As she lay there lifeless, I clutched a handful of the hair on her neck. The longer part, probably the result of some German Shepherd bloodline. I’d never realized the overwhelming sense of calm I felt when I had my hand on her. She made me feel safe.
Sandy joined our family 14 years earlier. The first dog my wife and I picked out together. She was a golden, red German Shepherd and Chow crossbreed. At least, that’s what they told us at the shelter.
We’d recently moved out of an apartment and into our first home. It was a a great and awesome feeling. Our own home. Ava, my wife, insisted we get a dog and not a small one. Big dogs always make her feel safe.
Trip to the shelter
So we made the trip to the local animal shelter because “there are already enough dogs in the world that don’t have homes,” Ava said.
As we walked up and down the aisles of cages, dogs anxiously barked, cried, wept and lept for attention. All deserving but only one could go home with us.
We consider pet ownership a covenant between pet and owner, much like a marriage between man and wife, so we wanted to choose wisely. While the other dogs pleaded for attention, I noticed one dog resting calmly in the back of her cage. She was still a puppy, but would obviously grow to be a sizable dog. And she had a calm, sweet demeanor.
She slowly got up and walked over to greet me as I approached the cage. I wanted her. I knew she was the one. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew.
After some quick paperwork to keep her from being snatched up by another prospective owner, she was in the car and on her way home with us. Thus began her journey with our family.
Always faithful, her thunderous bark struck fear in the unfamiliar or unwanted. But she was always gentle and protective to our family.
When she was about four years old, something unexpected happened.
Sandy loved to chase squirrels in our backyard. She never caught one, I think she just wanted them to know they weren’t welcome in her yard. Early one hot, Texas morning, she stood whining at the sliding glass door. The signal she saw something in the backyard.
So I cracked the door and she bolted out as I headed for the coffee pot.
Then I heard something like a cry or a yelp. A sound I’d never heard her make before. From the kitchen, I could see her and I knew something was very wrong. I left the coffee and ran outside.
When I got to her, she couldn’t support herself with her back legs. So I assumed she had dislocated a hip. That’s common in big dogs.
We loved Sandy dearly but we struggled over the decision to take her to an emergency hospital because we could barely pay our bills. Still we had to give her a chance.
The emergency doctor agreed with our assessment that she’ d dislocated her hip and sent her home. But when we got home, we could tell there was more to it. She was paralyzed from the middle of her back. She dragged her legs around for the next couple of days as we considered our options. We didn’t think we could afford surgery, so we started shopping for doggie wheelchairs.
After about a week, Ava recalled a wizened, old country vet in the town where she grew up. An old-school medicine man. She made an appointment for the next day. During the exam, he concluded she was paralyzed. “But sometimes these things work themselves out,” he said, offering a glimmer of hope. Then he injected her with some cortizone and sent her home.
It was a small hope but we clung to it. Every day we prayed and asked God to heal her. Slowly, over the next several weeks we
started to see some improvement. After about a month, she was able to support her own weight. We were delirious and called Sandy “Our miracle dog.”
Over the years, we realized she’d lost some feeling in one of her feet but she tried her best to never let on.
Always eager to walk and run in spite of the occasional stumble.
In her last years, a growth appeared between her back legs. Just a lump a first. But it eventually grew to the size of a baseball. By then she was mostly deaf and blind. We realized she was miserable when she became incontinent. She had blood in her urine for days and was obviously in pain. So I volunteered to be the one to take her to the vet to be euthanized.
The long drive
It was a very, long two mile drive. I cried.
As I sat with her on the exam room floor before the procedure, I could tell she was exhausted and probably in a lot of pain. Her breathing was labored.
I looked into her slightly cloudy brown eyes and saw a dear friend who had gently watched over my family. A guardian.
I tried to recall the good times. How she’d let our 3-year-old daughter push her to the floor and use her as a pillow while watching TV. The way they would play chase in the backyard but, like a good mother, she was always careful not to hurt
“her” little girls.
I said goodbye as the heart-stopping solution slowly entered her leg. I could tell the vet took no pleasure in this procedure but she did it for me, and for Sandy, because it was the right thing to do.
She quietly left and came back a few minutes later, bending over to check for a heartbeat with her stethoscope.
“She’s gone,” she said.
We placed her body in a large garbage bag, wrapped her in a sheet and I cried, a chest-heaving cry.
I cried most of the way home. Deep and sorrowful.
I was going to bury a friend.
I’d already prepared a grave in the woods behind our utility shed. But I didn’t take her straight there. Instead, I opened the tail gate of my truck and sat there with her for a while in the morning sun. She was in no hurry and I needed a minute to finish saying goodbye.
After a while, I worked up the courage to take her to the grave. She was heavy for such a frail friend.
I placed her in the hole, covered her with dirt, then stared at the pile of dirt, knowing she was under there.
For the next few weeks, I wandered back there occasionally to make sure she was safe and nothing had disturbed the grave.
Over time, I stopped going .
People say good friends are hard to come by. Their right. So enjoy them while you have them.