday and we had no intentions of bringing a dog home that day. We were newly-ish married and couple of months in to trying for our first baby. Willy’s parents were in town as were his brother and my a-couple-years-later-to-be sister-in-law.
I don’t usually share the story of how you came into our lives because it’s not one I’m particularly proud of. But we didn’t walk in to that pet shop with any intention of bringing an animal home. I blame my in-laws (said with a “who, me?” look on my face), who we followed in the pet shop doors.
You were the only boxer in a sea of chiwawas and other little dogs that fit in designer hand bags. And you were absolutely stunning. Even to this day, we’ve only seen a few with your same coloring and even fewer with your same petite size. Sensing that you needed some time away from that glassed-in cage, we brought you out to play. I had on a pair of leather sandals I had bought in Mexico and you nibbled at them non-stop. With your significant underbite (something we’d tease you for numerous times in the years that followed by tucking your lip under your bottom fangs so you looked more-or-less ridiculous) your nibble wasn’t anything more than a tickle and Willy and I both found you amusing.
We left the store and headed home and couldn’t get you off our minds. All that pent up energy, all that beauty. We always talked of getting a dog, eventually; Willy grew up with “Mark” and me with “Casey” and neither of us expected to raise our future children without a four-legged friend. And all that talk of a baby to come made the timing for the addition of a four-legged friend feel more right.
So we called the pet shop. And a few hours later you drove home, curled up in a ball, on my lap. We wondered where all that pent up energy went as you laid so contently there for the entire ride. In time, we would learn that your sweetness could rival your playfulness on any given day.
Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant with Hooper. I always attributed my luck in getting pregnant so soon to you.
We dealt with kennel cough and giardia, which paled in comparison to the vet bills that would come in the following years. We had you spayed because Bob Barker told us to and when you developed aspiration pneumonia afterward, we saved your life. We were totally unaware how many more times we would save your life in the years to come.
I took you to the dog park often in those early days. You were always the fastest dog in the park. You got slammed in to a tree the first time we ever took you and were checked out about a week later for what the vet was thinking was some weird neurological disorder; I think that was one of the few things that mysteriously disappeared on its own. But still, it was one of the first of what would turn out to me many heath scares.
Shortly before Hooper was born, we hired a dog trainer to help us get you under control. You had so much energy. Even taking you for a walk was difficult. We couldn’t go down the street we coined “squirrel alley” without dislocating a shoulder. And there were many, many of times we ran around the neighborhood like chickens with our heads cut off chasing after you. You loved bolting out that front door. In hindsight, it had more foreshadowing than a Shakespearean play.
We referred to you often as the “beauty queen” because you were so beautiful, but not that bright. You would have referred to Iraq as “the Iraq”, I’m sure of it. You let your nose lead you, no matter what. You were bit by a rattlesnake on two separate occasions and stung by a bee twice as well, sending you into anaphylatic shock both times. I ran red lights to get you to the best vet in town each time. We saved your life all four times. You spent your first two to three years on antibiotics for various and numerous infections.
You loved the boys and were great with each of them from day one. And when Hooper started eating solids, we quickly discovered the true benefit to having you around. With the exception of spilt, thrown, or spit out blueberries, I’ve never had to clean under the table.
You earned many nicknames and one seemed to morph into the next; “Sarah-berra” became “berras” which became “berra-solnz” which became shortened to “solnz”, and ultimately slightly changed to – what the boys knew you as – “Golnz” (pronounced with the slightest hint of a Spanish accent).
We fell in love with you and we fell hard. And that’s why the end of your story is harder to write. My eyes are teary and that lump just won’t leave the back of my throat.
We started Thursday just like any other day, albeit a later start compliments of daylight savings and with a packed agenda that included packing up our entire home with hopes of being completely moved out by the following day.
I opened the front door to start putting the boys in the car (they were going to spend the day with my parents so we could get the packing done) and you bolted out after a squirrel. Though not entirely uncommon, in the more recent years this behavior has lessened considerably. It was not uncommon for you to hang out, unleashed, in the front yard while the boys played.
You ran clear across the street without any thought or care in the world. I yelled for you to come back and the hysteria in my voice brought Willy out to help. I told Willy how you bolted across the street and would be dead, for sure, had a car been coming. I started putting the boys in the car in between yelling for you to come back and as we both stood there calling from the curb, a minivan started coming. It happened in seconds but when I replay it in my mind, it runs only in slow motion. I turned, after seeing you get hit, knowing I would not be able to emotionally handle seeing the aftermath. Confused, you tried to bite Willy. I yelled a yell that brought neighbors out of their homes. I heard you squealing, in obvious pain and distress. I saw the helplessness and shock on Willy’s face as he fumbled to get the keys to his truck and drive you to the nearest vet.
Before you left, I came over to the side of the truck to see you. Something in me knew that it would be the last time I’d see you alive.
