My lovely, crazy, loyal, loving dog died today. We had her put to sleep. She was around fourteen years old. I got her in 2003 off Craigslist from someone who rescued her from the high-kill Pinole shelter so I never knew much about her. They said she was around two when I got her which would have made her fifteen this year, but she gained so much weight in the first few months I had her that my vet at the time thought she was probably closer to a year old when I got her.
I grew up with dogs though my mom really did most of the work. I wanted a dog for years as a young adult and spent hours at my less-than-fulfilling desk jobs look on Petfinder.org and Craigslist. When I found Sadie I was living on Steiner Street in a huge Victorian with four roommates. I didn't ask any of them if I could get a dog. I thought I was just fostering her, that's what I told them too. But the first time I took her to an adoption event as her foster mom, tying a bandana around her neck like they tole me, like the other animals up for grabs, I knew I would be keeping her. My roommates were not thrilled. More like pissed. The first night she was home, after getting spayed, I went out with some friends and a roommate ending up taking care of her. I often did not deserve her.
She was completely nuts for a long time. She was afraid of furniture. Wood or linoleum floors. A couple times I had to pick her up and carry her out of a house after she'd crossed the slippery floor and then refused to cross it again. Afraid to get in the car, afraid to come inside the house. She barked at every black man she saw which was incredibly awkward for me. I kept wanting to shout "I didn't train her to be racist, I swear!"
She was house-broken and trained as far as knowing how to sit. She pulled like crazy on the leash. I had no idea how hard it would be to have a dog. How hard it would hit me right in the place where I have some of my biggest struggles--dedication to doing the same thing over and over, showing up and taking care of someone even when I didn't feel like it. Giving a whining being love and affection when the whining made me crazy. I yelled at her more often than I would like to admit. I was impatient. I was not as good at being a dog mama as I thought I would be.
The first time I took her to the beach she was, and still is, the closest thing to joy in living form I've ever seen. She embodied pure, deep, true joy. She ran and ran and ran, blood pumping, legs stretching, tail flying. She looked like she felt free and fully alive for the first time. I will never forget that.
I took her to Alamo Square park every day, twice a day. Those were her dog park years. We made dog park friends and it was a good routine for both of us. She would steal these soft little squeaky balls from other dogs and run huge circles around the park forever until I despaired of every catching her and getting the ball back. She drove me crazy. She tore up every toy she ever had except for these soft, rubber squeaky balls with the little faces on them when I finally got her some of her own.
She slept in my bed, all seventy pounds of her, and I always had sand and black dog hair in my sheets which was disgusting. I eventually kicked her out of my bed and she was pissed and hurt for months. My hairdresser Rosette scolded me for kicking her out and told me I should let her back in but I didn't
She drank tons of sea water at the beach as though she was dying of thirst and could not tell that it was salty and not thirst-quenching. And then she would puke all over the place. She rolled in any dead thing she could find--dead seals were the worst. She rolled in shit many times and I would have to wash it off her, cursing her all the way.
She and I moved at least ten times together. The big Victorian with the roommates first. A studio apartment with just the two of us. Into my dad's house with my ex-boyfriend and me. Into the new apartment that boyfriend and I shared. That's where she first started biting people--mostly nipping ankles but sometimes breaking skin and making me question whether I needed to put her down then. Into a friend's house for a few months where I left her in the beautiful, fenced, grassy yard during the day and she apparently barked all day driving the neighbors crazy but I didn't hear about that until after the fact. Into a big loft apartment in the Dog Patch that we shared with another friend and eventually a new kitten who peed on my bed every day and on the clothes in my closet the other days mostly because he was scared of Sadie who chased him constantly. Into a one-bedroom on Beaver Street where it was just the two of us again. That's where she jumped out of a window for the first time--a high-up window onto the street below where she sat waiting on the corner for me to come home. Out of San Francisco and into the 'burbs where she jumped out of every window in the house at least once and squeeze through a hole in the wall left by the broken air-conditioner. She disappeared that time and I thought I'd lost her for good. A guy down the hill found her running across a busy street and enticed her into his yard where he fed her hot dogs and wanted to keep her. After a couple days he called the animal shelter who called me to let me know a dog matching my description was down the street. She ran away another time, I can't remember how, and some little girls found her up the street. I went to get her from the shelter that time.
