Fourteen years to the day yesterday, Sarah arrived. The neighbor dog who liked to wander the neighborhood, a sweet golden retriever who didn’t appear to like her own home, brought a stray Sarah right to our door. We were living in Pennsylvania in our first house. It had a huge grassy lawn Bill had to mow, and a spacious fenced-in yard that was plenty of room for the dog family. Sarah was thin and appeared to have just had babies, was skittish and nervous. She was young, about two years old, and appeared to be dropped off in the country to wander. She immediately took to our other beagle, Lilibeth, and they ran around in the grass and played. She was a mixture of sweet and a handful those early days. Bill said the famous words we now laugh at its absurdity, “On Monday we will take her to the shelter.” Monday arrived and it was too late. Sarah was already becoming a family member.
We learned more about her. She barked at everything. And I mean, every little outside sound. The one neighbor across the street, a cranky old man, complained. I jumped every time she barked knowing he would make some noise. She hated the car. And that’s an understatement. She’d navigate in a state of panic the seat to the floor to your lap and always lost her bowels at a point in the trip you couldn’t pull other. (I don’t miss those days). I still have a lasting scar on my leg from one car trip of her gripping down in terror. Lilibeth, once she decided Sarah was her sister, now didn’t like her and they competed like two sisters would. (I think Lilibeth wanted to be THE beagle girl of the house.)
Surprisingly, Sarah did fine on our one-way trip in a RV with the rest of her animal siblings to live in Arizona, and then her adventures really began. I have the funniest stories about Sarah and her curiosity and courageousness. The first place we rented was a tiny trailer we were not fond of. Lucy, our basset hound, got along well with Sarah, but perhaps, from the stress of the move they had a little tiff. Lucy had grabbed ahold of Sarah’s ear and if you know anything about dog ears, they are big bleeders. Because it itched, Sarah shook her head and zoomed around the tiny trailer in a panic. When we came home, we found what looked like a murder crime scene. There was blood on walls, floors, furniture; all from one ear. Sarah looked at me, looked at all the blood, and telepathically I heard her panicked voice, “Am I dying?”
Several years later, when we lived in our beloved Rio Mesa house in Cottonwood, Sarah liked to wander up the hill to visit a cute, male black labrador, and on one occasion came home looking like a pincushion. Apparently, she had a fight with a cactus that got in her way. The veterinarian spent most of her afternoon pulling needles out of strange places on Sarah, including her tongue.
I watched once in my own panic Sarah run into the road and a car slammed its brakes. She stood in the road and barked at that car for five minutes, telling it off. How dare it be in her way just like that cactus!
When Sarah could see she loved to play frisbee “flippee floppy” with her dad. She was expert at catching very high throws. But what I always thought was so remarkable about her is when I came to watch the game, she always made sure I was part of the fun. Bill would throw her the frisbee, she’d retrieve it and run back to me to give me a turn. Then she’d give it to Bill. She never wants anyone to feel left out, perhaps like she felt with her first family before us.
Our little family hit some seriously bad times when we grew and moved to another town in Arizona. I remember stumbling out of bed in the middle of the night, making my way to the floor in another room to just kneel and cry. It was one of those dark night of the soul evenings when I was truly miserable and broken do. As the rest of the family slept, Sarah woke up and followed over to me. She cuddled me close the rest of the night trying to take away my tears. We became bonded for life in that moment — my dog best friend and I.
A few years back when I restarted my life, it was just me and Emma and Sarah (and the birds and Speedy) to fend on our own. Sarah was already getting very old, had lost her sight, and then had her battle with Vestibular Syndrome, which left her head stuck in a permanent cock to the right perhaps mirroring her natural curious state she still carries. She surprised me many times over with her stamina in spite of her health issues. She’d bump into walls zipping around the house, and still does. The neighbor kids would watch me walk the Girls and always say, “Wow. She’s really old.” I could feel her grimace beside me. Sarah sees herself as a puppy inside. Her kindness and sweetness have grown even more in her elder state, she’s ever vigilant about watching over both me and Emma.
And now we are winding down in our journey. She’s over sixteen years old and the vet discovered in spite of her holistic diet and herbs, she now has liver cancer. It’s her exit illness; I know that. I hear her now often in my head — we are constantly communicating. She worries about both Emma and myself, how we will do when she’s not physically here for us. I worry about that too. She’s been a constant in my life and part of my support system and family. My foundation is being uprooted. I don’t know how I would have survived my last few years without the love and companionship of Emma and Sarah, my dogters. But I know her body can’t keep this up. She’s tired and I hate seeing her suffer at all. In spite of her pain, on her good days, that Sarah curiosity gets her stuck behind toilets, or under table chairs. She still wants to walk with us on some days even though she drags along. On days I think this is it, she surprises me with a burst of crazy energy. She tells me to stay close. I know with no doubt I will, even when she is in spirit and I can’t touch her soft fur I took care of for so long.
I don’t know what I will do when she crosses over to be with Foxy, Lilibeth, Jake Jake, my Mom and grandmother, and a slew of birds she knew. She will be in great company and I know they will take good care of her. Then she will be like the rest of them, popping in now and then to give advice or to nag, or maybe even give a little spirit hug. But for now, she is here on the physical plane, right beside me, with a few leaves stuck to her paws from some crazy adventure she just had on the back deck. I am sure later in the day, I will find her stuck under the table again, trying to find a quick way to get around the chairs. Thanks to Sarah I am learning my biggest lesson. I am in the moment, which I never am. I am either back there or in the future.
Love you Sarah. It’s been a privilege to be a dog mom to such a devoted and courageous spirit, and I will enjoy every minute now.