59: Sadie: Dog from Above

59: Sadie: Dog from Above

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Sadie: Dog from Above

God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.

~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Our dog Sam had died. It was nine days before Christmas, and we were told that my terminally ill father, who lived with us, might also die before the holiday. As my husband, daughters and I hugged each other, it felt like a dress rehearsal in grief.

“In the summer we’ll look for a dog,” I said, but secretly hoped a dog would arrive as serendipitously as Sam had thirteen summers before. For now all I could do was pray for the strength to endure the anticipated loss of my father. And we did have a joyous Christmas with “Pa,” as everyone called my dad.

In the winter days of January, we discussed the possibility of a new pet. “I want a fluffy dog,” said Elizabeth, our eight-year-old.

“I want a big dog,” said my husband Rick. I, on the other hand, have always wanted a “Scotty” dog. Sam had been a stray who found us.

“Mom, I saw a dog on campus that was big, fluffy, and had a Scotty dog mustache. We should get that breed—whatever it is,” laughed Jenny, our twenty-year-old peacemaker daughter.

Pa had his opinions, too. “You can’t go wrong with a herding dog,” said Dad, as we drank our morning tea together. He had been a cattle farmer for most of his life. When Pa came to live with us in the fall, we had been told that his cancer was beyond treatment. But Dad had a positive attitude and was a joy to live with. He and his younger granddaughter watched the winter dog shows on television every Saturday morning.

Only our son Aaron, twenty-four and living in his own home, didn’t have an opinion. “Sam was one of a kind, Mom; we’ll never replace him.” He just felt we should be open to a dog different from Sam. I wondered where he got his wisdom, as I recalled the night the sky must have opened up and a white dog appeared on our lawn.

“He’s the dog God gave us,” I always said.

“Yeah, but the devil makes him shed,” my husband always added about our white Shepherd and Husky mixed breed.

At my friend Marilyn’s suggestion that a dog’s presence could be healing for us and a comfort to my father, we made a list of our needs and spread the word. The right dog had to be about three or four years old (not a puppy, but not so old that we would soon face another loss) housetrained, must love kids, tolerate a cat, and be trained to walk on a leash. It was a lot to ask.

I gave the list to God, and confessed to praying friends my latest prayer: “Oh, Lord, couldn’t you drop another dog from the sky? And, if it’s not too much trouble, could it be one that doesn’t shed?”

No miracle dog came along, but a far greater miracle occurred as the season changed to spring. Little by little, my father seemed to get better. Hospice nurses and surgeons alike were in awe with the results of a June CT scan. My father’s aggressive bladder cancer had not spread in nine months. Without the help of chemotherapy or radiation, his tumor had shrunk. It was a joyous time as we prepared for my dad to have a surgery in July that might give him years to live with us.

Then school was out, and it was summer. Jennifer and Elizabeth reminded me of my promise. On the first day of summer vacation we visited Animal Friends Caryl Gates Gluck Resource Center, a brand new, no-kill shelter in a wooded setting that had opened near our home. The Center also had a copy of our list that we sent after it opened on March 18th.

In the spacious facility that held forty dogs to adopt, the first dog in the first window caught our eyes. A black, fluffy-haired “pony” named Sadie was a dog so big that I shook my head from side to side to say “no.”

“Bouvier des Flandres,” Jennifer read out loud on the poster. “Four months old,” I read. “We can’t handle a puppy....” I started to say.

“Couldn’t we play with her while you get more information?” Elizabeth pleaded. I tried to explain that it wouldn’t make any difference, but I inquired anyway.

“There’s been a mistake,” the rescue counselor said, as he read Sadie’s report. “Sadie is three and a half years old, professionally trained, and would do well in a home with both children and cats,” he read out loud. I couldn’t believe my ears.

“Stand up straight, Jennifer, so your dad can’t tell how big she is,” I said to our older daughter, as I used her cell phone to take a picture of this ninety-five-pound dog that resembled a Poodle on steroids.

At home we learned that Sadie was a rare and noble cow herding breed from Belgium that nearly became extinct from serving Allied Forces as message dogs in World War I and II. It is the dog written about in The Dog of Flanders, the first modern dog story, a book I had fallen in love with when my fifth-grade teacher read it to our class. And to top it off, Bouviers are non-shedding.

But, my husband had to give his approval, too. “There is no way we can have a dog that big,” he said to the girls as they got in the car. But he placed Sam’s old leash in the trunk.

“I like her, but are we crazy?” he asked me by cell phone from the shelter. I thought of Marilyn’s advice: “Listen to your head, but follow your heart.” Sadie’s story was one of sadness. Later, we learned that her first owner was a soldier who served in Iraq.

It was Father’s Day, June 18th, when Sadie became our dog. Our three godchildren visited that afternoon, and Sadie planted herself at the edge of a blanket where the baby was trying to crawl off the edge. That night she settled herself at the foot of my father’s bed.

“You’re a nuisance,” Dad said, but a smiled lingered on his lips, as Sadie sat by his elbow at the card table in his room where we ate all of our meals. Sadie was everything I’d prayed for—although my husband felt we had traded shedding for drooling. Just as nobody is perfect, Sadie did have one bad trait. She barked like crazy when someone arrived at our door.

My dad looked forward to his surgery, although he had a distant look in his eyes, and I wondered if the operation would be too much for him. Nine days before the surgery, life threw us another jolt. On a Sunday morning just before breakfast, Pa had a massive stroke that left him unable to respond.

One late night, Sadie stood by Dad’s bed just looking as my husband and I sat on the sofa beside him. “Oh, Sadie-Girl, you don’t understand,” my husband said. Sadie turned, slowly walked to Rick and sunk her head deep into his hands as her eyes met his.

“Oh, Girl, you do understand!” he said, and hugged her as if they were Timmy and Lassie.

It was July 18th, exactly a month after Sadie had arrived, when my father departed. As we group-hugged beside my father’s bed where he lay, Sadie was in our midst. It was a peaceful setting, with the girls on the porch swing and Sadie at their feet, when our son helped the undertaker carry Pa on his final trip down our stairs. As they emerged from the house, Sadie scrambled to her feet and stood at military attention. She never barked once.

~Jane Miller

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