It’s been often said that people come into our lives and touch it in such a way that we are never the same again. Our lives are different, and more often than not, for the better. And so it can also be said of our pets–those furry four legged animals that come into our lives and ask nothing, giving such love in return. So it was with our collie/sheltie mix, Sara
Sara was a gentle soul from the day we brought her home from an animal shelter in a large metropolitan city. My experiences with dogs, especially collies, were negative. After having witnessed our family collie kill my cat, the event stood out in my 10 year old mind from that day on. Collies were to be avoided. But Sara was different. A shy, quiet girl, beautiful coat, and a smile that seemed to perpetually remain on her face, her gentle nature won me over.
Whether it was from the night she wore the pads off her feet from running in fear from a fireworks display and her licking my face when I was cleaning her wounds, or from the time she tore her cruciate ligament and came crying up to me, she knew I loved her. We shared a bond, as all dog owners do, that would last a lifetime–and beyond. Funny when I think of it now.
Of all her greatest accomplishments, none sticks out more clearly than the day of the chicken roundup. My husband decided he would raise chickens on our little “farm” in the Pennsylvania mountains. Several weeks after purchasing about 19 hens, he decided he’d take a cross country trip to see his family and left me in charge. Me and Sara, as it turned out.
Night was approaching and several of the hens decided they wanted to stay out a little more. Our home is prone to critters such as fox, weasels, fishers, coyotes, and bears. So it was no wonder I wanted them back in the coop and quickly. Several walked in on their own, and about seven remained. And it is here where the bond between dog owner and dog became stronger. I chased five chickens back into their fenced yard, by forcing them around the back end of the coop, down past the fencing for their yard, up the other side, and pushing open a gate to let them in. But two remained. Sara was watching my antics, and seemed to have caught on quickly, as out of frustration I looked at her and thought maybe she could help.
With a look of “Let me try, Mom” on her face, I replied verbally, “Okay, it’s your turn”. With no further instruction, she corralled one chicken, then kept it along the long side of the chicken yard fence as she pushed it gently down toward the end, and up the other side, never letting it stray; much like a collie would herd sheep. There I was waiting for it at the gate. One down, one to go. A repeat performance of the same tactic and all chickens were accounted for. It was that one moment–that one snippet of time Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, talks about where you maintain your energy and the dog will understand, that she picked up on and knew what I wanted. Really simple, really quiet but VERY effective. We never trained her as this somehow came from within.
Remembering that sylvan day, a few years back, she and I decided we’d take a four mile walk up Broughton Hollow Road and return. On top were fields of corn and hay, and the cerulean sky above with its white billowy clouds made the day more special. I’m reminded of the album covers of the 1970’s rock group, It’s a Beautiful Day, every time I think about it. While walking back, I looked over at Sara, who was happy, smiling, panting because she was worn out. I swore I saw a twinkle in her eye. Coming home, she looked at me as if to say, “I’m exhausted but I’m happy. Thank you.”
Her pleasant playful demeanor came out during two occasions: One, if there was a half empty soda bottle nearby and the other was if it was snowing outside. You couldn’t leave a soda bottle out for long. She’d run by you, like a bolt of white furry lightning and snatch it, only to jaunt just a few steps away, out of your reach. And then turn back around to taunt you with it. When you’d try to grab it from her, she’d take off, galloping away, tossing the bottle in the air and catching it.
And the snow. Sara was born in Southern California, and lived there with us for several years. But when we moved to the Pennsylvania mountains, she was in her element. From the first day we introduced her to the white powdery stuff, she was the most playful. She’d stick her nose in the snow and toss it at you; then run off. She soon acquired the nickname of Rocket Dog, because of her strong running, and jet action speed.
Sara never gave up. With several trips to the vet for such things as her pads episode from the fireworks, the skin issues she was having due to the food I was feeding her (she was allergic to corn), to the tear in her cruciate ligament several years prior and our decision against surgery. When the dreaded Geriatric Vestibular Disease diagnosis came down and we had to teach her how to walk again by carrying her with a sling, she never gave up. The vet told us that collies live to 13, and we had her for 16, minus the two years she was when she came to us. During the last two weeks before she died, she always managed to maintain her sense of spirit, trying to move her aging body just to be near us, but couldn’t. We’d try to carry her as much as we could. She was shutting down, and still, she never whimpered, snarled or bit. When I’d try to move her to make her more comfortable in those final weeks, she’d groan, but never hurt me, even though she was in much pain.
My life isn’t the same now. I’ve lost the four legged daughter who taught me how to reach into that dark part of my soul where sadness and discord once reigned, and look beyond for something more—She taught me how to love.
Good Night, Sweet Girl.