Sage’s path


This is Sage’s path. No, our county did not name it Sage’s path, we did. Our backyard abuts some sports fields and right next to the fields were acres and acres of cornfields for as long as we lived here. About 3 years ago, the owner of those cornfields sold his land to developers. One fine day, we saw and heard big machinery mowing down the green. Like magic, big and small houses appeared, they were sold and bought, within a year young families moved in. Lucky for us, though, the developers kept a swath of land undeveloped and wild as a buffer between the new community and the fields.

As Sage grew older, we shortened the route of his regular walk to the fields so he had enough stamina and also could walk leash free. Every morning, I hung his leash around my shoulder, opened our gate and walked towards the field. Sage, quivering with excitement bounded ahead, but always looked back to make sure I was within his sight. A lot was accomplished during those walks. Bunnies were sniffed out, mom was protected from attacking deer, exciting new smells were discovered, explored and sometimes licked. If mom did not stop him in time, there was some rolling in deer poop. Then there was scolding and shaking of head by mom, followed by a bath when we came home. As Sage explored the wilderness, I freed my mind, breathed in the fresh air and tried to absorb the soothing energy. Even on his last day, I took him to his fields to say a final goodbye. He could not walk far so he took a few steps, looked around. I believe he sighed.

The shadow of the 3 of us on Sage’s path.

Sage left us on January 31st and we began our quarantine on March 13th. During this time of physical isolation, Sean, Sahana and I walked in the fields and the undeveloped area that the developers spared almost every single day. Without a big yellow dog to chase and scold them, the deer, foxes and bunny rabbits watched us walk by. I could almost see a bounding big dog running ahead of us, looking back, saying, “You coming?” We talked about him. We walked through those fields every single evening, reminiscing about Sage but in a good way. That path, for his humans, has become Sage’s path.

Ryan laces up his sneakers saying, “I will go for a run to Sage’s path.” When we ask each other where we wanted to walk that evening we suggest, “Should we just go to Sage’ path?”

I realize grief is non linear. I think of him everyday. I really do. This quarantine gave me so much time to pause and grieve. It gave me the opportunity to get angry at the injustice of losing him and also gave me moments when I smiled at his memories. Each of us grieved in our own unique ways. Ryan’s perspective on this loss was noteworthy and I thought I should write it down.

“I know, mom, you are so sad about his death. I was, of course, sad but I learnt a lesson from losing him. Sage’s death has taught me something new. Losing something invaluable like Sage has taught me I need to value what I have. I am fifteen. Before losing Sage, I took things for granted. My family, my friends, the materials I have. His death taught me not to take things for granted. Nothing lasts. I need to value what I have. I text back my friends more regularly which I did not do before, I try to spend more time talking to my family, I appreciate all that I have. Sage’s death taught me all this.”

Although Sage decided to simply find a permanent place in our hearts, his path remains. His path leads me to peace. It leads Sean to contemplation. It leads almost adult Sahana to a bonding time with her family and perhaps, reflection. His path leads Ryan to a life lesson.

Rest in happiness, beautiful boy.

What grief taught me


Out of nowhere, a catastrophe struck. One Saturday, I took my Sage to the emergency vet’s office because he was slightly shivering. I was concerned but not worried. Maybe it was something he ate, maybe he just needed some medication to settle his stomach. He had not been eating his kibbles for a few weeks but ate everything else with relish – chicken, beef, treats, fallen cheese or tit bits while I cooked. So yes, I just wanted some medicine and go home. The vet came out to tell me that things did not look good. The news was devastating really. My beautiful boy had hemangiosarcoma and he did not have time. As she spoke, my brain did not quite process her words. The finality or the severity of what she said did not hit me till they took Sage in for some more conclusive tests. That is when I called Sean and asked him to come meet me at the emergency hospital.

