Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Sadie & Sharon
When my sister died in 1995, I lost the person I loved most in the world. She was beautiful, smart and funny, but the gift that made her really remarkable was her ability to accept people as they are - it's a gift bestowed upon almost all animals, but few human beings. When Sharon died, she left behind two young-adult sons, a Golden Retriever and a 15 year-old cat named Lucy. Everyone had a place to go but the cat. I had two dogs of my own, but i took Lucy home with me and gave her a doughnut bed on my sofa where no one was allowed to harass her. To her credit, she made the adjustment and lived two more years before passing on at the age of 17 from renal failure. When she died, we buried her in my mom's back yard. I remember digging the hole in the rain one awful, chilly day, tears running down my face, sobbing the whole time. Losing Lucy was like losing my sister all over again.

Six weeks ago, I got a call from a shelter volunteer in central Illinois that caused me to revisit this sad chapter of my life. The volunteer had been contacted by a woman who, coincidentally, was also named Sharon, about a mama terrier mix with five puppies. Sharon had neither the room nor the means to keep them all and had asked if the shelter would accept them. Wanting better for a nursing mother and her pups, the volunteer contacted me. Which is how I came to be sitting in a Target parking lot in Shiloh, Illinois on a day that took the pugmobile's air conditioner to task.

Sharon pulled up in an older, faded blue Chevy Impala with a mashed front fender. She was, I estimated, in her sixties, a plain, country woman who immediately hugged me. I asked her where the mama and pups had come from.

"My cousin died all of a sudden. He had three dogs. We found homes for the others, but nobody wanted this one because she was pregnant." I looked inside to see a small black mutt with one eye covered in mucus and five puppies gnawing at her. "She's a real good dog. Everyone told me to give the pups away, but i just can't do that. And I don' want this to happen again." She began to cry. "I miss my cousin so much. I'd really like to keep her. I just love her! She's a real good dog. Housetrained. Follows me everywhere."

"What's her name?" I asked.

"Sadie," she answered. "Thank you so much for takin' her." 

Over my years of rescue, I have seen a lot of family members who, on the death of a pet-owning relative, can't beat a path to the local pound quickly enough. I was pretty impressed by Sharon. Most of the time, when I meet people from rural areas, they're dumping dogs or selling them, or simply allowing them to breed freely. Here was a countrified lady with no money and no fancy education. Yet she was truly trying to do the right thing for these animals. She cared. 

"Do you think I could get her back after the pups are weaned?" she asked. "She's a real good dog." I looked at Sadie, who in turn eyed me with suspicion, and I looked at Sharon wiping away tears. I could see how hard this was for her.

"Well," I answered, "she'll have to be spayed and microchipped.  That's the law in Illinois.You will have to reimburse us for those, but we can probably get her vetted and charge you our cost." I gave it some thought...about a heartbeat's worth. "Yeah, I think that'll work."

"How long will it be?," she said brightly. "Do you think I could come and see her?" She sounded almost childlike."I'm really gonna miss her, she's such good company."

"It might be best to wait - we don't want her upset. But here's my number. You can call about her anytime you like."

Sharon wasted no time - she called that night, wanting to know how Sadie was settling in. She reminded us that Sadie loved her chewy bones in the evening, and we gave her one that Sharon had sent with her.

Watching Sadie with her bone, and the five little rat puppies snuggling beside her in the cuddler bed beneath my computer desk, I thought about the tenuous threads connecting us to the people we love. Sharon missed her cousin, who had clearly been a force in her life. Taking in his pets, despite her limited resources could not have been an easy thing to do. But it was the right thing to do. I admired her, and understood why she had done it. Every well-loved pet, I thought, carries a little piece of the person who loved them. Shared grief, too, is a powerful bond.

I thought back to when my sister, Sharon, was alive and the relationship she'd had with her cat, Lucy. When Sharon arrived home each day after work, the first thing she did on opening the door was sing out, "Where's my Loooooooooo-ceeeeeeeeeeeee?" I can still hear it. Lucy, the fat black-and-white feline diva, would come bounding toward her meowing excitedly, wrapping herself in and around my sister's ankles, all the while gazing up at her adoringly with big yellow eyes. Lucy always made my sister laugh. I remembered Sharon's delight at the mischievous way Lucy would lay in wait around a corner for her silly puppy to walk by, then POUNCE and send the pup scurrying for cover!

Lucy, who slept on Sharon's bed every night - she who rolled rapturously in sprinkles of catnip, something which always evoked joyous gales of laughter from my sister.

So many wonderful memories. Good happy memories that crept up in after the pain.

The other Sharon called several times over Sadie's hiatus with me. I think she would have called more had she not been afraid she might annoy me. Most evenings, Sadie would sit on the floor next to my bed and stare at me for awhile. There was always a question in those eyes - I know I'm going home, but when?

Finally the day arrived when mama's pups were weaned. Sadie was able to be spayed. I kept her one more night after the surgery, just to be certain she was recovering properly, then called Sharon. She met me that same afternoon back in the same Target parking lot as soon just as quickly as I was able to get there. Sadie marched around the van to Sharon and sat squarely in front of her, eyes locked, tail thumping madly. She was going home. She knew it.

I asked them to pose for a final photograph. Then I went over instructions for Sadie's suture removal and microchip registration. I gave them four bottles of artificial tears and some antibiotic ointment for her dry right eye, along with Sadie's records in an envelope. Because Sharon had been willing to pay for Sadie's veterinary care despite the financial hardship, I charged her nothing. Being able to ensure that doing the right thing pays off for the doer is a gift all it's own.

After I delivered Sadie, I thought a lot about my sister and her Lucy. I thought about the threads connecting two people long after one of them has left this life. Those threads might be a place, an object or a well-loved pet. The way we treat those treasures says a lot about who we are.
Of course, pets have souls. Somewhere my sister, who now looks just like her high school senior photo, is sprinkling catnip for a happy black-and white cat with huge yellow eyes. Sometimes my eyes well up with tears of joy just thinking about the moment when I get to see them both again. It's coming.
One day, I'll get all my dogs back, too. I'm counting on it.


Krista P said...

Maybe it's the post-pregnancy hormones, but this made my eyes tear up. Nothing like love/family/pets, right?

Melanie O'Brien said...

Yes, I believe you are right.

Pam said...

I teared up too, but I'm way beyond post-pregnancy hormones...years & years beyond. Melanie, thanks for sharing memories of your sister & the story of Sharon & Sadie. P.S. I haven't updated you in forever, but Sophie, Mae & Lilith are all well, spoiled as can be & living the life.

Tammy said...

I love your stories! They make me happy and bring a tear to my eye!