She used to run circles around me. Able to chase dozens of tennis balls up and down the green hills of my husband’s family property. Able to swim out over and over again to retrieve wet objects my brother-in-law threw into the mountain lake. Sadie would run and retrieve until she was coughing from exhaustion.
Sadie used to be one of the kids. Brought into our family 12 years ago by my sister-in-law and her then-new husband, Sadie was a puppy when my oldest daughters were toddlers. There were hardly any grandchildren. Now, there are 14, and all of them know Sadie. They’ve shared summer holidays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, and even Halloweens with her.
For a long time, Sadie was like one of the kids. She got overly excited, woke us with her barking, threw up when she ate the wrong food, went to the bathroom at odd hours of the night, and tended to make smelly messes. Then she matured and became a comfortable companion. A black-haired family member among the brown, blonde, and redheads of the clan.
Sadie is not a classic beauty. Even I, who know nothing of breed standards, am confident enough to say that whatever else may be true of her character, dog-show pedigree is not a quality she possesses. She’s broad; boxy for a Labrador. She’s prone to facial warts, or “beauty marks” as my sister-in-law insists. But she is loyal, friendly, comforting, and patient – maybe more so than any of us.
When my own litter was young, I only tolerated Sadie. I rarely petted or paid her much attention. Mainly, I told her to stay away from my babies, who were laying on the floor in the midst of cast-off black dog hair, sneezing, and learning to roll over.
As my puppies grew into runners and retrievers themselves, I gave Sadie a little more thought. Occasionally taking her on walks, giving her a treat, or snapping her picture. But I’m not really a pet person, so that was enough for me. Besides, the grandkids lavished enough love and affection on her.
The past couple years have been hard on Sadie. Her spirit is willing, but her flesh is getting weak. She naps for large parts of the day. She has diabetes and needs special shots twice daily. She’s going blind from cataracts. She drags her legs, and arthritis is making her stride even more lopsided. She leans against the wall for support when coming upstairs.
Sadie has gotten old, leaving us all to ponder life without her. A reality that may be fast approaching.
So I cherished today’s walk more than usual. We set off with my tow-headed nephew, Sadie’s owner by birth. The six-year-old boy who tenderly waits for his old dog to catch up has spent nearly every day of his life with her. For me, the boy is newer than the dog.
Soon the boy is lured away from Sadie and me by an ATV ride with his Curly-Locks cousin. Youth zooms away. Past us both – the dog and I.
As we match gaits, it strikes me how similar we are now (except for the facial warts). I’m more like the old dog than the young boy. Then, I realize Sadie has outpaced me once again, at least in dog years. She’ll be 84 next week. I’m half her age. I hope I live my life with as much delight and perseverance. And that I’m still walking the woods when time removes Sadie from my side and age slows my step to imitate the lopsided grace of a dog I once knew.
Epilogue: I wrote this story last summer. Sadie passed away in the spring. So, this walk, taken almost exactly a year ago, was the last I ever shared with her.