Within a week we said goodbye to our companion for over 10 years. We wanted a week to love him and make sure the family was with him to say final goodbye. He did not seem to be in pain, just very tired. He went quickly and peacefully. It seemed he was ready. His decline in that short week was incredibley fast and heart breaking. On Friday morning, the day he was going to sleep forever, I took him to a park which he always loved since he was a puppy. He did not have any energy so we just sat on a bench and watched Canada geese in the water. He got up a few times to say hello to some humans walking by. He got a few pets and scratches behind his years. He also gave me the stink eye from time to time because he wanted to walk not sit. I sat there looking at him and allowed tears to stream down my face. His life from the day we got him passed by in my mind. So many memories, so much happiness, unconditional love. His love of snow, his frolic in leaves, his play bows and long hikes, his devotion and unconditional love for his humans. When we tried to go back to the car, he could hardly put one foot in front of the other, he was that weak. I knew right then it was time to let him go. We loved him too much to let him continue to lead a life that was no life at all.

The loss of Sage seemed unreal till the next week when I was all alone in the house. The grief of losing him taught me a thing or two about myself. I grieved and yet I was afraid for the world to know I grieved. I told a few friends how I was really feeling – I did not want to get up from bed, I saw him out of the corner of my eye, I anticipated the clickety click of his claws hitting the hardwood floor but when there was silence I was crushed anew. I looked up at his collar and broke down crying. I opened the door to emptiness when I came home from work. I sat on my reading chair and the space beside it remained empty. The empty space just put a dagger through my heart. My hand was restless to pet his furry head because that was our routine. It gave me a glimpse of what depression can feel like. I sat down on a chair and simply could not or did not have the will power to get up from it. When I forced myself to go for walks I felt I could peek out of a chasm of sorrow but coming back to the house drove me right back into a vortex of despair. I felt physically weak, unmotivated and very, very alone.

Yet when friends asked me how I was or whether I wanted company I was afraid to tell them the truth. I said I was doing ok and I knew it was a matter of time and I would be better. I was afraid to burden them with my overwhelming sorrow. I was afraid of being judged, “Wow, she is going overboard grieving a dog.” In the grand scheme of things, Sage’s life did not matter to others as much with all the sadness and devastating things happening in the world. I was comparing my sadness to the vast sorrow that others feel. So I kept it hidden, I put on a brave face and I laughed and carried on, till I came home to an empty house.

I did (and continue to do) my well wishers a disservice. I am projecting my fears of being judged on my friends who truly would sit with me and let me cry. And not only my friends, I was afraid to tell my husband and my children about my grief. I did not want them to feel bad for me or feel responsible for cheering me up.

Then a friend forwarded me an article. The article talked about not trivializing my loss because there are bigger losses out there in the world. It is not a competition. Only through grieving would I find peace.

I will not get over the loss ever. I know I will heal, I will find peace and I feel I am on my way there. But this loss will always be part of me as will the 10 years of unconditional love that the universe gifted me in the form of Sage. What a gift I was given!

A teenage daughter and now a teenage dog! I clearly need help.


Sage is not a teenage dog, mind you. He is a 35 years old (in human years) dashing gentleman, a convalescing one. He has recently had a surgery on the knee of his right hind leg because he tore it playing amazing soccer (not true, just making it up). But you already knew about that. I already wrote about the surgery, my tears, family’s love, Sage’s bravery and perseverance etc, etc. Now he needs to strengthen his leg muscles by walking on snow, swimming, walking on grass, going up and down the stairs. He needs to do all this but he has to take it slow. ‘Only SHORT leashed walks’ the vet tech warned me. And I am giving him only SHORT leashed walks. And Sage is acting teenagerish – willful, irrational and grumpy.

Every morning as I get ready to take him out, he runs back and forth in excitement, ‘Today is gonna be the day! Today this mean lady, who does not let me have any fun any more will take me for a loooong walk. Today I am going to smell fascinating smells, chase deer, eat or roll in fox poop. Today’s walk is going to be EPIC!’ His eyes say.

