The Dog that Saved the World -a true story

The years teach much which the days never know- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not long ago, I was sitting on the floor of my garage, sifting through a box of old pictures. You may as well say I folded time and space for the next two hours. I had every intention of decluttering the 3 car garage that barely fits two vehicles, due to all the leftover “stuff’ from the move. Two and a half years ago. (I told you yesterday, I’m good at some stuff. I’m not good at other stuff.) The longer I sifted, the slower I was to place each picture back in the box. I studied each face intently, remembered each person’s voice, recalled the event and some random detail about the occasion. Some photographs, I could not believe had been taken decades ago, and I could recount, vividly, things I had no idea I’d remember in 28 years. I laughed, I cried and, in between, I simply relived phase after phase of my life to this point. Or, rather, to the point when we stopped having pictures developed. Fortunately, as I became interested in photography, I did not stop taking pictures with a -no kidding- camera once cell phones were in every hand. Among one of the best pictures, comes with it one of he best stories.  I unearthed a candid of my first of 3 dogs that owned me in adulthood. Sadie. A chocolate lab, I’d had from the day she turned eight weeks old. In the picture, her first day in her new home. My kids were doting on her in the back yard, and it was impossible to tell who was more excited…them or the dog. We only had Sadie for four years. If any of you read my article “The Promise of Impermanence,” you know how seriously I take owning an animal. In this case, we’d (unbeknownst) moved into a neighborhood where barking dogs were not tolerated. Sadie had never been a barker, but she barked day and night, not adapting, whatsoever, to the change in environment. She was used to being in a big  fenced yard with plenty of room to explore and play. Each time she went outside at the new house, however, she barked incessantly. Eventually, a neighbor alerted the HOA and, with the situation not improving, it was only a matter of time until I contacted Sadie’s breeder, asking for help placing her in a loving home. As the universe saw fit, there was a doctor with whom my breeder worked. He said, “We were working the same shift just yesterday, and he asked if I knew of anyone who had a four year old spayed female chocolate lab they may be looking to place.” Were my ears failing me? That was my Sadie, exactly. Their family wanted an older dog, as they had small twins and didn’t want to go through the puppy phase, nor did they want a dog much older than four, so they still had some good years left with a more mature canine. Based completely on his reiteration of the dog the family was hoping to find, I knew we were supposed to meet. I invited Ben and his wife and kids over later that week to spend some time with me, Sadie, and to see how Sadie took to the family. It was an incredibly hard thing…knowing I was giving up my dog, and that she wouldn’t understand why I’d left her. I cried myself to sleep every night. My kids were as depressed as you would imagine two kids would be who were having the best part of their world torn from them, with no say in the matter. The evening arrived. The door bell rang, Sadie, of course, barked. She always “greeted” guests at the door as if the only reason anyone could possibly be dropping by was to play with her. This time, sadly, she was right. She calmed down immediately upon seeing the 3 year old twins. She sniffed them, lay down in the floor at their feet and whenever they meandered around the house, Sadie was inches behind. The parents were smitten. The twins were in love with this giant, live teddy bear. After an hour or so, we agreed another meeting was appropriate. More for me, I know, than for them. They wanted my dog. We arranged another date at my house and an agreement that, should this exchange take place, we each had the right to veto the arrangement for up to two weeks. If my kids simply couldn’t do without her, or they decided Sadie wasn’t the right dog for them, or if Sadie was simply too stressed out in yet ANOTHER new environment, they could only return her to me. After the 2nd hour of the 2nd visit, it felt strangely as if she was already a part of this family. As we sat in my living room watching the loving interaction of the twins gently patting and hugging Sadie, she seemed to know intuitively she must be much gentler with the toddlers than with my kids who were rough and tumble each time they played. She tolerated every touch to the face by squinting her eyes and showed complete submission and trust by rolling over on her back as they scratched her belly. As one of the twins squealed with delight from a Sadie kiss on the cheek, I looked at Ben and nodded. I couldn’t speak. He said in a barely audible voice, “Are…you sure?” Again, I nodded. I had Sadie’s kennel packed with all of her belongings from her two beds to her food bowls, dozens of toys, balls, treats, her favorite blanket, and all her paperwork detailing her lineage. Not that they could have cared any less about her pedigree. They packed her doggie luggage in the back of their truck and offered to give me a few minutes alone with her. I knew that was all the time it would take for me to impulsively change my mind. “Please, take her, now.” I kneeled, held her face in my hands and said, “I don’t know why, Sadie. I don’t KNOW why.”  