She was someone’s refuse in the beginning. She found me and Spur one morning shortly before Christmas seven years ago while we were out for a walk. It was cold, and even from a distance I could tell this puppy was undernourished, all skin and bones and belly swollen with worms. When we got closer, she was all wagging tail and eagerness, desperate to be loved. So I coaxed her into following us to the house and imagined finding her a happy home after getting her healthy. We treated worms, a respiratory infection, and then mange, and by the time she was healthy we couldn’t let her go. Mom named her Sugar.
The years we had with here were full of shenanigans. Like the time she time she bit the tire of a UPS truck as it pulled up to the house and got flipped. Or the time when she and Spur chased a couple of donkeys that had broken onto our land. At one point, Sugar had the little jack by the tail and was being dragged along behind him. Once, she spotted a snake on the road in the direction my mom was walking. Charging ahead, she snapped up the snake and flung it away. We always guessed that she was trying to protect Mom. Sugar and my puppy/horse Soldier were best frenemies; at feed time, they would run back and forth along the fence, snapping at each other with mock fierceness, Sugar barking and Soldier stomping his feet. But then Sugar would crawl under the fence to pick up the feed Soldier spilled on the ground, and he would turn a mostly blind eye to her presence.
We thought we’d lost her a couple of times in the past few years. Once she escaped a friend’s backyard–somehow managing to clear the six-foot fence–and was missing for a few days. Eventually, through the magic of social media, we found that someone had found her running along a busy road and picked her up. She was beside herself when Mom and Dad went to pick her up, and she had freshly painted toenails courtesy of her temporary caretakers. Then, just about a year ago, she ran out in front of the mailman’s car and was run-over by two tires. She ran off into the property and Mom couldn’t find her. For a few hours, we all believed that she had gone off to die somewhere, but eventually she turned up, limping on a badly broken leg and bleeding from a couple of gashes, but otherwise unharmed.
On Sunday, she chased after my horse Junebug, a mare that does not suffer fools of the canine variety. No one saw what happened, but she came back limping and it seems likely that she was kicked or trampled. Her kidneys were damaged, and today it became clear that she wasn’t going to recover this time. This dog survived a kick to the head many years ago with just a concussion, survived being run over and then leaped four-foot fences with a heavily-splinted leg and elizabethan collar. There’s a part of me that keeps expecting to find out that it was all a mistake, and she’s going to be fine. It’s happened so many times before. But not this time.
So here I am a thousand miles away and sad. She was my mom’s dog, but the truth is that we all belonged to her. Everyone who spent much time at my parents house were grafted into Sugar’s pack of humans, and she loved all of us. It didn’t take much more than a kind voice and a pat on the head to win her over, and once given, her affections were permanent. She was never particularly smart, but she loved her people well and gave us all a share of her simple, boundless joy. She was a good, good dog.
It seems like such a small thing in this big, sorrowful world, to be sad about a dog. But I have learned these past many years that grief is a house with many rooms. One of those rooms is a gallery of wet noses and wagging tails, soft, contented purrs, welcoming nickers. It houses the heartaches for the animals that have made the world feel a little softer around the edges and helped me to be a kinder, gentler, better human. My life is richer for having had Sugar, and emptier without her. There is space for this grief too.