I fail him, of course. I walk him for no more than 10 minutes and bring him back. This morning we went in to our back fields but they were full of snow. He started lifting his leg up. So I, assuming his paws were getting cold, brought him out to the streets. He was very happy digging his nose into snow, smelling every mail box and fire hydrant, checking to see if any cats were lurking around or any deer poop that he could gobble up before the mean lady could stop him. But his joy, of course, was short lived. I walked till the end of the street and turned to come home. He looked at me first with disbelief and then stood his ground. The message was clear,

‘YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME, WOMAN!!!!!’

He followed me back but kept turning back, looking wistfully at the path we used to take for our long morning walks before he tore his cranial cruciate ligament. He took extra time sniffing mail boxes that he had already sniffed when we started the walk.

‘Take that! I will take my time and drag my feet and fight you every way without physically resisting you!’

‘Sage, quit it. You are acting like your sister. Very teen agerish! Who asked you to tear your CCL? I don’t want you limping again because of anything foolish like gamboling in the snow or going for long walks right now. Come on now, act your age. We will go up and down the stairs for exercise.’

I had a full blown, loud conversation with my dog as I walked him back. Neighbors, if you were watching, do not be alarmed, I have not lost my marbles yet, I was just having a conversation with Sage.

But if I have to deal with a teenage daughter, a teenagerish grumpy dog, a feather brained tween boy for long, I can not guarantee my sanity.

Surgery


My dog is an awesome football player and perhaps soccer player too. When we all sleep at night he sneaks out of the house and performs crazy feats with Ryan’s football and his soccer ball. You should see his skills, the FIFA and the NFL should video tape him to show the pros. What? You don’t believe a word I say? You should not. I am making it all up.

Sage
Sage

Sage tore his cranial cruciate ligament. For the uninitiated in vet talk, that is your ACL which athletes tear playing contact sports. After Sage started limping and we started conjecturing the various reasons for the limp, I read up on several pet sites about CCL – the procedure, the recuperation, the rehabilitation of the injured foot and hoped and prayed that his limp was temporary. Perhaps lyme disease? Perhaps a bruise in the pad? Perhaps something that will simply go away?

Well it did not. The limp started getting worse and I had no choice but to contact a surgeon. A check up confirmed ‘Yup, he has torn his cranial cruciate ligament in his right hind leg!’ The dreaded surgery was inevitable. The surgery itself is not that big of a deal however the recuperation is. The dog, after the surgery, is supposed to be in crate rest for at least two weeks with only bathroom breaks. Movement has to be severely restricted so as not to cause more injury to the afflicted leg and to let it heal. The idea of crating Sage made me very distressed because he had hated the crate as a puppy and so we, being the indulgent parents, never put him in it. Crate rest after surgery would be miserable for him AND for us. Sean and I took our nervous boy to see the surgeon, she evaluated him, set up a surgery date and then I broached the dreaded question. Does he need to be crated to recuperate? The doctor became my favorite person as she shook her head. She did not see the need to crate an animal who has never been crated. They are already traumatized and in pain, there is no reason to add to their trauma. “Just restrict his movements”, she said. The surgery was done. We knew Sage would be in bad shape but when Sean brought him home, I started crying. He was groggy, his leg was all stitched up and as he walked blood dripped on the floor. He had the hated (by him) cone of shame so he did not bite his stitches.

The stitches.
The stitches.

Home from hospital.
Home from hospital.

The night, as one can imagine, was miserable for him and for me. He slept on the floor at the foot of our bed and cried all night. I cried with him, stroking him and cooing at him. I decided to sleep on the couch letting my hand rest lightly on his body as he tried to get comfortable. I had done the same thing on the first night that he spent in our house as a little fuzz ball, far away from his mommy and siblings. I had kept my fingers on him so he could rest knowing somebody was right next to him. He cried when I moved my fingers. He slept almost the whole of the next day, exhausted and groggy with pain medication but cried again at night.