She was my animal familiar and a lot of times I didn't really like her. I did not fall immediately in love. I often took out the anger I couldn't or wouldn't direct where it truly belonged on her. She reflected so many of my moods. My anxiety. She started having anxiety attacks a few years ago and we tried Prozac, the thunder shirt. They got less frequent when I started staying home with the kids all day.
This last house was her final house. A huge rambling yard which would be many dogs' version of heaven. She was never one to hang out and explore outside on her own though--she wanted to be where I was. She got depressed and withdrawn when I left her to go on a trip, often not eating until I came back. She got upset when suitcases were packed. I was her person and she loved me in a way no one ever has and I don't think I deserved it. Other people in our lives throughout the years were much sweeter to her than I was. My mom. Terry. Grey. She was a great dog.
I knew it would be time soon. I knew she would tell me. She was in pain and old and mostly blind and pretty deaf. Other people maybe thought it was time before now. But I knew she still wanted to be around, even if it was hard. When I took her in to the vent a couple weeks ago they admired her greatly, saying what a beautiful dog she was, how good she looked considering how old she was. We agreed that we would try to feed her lots of treats and love her while we could. As we were getting ready to go to Vermont for a week as a family Stephanie asked me what my wishes were if it looked like Sadie needed to die while we were going. I was taken aback and appreciative that she had asked because I truly hadn't thought about that. I knew Sadie would want me to be there with her and I just figured she would wait for me. That kinda sums up our relationship. I knew she would do what she needed to to do what I needed.
When I got home from work last night at almost 1 am I knew she would die today. She was done. I laid on the floor with her, stroking her and loving her. I brought her water bowl right up to her face so she could drink. Then I went to bed in my older kids' room because I missed bedtime and everyone was asleep and I knew one of them would wake up soon looking for me. And I wanted to be near them.
I woke up this morning and went to check on my dog and she was laying on our bedroom floor, in much the same spot. She was working harder to breathe. I brought her water again and she drank and laid back down. The house woke up like it always does, with a vengeance. The reality of regular life, little kids needing me, needing stuff, the reality of trying to make a plan so that I could take her to be euthanized filled me with irritation. I wanted everyone to go away, to leave me alone, to take care of everything without my needing to ask.
My dad came. My husband called his parents who are in town and asked them to cover over. I sat on the floor with Sadie and wondered what to do about the kids. What to tell them. How to tell them so it wasn't too scary. They get shots and they go to sleep...how do I explain that my dog, now their dog, is going to die? My husband and I talked about it a bit and he offered to tell them. I wasn't sure yet. And then they all wandered in and it took care of itself like so many things do. I was crying and they could see that. I explained that Sadie was old and tired and sick and that we had to say good-bye to her today. My son cried out, quickly, and then was done. They patted her. In the words of the great Anne Lamott they sat shiva for this dog, in a toddler way, which looked like Cleo bringing in three kernels of dog food and holding them up to Sadie's nose and then handing them to me when Sadie didn't eat them. It looked like Daphne going out to grab fistfuls of dog food and bringing them in to dump into the water bowl, like they have done countless times, only this time I didn't tell them to stop. Lily was feisty and lashed out at her siblings and I asked her to come sit with me a couple times. And then I left them to my dad to watch so I could lay next to my dog, because no matter who else has been in the picture she has always been my dog, and I started saying good-bye.
My teacher. My friend. My companion. My protector. My irritant. My shadow. My responsibility.
My dog died today. She looked into my eyes the whole time, shining with love, knowing she was safe, knowing it was time. She drove me crazy, I wish I could have been better for her, I know I saved her life, and I will miss her so much.