(C.A.R.E. Name: Sarah)
I had finally graduated from Northwestern University in August of 1992 after some nine years of sustaining a grueling schedule of going to school at night and working a demanding full-time job during the day. Being a AA-personality, I soon 'missed' that crazy schedule though, and I decided to volunteer with C.A.R.E. next Spring--against the advice of well-meaning friends who felt I would be bringing home a multitude of strays. I felt `safe,' however, because `I had no more room' as I `already' had 2 dogs and a cat. My perceived `safety' lasted about a month: when I arrived at the shelter on the morning of June 16, I was directed to the holding cages where new arrivals were kept. My first encounter was with an aggressively snarling big black dog whom I decided to pass up. To the right of him was a quiet but huge German Shepherd, and after just getting snarled at, I was a little intimidated by her size as well and decided to see who was in the cage on the left. And there I saw a lightened big puppy who immediately tucked at my heart. I had to just about drag her out of her cage: she was so terrified that she draped her long body and big paws around my feet and refused to get up. Somehow we finally made it outside into the yard and into the warm sunshine and managed to walk around a bit. Another volunteer was walking the big Shepherd I had passed up. When 'my' puppy saw her, she seemed to recognize her and leapt up to her with excitement and tried to nuzzle with her. But the big gentle Shepherd was too tired and worn out from her ordeals and didn't return the acknowledgement. The person walking her told me that the big Shepherd was the puppy's mother and so I got both dogs' sad stories: they had been dropped off earlier that same morning by a good Samaritan who saved the mother and her two puppies from an owner who was about to kill all three because he couldn't find homes for the remaining two puppies. Well, one puppy had already found a home with another volunteer and the other one was about to find one...
I knew there were other dogs waiting impatiently to get out of their cages to go for a walk, too, but I didn't have the heart to put this terrified puppy back into hers. So I spent the next 3 hours just with her agonizing over whether I could handle 3 dogs. I finally decided to give it a try and drove home to get my other 2 dogs for an introduction. Everything went smoothly and home the puppy went! She had been so traumatized that she slept straight thru for the next two days!
And so my life with Sarah began that was to last but 12 years. She was a beautiful dog -- half shepherd/half collie: she was huge but sweet and gentle. She loved children and other dogs and was quite talkative. Her mere appearance commanded respect from everyone we passed, and many people would cross the street to avoid her. If they'd only known how gentle she was!
Sarah became my self-appointed bodyguard: when I was about to go to sleep at night, she would race up the stairs and be the first one on the bed settling proudly on my pillow. When I got into the bed, she would move to the end of the bed facing the door to watch. Even when playing and running with other dogs, she never strayed too far and always kept an eye on me. I had no doubt that should I ever encounter anyone with ill intentions, she would fiercely protect me. I felt safe with her and she felt safe with me.
In 1998, Sarah underwent an emergency back operation after she sustained something like a slipped disc that threatened her with total paralysis. She had tried to jump up on the bed and slid off. She spent five days in the hospital and I went to see her every evening after work. It broke my heart to see her in such pain and distress. When she finally came home, l wondered whether I had been wrong to put her thru this ordeal. However, she convinced me within a mere 24 hours that I had done the right thing: her recovery was nothing short of spectacular)
She knew she was home and safe again and, therefore, concentrated on sleeping & eating and getting well! A luxury we humans don't have since we still have to tend to jobs, families, bills etc. An animal can truly concentrate on sleep which is the great healer! So soon Sarah was back to romping with her sisters in the yard! It took a little longer for her fur to grow back on her back and she looked somewhat like a reverse 'Mohawk' for a while... She even started jumping up on the bed again with no ill effects!
Unfortunately, no major injury remains without consequence and in the last two years of her life, Sarah suffered from a degenerative spinal cord disorder which first rendered her entirely incontinent and then gradually denied her the use of her back legs. She eventually needed help just getting up ... and walking ... and squatting. Her last year was, for those reasons, increasingly difficult for her as well as for us and I agonized terribly over "when it was time." Again, well-meaning people suggested that it `was,` but whenever I looked into her eyes, I knew she was not ready yet and when we added a Dachshund puppy to the family in March of 2004, she enjoyed playing with him - albeit while lying down. It was obvious that she was still enjoying life! She even made it through the winter, but as summer approached, she could barely walk any more and her legs would crumble underneath her many times on the way to the `bathroom.' In early July, I reluctantly made that dreaded appointment with the vet only to (happily) cancel as Sarah got up by herself the night before, walked to the dog area in the yard without faltering and back to the porch and sat down. I had no clue how she managed to do that. Obviously, she wasn't ready yet! Unfortunately, this welcome reprieve only lasted 10 short days and then her front legs ceased to cooperate as well. She tried to sit up, but was unable to do so and winced in pain trying. In tears, I gave her an extra pain pill and then made that final appointment that would relieve her of her failing body the next day. I knew there would be no more miracle reprieves this time.
I sat on the floor with her at the vet's and cradled her head in my arms as the medication slowly put her to sleep forever. Sarah quietly trusted me to her last breath.
I was grateful for that 10-day reprieve that had allowed me to spend a little more time with her, to give her some extra hugs, to thank her for her faithful love and to say good-bye. I had been grieving over her for a long time already...
I am glad that our lives intertwined that day at C.A.R.E. and that I had the privilege of having Sarah in my life . She will remain in my heart be apart of my soul forever and I hope to see her again ... whole ...one day ... in that place where there is no more sorrow, no more pain, and where there are no more tears...