Slowly, as days went by, he seemed to emerge from this fog of pain and haze. His eyes cleared, he slept less, he started showing interest in his surroundings, he ate, he went to the bathroom. He had to be leash walked slowly for bathroom breaks and then brought back right away to lie down and rest his leg. His cone came off only when he ate or drank. It was not easy. One day, as I upended his water bowl on our hard wood floor trying to support his leg, untangle his leash and put his cone on at the same time, I cried out in frustration:

“It is only January 8th!!!!!! The stitches don’t come out till January 21st! How am I going to do this????”

My stoic 9 year old consoled me, without missing a beat:

“At least it is not January 1st!”

True. Why can’t I look at things like he does? Why is my glass always half empty and his always half full?

Sage slowly healed. But I watched with love and admiration how the whole family rallied around him and helped him in his healing. The children brought their homework next to his blanket and finished next to him. Sahana read her book with one hand on Sage’s back, Ryan watched his videos and shared the screen with him so Sage could be entertained. Sean lay down with him, after work and gave him innumerable belly rubs. I was the nurse, of course – feeding, watering, comforting, medicating, putting the cone on, taking the cone off. Sage was surrounded by a circle of love. We planned out our family schedule for 2 weeks so one of us was always home to keep him company and see to his needs. Our friends, outside my family, who love our boy sent their best wishes for a speedy recovery. All the wishes contributed to the stitches drying, pain lessening. It had to. And Sage? He taught us acceptance of something that is out of our control by going through this ordeal with his usual patience, kindness, perseverance and love. He just looked at us with his soft, beautiful eyes questioning the pain, his helpless state but never our love. He was always ready to love us with wags of his tail and a quick lick of our hands. When he did not doze his eyes followed us around although he couldn’t for a while. And although we were helpless to take his pain, we all let him know that we are standing by his side, cheering him on to the road of recovery.

With Dad.
With Dad.

Sister.
Sister.

Surrounded by love.
Surrounded by love.

After such a surgery, the recuperation is long and painful. But he seems to be doing relatively well. The stitches are gone. He is going for short, leashed walks. He still favors the leg but he is limping less. It has snowed a bit. So he is enjoying pushing his nose down the snowy grounds and coming up with little balls of snow on his reddish nose. His brother takes him out to the fields at the back and they break ice together. He tells me they sit together on a snow covered mound so Sage can rest and they can just look around to take in the quiet surroundings. I ask him to use caution and he tells me he knows he needs to be gentle with Sage since he is still healing. Ryan forgets sometimes and runs around the house. Sage wants to join him and I have to curb both of their enthusiasm. Sahana forgets to do her chores yet she never forgets to give Sage his pain medication. It seems that she has taken over the job of medicating him after his meals. And she is constantly by his side, a calming presence as opposed to her rambunctious little brother. Sage needs them both, one who excites him and the other who calms him down.

We are hopeful he won’t suffer anymore once he heals completely. We dream of taking him on our hikes and letting him do what he loves the most – run free with his human siblings while keeping an eye on his human parents as they bring up the rear. He keeps his pack together and his pack ensures he becomes whole again, with the help of rest, medicine and most importantly, love. And he trusts them and loves them back with all the trust and love that his doggy heart can hold.

Friendship, love, trust, comfort.
Friendship, love, trust, comfort.

I have been duped…


Forgive me, for I have misled you. I have given you false information from the beginning and I am truly sorry. Well, please believe me when I say that I haven’t willfully told untruths, I have been duped.

It all started when the yellow fuzzball came to our house. It was veni, vidi, vici – we were silly putty in his little paws, floppy ears, cute pink tongue and round chocolate drop eyes. He saw the male in the house and very wisely showed him the belly in submission. Now, I understand, it was all a ploy – to sneak into our hearts and make his permanent abode there.

