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Observations: Such a good girl

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image Michelle Traphagen Photo

I was lucky to have a friend like Sadie.


Dr. Dani McVety from Lap of Love is a remarkable woman. She came to our house to help us through one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do — and she did help us with her calm and gentle spirit and her good soul.

When Dr. Dani walked in, Sadie was lying on the floor struggling to breathe, but she immediately got up and wagged her butt and her tail for her visitor. And then she gave her a kiss. Sadie saw a good soul, too.

“I heard someone say that it was dogs that domesticated humans,” Dr. Dani told us.

I had never considered that before, but I believe it. Sadie made me a better human; there is no question about that.

The day that Sadie died Michelle told me a hard truth: Sadie was struggling to stay alive only for me. Somehow, I was the lucky one who bonded quickly with Sadie and she always stayed close to me. She would follow me from room to room. In the evenings, I had to share my half of the love seat so Sadie could curl up into the crook of my arm. At night, I left a large corner open for her on the bed so she could fall asleep next to me. I was a very lucky guy.

Michelle was right. The only quality of life that Sadie had left was moving from room to room with me and even that was becoming difficult for her. In the past few days we napped together on the floor and though it was getting harder for her to jump up onto our bed at night, she still managed it. But she couldn’t sleep. Her lungs were filled with tumors and it must have been easier for her to breathe with her head up. I would pet her; she’d lay her head down for a few seconds or even a minute, and then she would pick her head back up again to breathe. I kept asking her to use my body as a prop but she didn’t.

I’m not sure how Dr. McVety does it; how she deals with the emotions that she sees on a daily basis. I’m sure that Michelle and I, broken down in tears, were not the exception. I can only imagine that the gratitude — and I’m talking pure gratitude in our case — makes up for it. She made Sadie’s passing easier, not only for Sadie but also for us. Dr. Dani somehow made the impossibly difficult easier. She is a unique and compassionate woman; a person unlike any I have ever met.

She gave us hugs when she left with Sadie and as she left a huge hole opened up in my life and in my soul. I immediately felt the emptiness in Sadie’s absence and it hurt so very much. It still hurts.

Even at the end, Sadie helped me. She made me a better person. While we were taking naps on the floor, tears would form in my eyes and I realized that over the past year — maybe longer — I’ve let calluses grow over my own heart and passion. I let myself harden in ways that I had never expected. I don’t know what caused it, perhaps problems in life, perhaps just middle-aged cynicism. It must have happened gradually because the only indication that it had happened was confounding to me, until Sadie showed me otherwise.

At one time, I could feel every word that I wrote — literally feel them. Somehow, over the past year or so, I stopped feeling things as I used to and instead I just wrote down words. And then, of course, writing became a struggle; even living became a struggle because I began to live a life that was not mine, a life in which I didn’t feel things so passionately. It was a safer and less painful life, to be sure, but it was a muted life. I stopped being me. Lying next to me, even while laboring to breathe, Sadie softened those calluses and reminded me of my passion for so many things in life. She gave me my life back. I know it’s not a magic switch and everything will be all better at once, but she got me started back on the right path. Now it’s up to me to stay on that path. I wish I didn’t have to do it without her.

Sadie was never “just a dog.”  I can still see her eyes as she looked at me. She didn’t see the horribly flawed human that I am, her love was unconditional. I can’t imagine that I deserved it, but I frequently thanked God for the incredible blessing of being able to take care of her. Although in truth, she took care of me.

Our house is eerily and uncomfortably quiet. Sadie was not a loud dog, but her presence is deeply missed. Something positive about her filled this place for all of us. Sadie was still a puppy when Sammy came to live with us from CARE. He was the size of a football and Sadie took care of him. Each night before bedtime, she would clean his face and she continued that ritual as he went from football to polar bear in size. She did it on her last night with us and Sam is nearly nine years old. I’ve tried to take over for her, using a warm washcloth to wash his face at night. I know it’s not the same, but I hope it helps. He clearly misses her. We all miss her. The tears haven’t stopped yet, and I’m struggling to understand what happened. Sadie deserved to grow old.

None of us are new to loss and it’s easy enough to fall into a sense of despair, to wail and moan and feel sorry for yourself. But for now, that easy sounds pretty good. Just for now. Soon the realization will come that Sadie brought joy to my life and that joy will never die.

During my travels, I would call Michelle each night and when she would sign off with “I love you Mitchell,” I could hear Sadie’s tail thumping in happiness in the background. She knew those words. Over the years, while I gently stroked her head, I made it a point to tell Sadie that I loved her and that she was a good girl. When I was away, Sadie heard me tell her that over the phone, and even though I wasn’t there to pet her, she might still feel like my hand was stroking her soft fur. I don’t know if that really worked, but right now that’s all that I have left.

You are such a good girl. You are my girl. I love you, Sadie.

P.S. Michelle and I are very grateful for the emails and good thoughts last week. Thank you sincerely. For those who wrote to tell of their own recent losses, we grieve with you. And thank you to Dr. Hal Ott and the Ruskin Animal Hospital for the card and kind note. Finally, thank you for reading this column. I promise that it won’t become “Mitch’s Maudlin Musings”. I know there is a tremendous amount of joy out there and we will celebrate that.

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