She had a way of looking at me anytime I was upset. This look was different. She stepped closer and her head was over my left shoulder. She turned to walk out the door before being prompted, the best gift she could have ever given me. Even if it was instinct to walk through an open door, she was on a leash being held by Ben, and she walked toward their truck. I called everyday. Everyday, the report was the same. She was doing great. Sleeping at night, playful and eating during the day, and not barking unless the doorbell rang. I didn’t understand. But, it made the transition to life without her a bit more bearable. After the two week veto time frame had passed, it became exponentially easier to breathe knowing she was gone, forever. I couldn’t take her back from them, not that I could have, anyway. She had settled in with her new family seamlessly. Three years later, a friend of mine was in the emergency room at a hospital downtown. I was contacted by her parents who lived in Nevada (we were in Colorado, at the time) and asked if I could go be with her. I was on my way before they finished the call. When the doctor came in, he began speaking to my friend and jotting notes in the chart as he mumbled some instructions to his nurse. It was Ben. I spoke up. “You have my lab…” “Her labs aren’t back yet.” He kept writing. “No. You have Sadie.” He stopped writing, he turned around and looked at me like he’d seen a ghost or an angel, I couldn’t tell which. He placed the chart on a chair and crossed the room, kneeled down beside me and teared up. I thought the worst. Sadie is gone. Instead, he proceeded to tell me why Sadie became their dog. “It was a Sunday afternoon. We’d been for a hike with Sadie and the kids. The seven month old was asleep in her car seat. We have three, now.” I’d gathered… “We were working right outside the open garage in the flower beds and decided to let the kids ride their bikes and give the baby time to finish her nap. Suddenly, we heard the neighbors screaming at Sadie to come to them.” Baffled, they wandered the few feet around the house to the corner of the garage to find a bear half way in the open hatchback of their vehicle, where the baby slept in the shade. The bear was sniffing the baby and Sadie was gnawing on the bear’s hind leg. A mere annoyance, it appeared. Finally, the bear turned and swatted at Sadie, and Sadie took the shot to bite the bear in the face. She sustained deep flesh wounds the length of her torso, and the bear didn’t fair well, considering Sadie was a fraction of the size of this wild beast. As blood gushed from its face, it gave up its interest in both the child and the dog and ran away, into the woods. As Ben relayed this story, there were moments he’d pause, look up at me, shake his head and repeat, “She saved our baby. Our baby is alive because of Sadie.” It was then that I knew Sadie had never been my dog. I was her caretaker, a steward of a precious animal created for a purpose much bigger than that of being a mere pet. We all have stories that eventually close a loop on seemingly senseless, wasted series of meaningless events. Suddenly, we can look back and see that all of it, every single bit, was perfectly orchestrated and the cruel pain we once questioned becomes something for which we are thoroughly grateful. That it often takes years to see with clarity and gratitude does little in helping us make sense of today. I have written in several places, favorite books, journals, a reminder in my phone, that nothing is wasted and everything is temporary. This is equally true of the good times and the bad. We are quick to label an event, a circumstance as “bad” when we can see absolutely no good coming of it. Faith is tested, and sometimes, hope is lost. We are left questioning the hows and whys of a shattered plan, a failed outcome we’d worked so hard to manifest. It seems it was all in vain. With enough sunrises and sunsets, a truer picture emerges and with it, the comforting knowledge and understanding that there was always a purpose, always s design and the phase that shook your foundation was a requirement to the unfolding of the a plan made perfect after the pain. Zoom out, sweet humans. Zoom out until you can see beyond the periphery of what a single day holds. In three hundred and sixty five more of them, we will know things , that this minute, we don’t. And, as those years stack and the saplings grow to shade weary travelers, and on our face, the lines of a life well-lived appear…and we see kittens grow to old cats that leave a void in the heart of their human,…and sometimes, a scar on the face of a very old bear who was always supposed meet a chocolate lab by the name of Sadie. And, in this twisted story, a giggling teenager lives today, with one very cool tale of how her life was spared because of the dog I kept safe and loved for four, long, short years, HER dog…until she was needed by her little human, and I could fully see the picture of a plan made perfect, as ripples from that day are infinite. A day that had to be taught much by the years. Peace, Warriors.

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