Sadie Anne Goose, Wolf of my Heart
A few weeks after Sadie died, I sat down on the kitchen floor, got drunk on tequila and tried to weave the pieces of her life and death into a cohesive narrative. It felt important to write a thing, to have some sort of tribute out in the world dedicated to a creature who was by my side for 4,813 days. What I wrote was rough, rugged and raw and every time I tried to push it into something worthy of my best friend, every time I looked at it even, my heart broke and grief blinded me. As the one year anniversary approached last year, it was the same. Now, she’s been gone for two years and still, my heart is broken.
I knew, logically, that I would lose her. I knew I would outlive her, that I would have to say goodbye. I spent a year preparing for it, knowing what was coming. I watched her slow down, watched an inoperable mass on her leg get bigger and bigger, watched her back legs tremble every time she stood. There were days when she’d wait until the last possible minute to stand before it was time for our walks, days when she looked at me and I knew she was just so, so tired. So I knew. I knew I’d lose her.
But, see, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I met Sadie after a Kimya Dawson concert in Richmond on April 1, 2008. I didn’t have a dog, but I needed one. The woman she was with was allegedly fostering her and provided me with an ever-evolving backstory. First, she was a wolf, then she was a purebred husky. “The papers are in mail,” she said. She’d found Sadie chained up in a garage and rescued her, or maybe she just traded her for two ferrets. It didn’t matter, I didn’t care. I took her and then she was mine.
She was, in the beginning, afraid of stairs. She wasn’t housebroken. She ate books, including the Complete Works of Shakespeare. She’d scream if left in her crate and was, generally, a terror. But still, I loved her.
For 4,813 days, she was my wolf. We grew up together. She got me through some of the best and worst moments of my life. She was there when I bought my house, when I graduated college, when my husband had an affair and my marriage imploded. She was there when I fell in love again and there, too, when I fell out of love. She jumped with such joy when I came home from my last deployment that she almost gave me a black eye. She was always happy to see me. She was always ready to steal my dinner. She was perfect.
When she was younger, she loved to escape. She’d slip out the front door as I carried something to car, run down the street full sprint with me in bare feet tearing after her, trying to keep her in view. Sometimes catching her was quick. I’d corner her on a neighbor’s porch and that would be it. Other times she’d run for blocks and blocks, joyfully evading me, tempting fate as she pulled us both in front of oncoming traffic. Once caught, we’d sit on the couch together, tending to our aching, asphalt-sizzled paws.
She snored like no other creature I’ve ever known. It was enough to convince me that she was, in a past life, a truffle pig.
She was smart and stubborn. She liked to sit at the top of the stairs on the back deck, surveying her kingdom. Sometimes, when I called for her, she’d come. Other times she’d glance back at me over her shoulder, just to let me know she’d heard me, and then turn to face the yard again in an act of willful disobedience.
She was kind. She liked to smell flowers and was intrigued by butterflies. And she was good. She was a good, good dog. The best dog. She was my soul pup, my best friend, my world.
Over the last few years of her life, she slowed down. Her mischief meter was maxed out, so she mellowed. She stopped trying to escape. Her senior dog labs raised some concern. Arthritis made her back legs shake almost all the time, even when she was laying down. Sometimes getting up the stairs was really hard and after she was gone, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time she’d gotten herself up onto the couch.
Then, there was the mass. It was on her front wrist. It’s hard to treat a thing like that. If her back legs weren’t so weak, maybe we could have taken the front one, but it wasn’t an option. Maybe we could have tried radiation, maybe it would have helped. But we didn’t because she was 14, because long car rides stressed her out, because I didn’t want the last weeks or months of her life to be a series of scary doctor visits. I knew, eventually, the mass would burst and that, from there, choices would be limited.
Then, in June 2021, I was sitting at my dining table and reached down to pet her. She was, as always, right beside me. She was licking her leg. The mass, I realized, was bleeding. It had split itself open.
It felt, when I saw it, like a crash. It was loud and chaotic in that first instant of realization, and then the deafening crunch of devastation was too quiet. I started crying almost immediately and ran into the kitchen for a towel to staunch the bleeding. I held it to her leg as I cried into her fur and told her over and over how I wasn’t ready, how I couldn’t do this, anything, without her, how I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t fucking ready.
Once I got the bleeding to stop, I told a few friends. I called my vet’s office and they promised to have the senior vet tech or vet call me back as soon as either was available.
That last week wasn’t great. Sadie, always hungry, skipped her meals a few days in a row. Her belly rumbled, but still, I couldn’t get her to eat. She was lethargic. She wouldn’t even take her favorite treats.