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I took him to Ryan’s preschool for Ryan’s show and tell. The 20 week old puppy lay quietly on his back so 16 little 4 year olds could rumble over him. He didn’t bat an eyelid but savored the love. He was the star student in his puppy kindergarten class. The trainer insisted I should think of using him as a therapy dog. He is an honorary lap dog, he crouches down low so the little dogs and puppies can have an access to his face. He literally whimpers as we walk by the lion-hearted, neighborhood alpha dog Chihuahua’s house. I almost crumble at the behavior of my 94 pound dog and the ultra pacifist, anti-war me urges him to ‘stand up tall since he can eat that little dog for breakfast!’ He doesn’t kill the stink bugs, just sniffs them and turns away. His dad is very curious about what he would do if he ever caught a bunny or a chipmunk.

‘He won’t know what to do with them. He will probably end up licking them and loving them!’ says the man.

I used to nod my head as my heart swelled up in pride for our pacifist, gentle, loving pup. But now, I am not so sure.

Sage has worked hard at building up his image of gentle giant. I puff up in pride as I grant the requests of children and adults

‘May I pet your dog?’

‘Oh sure. He is very friendly!’

It took him a few years to figure out that he really can’t do much damage to the teasing chipmunks and the taunting bunny rabbits in our yard, so he shows them a sagely non chalance. He exudes a ‘I have achieved Nirvana, and you can’t reach my inner peace’ kind of a vibe when the annoying animals come close to his fence. He pricks his ears and watches the blue jays and cardinal couples carefully as they land on and take off from his fence post. I don’t quite know what he thinks of those species who fly around in air. Only the fox who peeks in our yard from time to time is simply intolerable, still. He paces the floor when he smells the fox scent, tells us with his eyes to open the back door and once we comply, he flies out to yell obscenities at the fox and drive him away from the periphery of our yard. But the beautiful fox points out the futility of Sage’s manic behavior as he calmly sits and grooms himself, just partly hidden from the human and canine sight while Sage foams at the mouth.

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I believed in the gentleness of my boy and I expounded it in blogs, updates and conversations. But I have been disillusioned and it is time to tell the truth.

On a beautiful summer evening, my shadow and I ditched the kids in the house and decided to spend some quiet time on the back deck. Just Sage and I, and the cerulean sky above us, the emerald foliage around us, the few fireflies, the occasional chipmunk, some birds and the general stillness. I sat looking out at the big tree in my backyard, looking up to see the sky turn pink with the rays of the setting sun, Sage rested his head on the ledge as he kept his eyes on the flitting birds. There was a small white butterfly/ moth like creature hovering around Sage’s snout for a while. It was flitting around him, doing its dance. Sage was so still, I wondered if he even felt it. I was contemplating getting my camera so if the butterfly/moth ever sat on Sage’s fur, I would take a picture of my gentle dog who wouldn’t hurt a (butter) fly. Suddenly…SNAP and the CRUNCH MUNCH!!! He calmly snapped at the poor thing, took it in his mouth and crunched munched it up. Very calmly, in a very Sage like way, but very expertly like a professional killer.

‘Sage, you monster!!! You just ate a poor, little, pretty butterfly!!’

He looked at me with his gorgeous chocolate eyes ‘Lady, do you mind keeping your voice down? I am contemplating nature here!’ And turned away! Not a trace of remorse! Nada!!

Now I can never say ‘Oh Sage won’t hurt a fly!’ Because he FREAKING ate one. Not a fly, perhaps, but a butterfly!!! Or a moth!! Or whatever that winged creature was.

Parallel universe


Sage came to us in the usual way.

4 year old Sahana said ‘Mom, may I please have a dog?’

Mom said, ‘Not right now!’

4 year old Sahana said, ‘When can I have a dog?’

Mom said, ‘When you are older and can take care of it?’

4 year old Sahana said, ‘When I am 10?’

Mom (to end the conversation) ‘Sure!’ Thinking the little girl won’t be 10 for a long, long time.