As a nurse I’ve dealt with a lot of people “circling the drain”. I’m called to act fast and act smart often. But when it was my own, I became a coward. My emotion overtook me and it took everything I had in me just to look at you.
You took your last breath in Willy’s arms, on the way to the vet. It’s a part of the story I’ve had to beg and plead for. It’s been difficult for Willy for share and difficult, though necessary in my own healing, to hear.
Willy watched as they tried to revive you and when he couldn’t stand watching what appeared to be a fruitless effort, he asked them to stop. By the time I got there, you laid on a table with a white sheet covering you, your collar with a dog tag in the shape of a bone with a dent in it, at the end of the table on top a paw print the technicians had made out of a piece of clay.
We pulled the white sheet back so we could see your face. You looked so peaceful. No longer fighting, no longer in distress. I stroked my favorite spot, just behind your ear. You were still warm and I wiped the blood from your nose. It was the first time since that accident that I actually felt good about something. I thought it would be hard to see you there, lifeless, but it was incredibly empowering and beautiful and peaceful. The only hard part being that it had to end.
And so we left with your dog tag, your paw imprint, but not you. And that hurt so bad. It still hurts.
People tell you the pain will get better with time, but in that initial shock, you know nothing more than that moment.
We went on with the day because we had to. It felt like the whole world stopped and I cursed those empty boxes for not being able to fucking fill themselves.
It’s taken me a few days to write this because the words don’t always find their way out so easily; they hide in the crevices and slowly start seeping until they more-or-less torment you to give them a voice.
They say everything happens for a reason. It’s taken me a few days to sit on that cliche and think about why this had to happened and I still don’t know the answer. I’ve tormented myself with replaying the situation over and over in my head. Maybe we should have stood in the street as we were calling you so that the car would have seen us? I feel guilty for not doing so. I feel guilty for not living more carefully; guilty for allowing you the freedom of romping in the front yard – something you’ve done hundreds of times, but I’ve learned only takes one time to be a disaster. I curse the man in the minivan for speeding and can’t help but think had he been going slower he would have clearly seen the situation unfolding.
I spent that day packing thinking of the boys often. Suddenly everything felt unsafe to me. It’s during times like this that you urge your loved ones to slow down, to drive safely, to take extra care because suddenly you see just how precious and how fragile and how down right mean life can be. And I couldn’t shake Hooper and Van from my mind. I mean, what if… I can’t even bring myself to write the hypothetical… What I will say is that when my neighbor heard my yells for help, his first thought was our boys…
Someone told me that they once read somewhere that moving is second only to divorce in terms of stress in a relationship. And I totally get that now. There are a lot of things to argue over and a lot of things that need to be done. But sadness filled our home instead. There was no arguing and no bickering and in it’s place were loving moments of embrace. In between filling boxes, we’d hold one another and sob. And so, the sadness took precedence over the stress. And, in a weird way, I am grateful for that.
I think about the fact both Willy and I were there, curbside, to see it happen and how traumatic – for both of us – that was. But I also think about how hard it would have been to have come home and heard from a neighbor. Or I think about my grandma, who is in her 80’s and thinks rules and laws are for the birds, and how she would insist on walking you without a leash saying, “She never runs away when she’s with me“, and how I would have to deal resentment and anger and her with guilt had it happened on her dime. In the end, even though it was traumatic to watch, I’m glad we were with you in your final minutes.
On the brighter side, it feels good to feel. Not only a part of being a live, but actually feeling alive, is allowing tears to run down your face. The taste of those salty tears feed my soul in a way I cannot describe except to say, maybe I needed this sadness. The lady who cares for the elderly couple from across the street came over when she saw me giving some stuff away to the drunk guy in the pickup truck who comes around the day before trash day to scavenge through the filled trash cans. She saw your food and water dish sitting next to a pile of garbage (I had made Willy take it out because every time I walked past it I kept getting the urge to fill it and the thought that filling it would be pointless was causing more tears). She asked if I was getting rid of it and I told her yes and explained what had happened that morning. I started to cry. Through broken english and tears coming from her own eyes, she confessed that she often told the elderly couple how nice of a dog you were and how you protected our boys. We hugged and cried more, together. And, well, maybe I needed that random human connection; a reminder that we all share one another’s sorrows. Sometimes sadness is a blessing; when you’re content and life’s waves are neither big or small, nothing – good or bad – really knocks you off your feet. Again, maybe I needed this sadness.
The last night we spent in our house, you and I spooned. It’s something that happened most nights for a few hours before Willy would kick you out into your own bed but this night was the best cuddle we had ever had. You was under our covers, your head on my pillow next to mine. And though that memory brings tears and sadness to my heart now, and perhaps a little anger for what will no longer be, I trust that in time it is memories like that that will put a smile on my face.
The night we moved, two of our friends came over to help us load boxes into the cars. And, as they were doing so, a dove – with an olive branch, no less – landed on fence just outside the door. When I heard that, Sarah, I knew you were safe and at peace.