When the vet tech called back, we went over our options. We could bring her in for tests, we could see what was going on, but the mass. The mass had burst. It was June. She couldn’t walk around with an open wound on her leg. Maybe, we said, we could put her in a cone, but if these were the last days of her life, I didn’t want her to spend them running into walls. The mass, we knew, was aggressive. It was growing quick, it wasn’t likely to heal on it’s own and even if it did, it would just open again. There weren’t options, and so I cried hard while the vet tech tried to soothe me, while she told me it was ok, that I could cry all I wanted for as long as I wanted and that, when I was ready, she had contact information for end-of-life care providers.
“Ok,” I said. “Ok.”
But still. I’ll never stop wondering if I could have had one more day. Two, three. Any.
That night, Sadie opened the wound back up and I followed her from room to room, applying pressure, crying, apologizing, trying hard not to stress her out and mostly failing at it. I slept downstairs trying to be close to her on what I knew was one of her last nights and woke up on the floor to her panting and bleeding in the dining room.
Pressure, again. Apologizing, again. She bled and bled that time and I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to stop it, was worried she’d bleed out, bit by bit, on the floor beside me until finally, finally, we got it under control.
I didn’t leave her for a single minute those last days. Anything I needed, I had delivered. Anywhere I went she and her brother wolf, Luke, went with me, including to the airport to pick up my friend, Rachael, who flew in to support me through Sadie’s last day, and oh, friends, what a last day it was.
Sadie either loved water, or she hated it. I never really figured it out. When met with a body of water, be it ocean, river, stream or lake, she’d bite it. She hated baths, but she seemed to really enjoy launching herself into a body of water and then biting the fuck out of it. In the early days of me and her, we’d spend hot summer days at the river and I wanted that for her last day. I wanted her to get to bite a body of water one last time.
And she did. Together with Luke and a few close friends, we went to the river, back to the place where she played as a much younger dog. She rallied. She pulled on her leash in a way she hadn’t in months. She was motivated and excited, more than ready, in a way I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. I think maybe she knew, maybe she knew this was her last adventure. Maybe she knew that I needed this experience to bring her joy, that I was trying to thank her for the thousands of days of love she’d given me.
When we hit the rocks, she pulled toward the water, started swimming and biting immediately, without a single second of hesitation. I like to think it felt good to have the weight of her 14-year-old dog bones lifted by the James River.
Later, back at the house, Sadie’s best friend and pet sitter came to say goodbye and it was one more mark of joy for her that day. In the last 12 hours of her life, she saw nearly all her favorite people, had an incredible adventure and then, we cried into her fur and spoiled her rotten for her remaining hours.
Then, the vet came. We went outside and Sadie wandered down the deck steps like it was nothing, like she hadn’t avoided those steps as best she could, like she hadn’t been doing her business on the deck for the better part of a year just to avoid those fucking steps. She seemed determined to show off her last bit of strength to any and all visitors.
Finally, it was time for the end. The first injection sedated her and she fell asleep in my arms, just like so many of our other nights. The second injection let her go. Then, with a coat full of tears from all her best friends she went over the rainbow bridge with most of my heart wrapped up in hers.
It was a good death, one I wouldn’t mind for myself. She went in my arms, my perfect little spoon, snoring as the sedative kicked in and making me laugh one last time.
Eventually, we took her paw prints and her nose prints. I helped the vet carry her out, kissing her one last time and then, again, one last time after that.
It’s been two years and still, I am shocked by the magnitude of the pain. I lost close friends as a teenager, to suicide and accidents. I am a woman born of a chaotic and abusive childhood. I’ve been through a real shitty divorce. But this? Losing this creature? This hurt so fucking much. It still hurts so fucking much. In the first few weeks of losing her, the pain was so nonsensical that I googled it. Was this normal, I wondered, to feel like the air had been smashed out of my lungs, to cry in an uncontrollable sort of way multiple times a day? I joined a Facebook group for those grieving their best friends and continued to cry every day for six fucking weeks.
None of these words are adequate. For two years, I’ve tried to write a thing, and still, it is incomplete. There is still so much to say. How I will always think of Memorial Day weekend as one of her last good times, how I keep two pieces of her hair tucked in the case of phone so that I can always, always carry a bit of her with me. It is not enough. It will never be enough.
I don’t have any advice, no words of wisdom except to tell you that yes, it is awful. Yes, it hurts like fucking hell, like the worst thing, and yes, the love that good, good dog gave me was the best love I’ve ever received, and yes, fucking yes, she was the best, most goodest girl. She was Sadie, queen of my heart.