When Sadie came to us, now ten years ago, we didn’t know what we were in for. A bundle of endless energy, she was already almost full grown. We estimated when we picked her up on Beardsley Road, after she’s been abandoned by some inhumane human being, that she was about a year old. She was a pretty dog, some kind of pit-bull mongrel, white and black.
Like many rescued animals, she proved incredibly loyal in a short period of time. At 60 pounds, she doesn’t know how big she is. She’s limber and fast and over-excited much of the time. But when she settles down, she tends to think of herself as a lapdog, snuggling in like there’s really room for her in your seat. She’s smart and learns fast, and she tends to lick everything and everyone like she loves them.
So, it was with some surprise that yesterday morning, she did not just jump out of bed for her morning feed. Usually, as soon as I stir, she is standing at the bedroom door, tail wagging. As I move about the house, setting first water for tea on the stove, preparing my tea-ball, and then getting her food from the closet, she sticks to me like glue. She always eats as if she’s been starved for a week.
Instead, she stayed on the bed, looking up at me with baleful eyes. As a regular human being and one who loves this dog, I tend to anthropomorphize her actions, looks, and licks. Whether or not this is a good thing, I don’t know. But I think I can know when she is in pain or is down about something.
She had vomited three or four times the evening before, adding to the various dog-inflicted tattered ends of our aging infrastructure. She ate, but only a little, which indicated something was going on. But she ate and that was enough to make this doting animal-people lover feel all right. Maybe she just has a bug. By morning, everything will be all right.
But it wasn’t and since I’m on vacation this week, I could take her to the vet. Frankly, that was all I could do. I don’t really know what veterinarians do. All my experiences with them over the years kind of goes like this: Bring in a sick dog. Agree to various procedures and tests costing hundreds of dollars. Wait for a diagnosis. Buy the prescribed antibiotics and anti-nausea medications. Turn down entreaties to buy extra vitamin shots, supplements, and special food. Pay the bill. Walk away not knowing what’s wrong with the dog.
After $800, we had no idea what was going on. I had antibiotics and anti-nausea medications to give Sadie. But she knows the smell of pills and potions from a mile away. Since she wasn’t eating, I couldn’t get her to take the prescriptions covered with various treat-like foods—cheese, salami, peanut butter. In the end, I had to do what I like least and force her jaw open and shove the offending pills and tablets down her throat.
I don’t like doing it for a couple of reasons, the major one of which is that I don’t like having anything shoved down my gullet. The other is purely selfish. This is a powerful dog with a supernatural ability to clamp down on something and not let go. I know Sadie likes me and looks up to me. But I think you can push anyone or any animal-person too far. With my fingers roving around those teeth and tongue, she could have them for a snack, whether she wanted to eat them or not.
Running the risk of losing fingers to an angry dog-person is what you do. It’s what I do, anyway, due to my love for this beast. She has been friendly to me when I was most down on myself. After a day of physical exertion at my job or a day that’s been incredibly hot, cold, or rainy, she hangs by my side, at least from my perspective, to make me feel better about winding up in the job where I did, despite all the education, experience, and maturity I’d worked so hard to build.
Petting, talking calmly and warmly, fluffing her ears . . . these are the least I can do for a dog-person who has constantly provided me with comfort, a place to put my attentions, and an outlet for the love I feel for the world and its people. I tend to think that the love pipeline increases in volume the more love I put into it. For this reason, I have a family and friends, and some of those friends are dog people.
I also keep in mind that Sadie is a dog-person and acts accordingly. As a mailman, I go by the dictum that “All bogs bite.” When I’m on the route and come across a dog, I’m immediately on the defensive. I believe that dogs, like people, have good days and bad days. It’s understandable when a human having a bad day blows up once in a while. For me to think that dogs don’t have their moments is folly. I never know what kind of day that dog who’s coming up to me or barking behind a fence is having. It’s best for me to just be cautious, handle dogs like I would human beings. I try to be nice but have my can of dog spray close. Unlike humans, dogs can’t be talked out of their instincts. And I believe that dogs have a genetic thing for letter carriers, be it an impulse to bite, demand affection and attention, or retreat to the nearest refuge.
So, Sadie and I have spent a quiet day at home. She has eaten a little today. I have administered her medication. All we can do is wait. Now is the time that I wish I could telepathically or otherwise communicate freely with my dog-person. But since people who are supposed to know about dogs’ health don’t have any idea what’s going on, neither can I—particularly since we humans, with all our technology and egoistic confidence in our superiority, have yet to come up with an effective means to understand what our animal friends are going through.
I do hope that this epistle isn’t the penultimate writing on the subject of Sadie. I would hate to have to come back to you tomorrow or next week or next month and tell you that my good friend has passed away or that we’ve had to put her to sleep.
And perhaps that’s the saddest and most painful part of Sadie. She will expire before me. It’s almost sure. But we get into these relationships without thinking at the time of what they always come to if death doesn’t knock on our door first.
This is where I wonder about my own maturity. I ponder my own mortality in Sadie’s. If things work out the way they are supposed to, she will be with us a few more years and then will become a memory. If things work out differently, I will be a memory to her before her demise. Either way, we have made each other’s existence a little better.
I suppose that’s the best we can do.