Well, she turned 10 in the blink of an eye.

What can I say about Sage? Take a look for yourself, but do hold on to your heart. The cuteness overload in these pictures have wreaked havoc in mine.

Sage at 8 weeks.
Sage at 8 weeks.

One pup sleeping, two others faking.

What did I do?

Peek a boo

Just a boy and his dog.

Dental care.

Now.

Sage is the most wonderful, most Sagely, kindest, gentlest, smartest dog that ever graced the face of the earth. What, you think I am biased? Well….! He is the gentle salve for Sahana’s teenage angst ridden, troubled soul, he was the non judgemental listener to Ryan’s halted reading when he started to read, he is my silent companion and the soft presence just under my feet when I settle on the couch with a book, and he is Sean’s shadow and a supervisor to all his chores. Nothing comes into our house without a quiet inspection of a reddish brown nose and a long snout.

He has faults too. He considers himself an honorary lap dog and wants to get his 94 pound body on to guests’ lap to show them his affection. He also feels it is a privilege for humans to scratch a particular spot on his back, right where his tail begins and in letting them do so he is doing them a favor. When they stop, he uses his wet nose and long snout to give a gentle nudge to remind them of their sacred duty.

But this blog is not about my dog, Sage (did I say, he is wonderful?)! This blog is about the parallel universe that we discovered because of Sage. The universe of dog lovers.

We learned the protocol of never exchanging greetings with a dog’s human before greeting the dog. That is a big no-no. We scratch the dog, pet him/her, shower him with attention, focus all our energy on our dogs playing, try desperately to untangle the leash which, inevitably gets entangled while the doggies wag, and jump, and play bow and play. We smile at them, comment how cute they are together, we exchange information about our dogs – their name, age, chewing habits, vet care. All this conversation happens, primarily without eye contact and without formal introduction. We don’t need those. Introductions in these cases are redundant. We just pick up and go with it. When our dogs lose interest, we do too. We mumble a ‘Have a good day’ and move on…till we see the next pup on our walk.

Dog lovers universe is very black and white, there are no 50 shades of grey in between. You are in if you completely, utterly and unconditionally love dogs. You are out if you don’t completely give yourself up to canine love. You don’t have to own a dog to belong, you just have to feel the love for dogs (and animals in general). We are pretty inclusive that way. We applaud the works of those tireless humans who dedicate their time and energy to save, foster, care for and adopt dogs and try to give them their forever home. We encourage our children to volunteer at animal shelters in the summer. We inform our fellow citizens of this parallel universe that their dog has gone to the bathroom and whether they need plastic bags to pick up the poop. We discuss the nitty gritties of doggie behavior for hours and think nothing unusual about it. We feel most comfortable in dog parks and automatically bend our knees without thinking when big dogs come bounding at us. We, as I said, earlier, bond quickly, deplore puppy mills and we stand united in our condemnation against those who do unspeakable things to man’s best friend.

We understand the joys of watching a puppy tumble, a young dog run leash free, a senior snooze in the sun. We feel the warmth of the wet nose just by hearing a description, we love each others’ pups and firmly believe puppy kisses are good for the soul. We read SPCA newsletters cover to cover and get overjoyed at every successful adoption story. We wish the dog and his/her human well. We watch back to back episodes of Dog 101 and look forward to more. We baby talk to the pictures of our friends’ dogs that they post on Facebook and engage in lengthy conversation with perfect strangers on social media about dogs.

And only we understand the full depth of sorrow of fellow members of our universe when they lose a canine child. No words of consolation suffice, so we just sit by their side and hold their hands and feel their grief.

Thank goodness for the “accident”!


The breeders had a “The Lady and the Tramp” moment. Their beautiful, purebred, shiny black labrador retriever did the unthinkable. She got out and fell in love with the neighbor’s sheep dog of insignificant repute. And the accident happened. Thank goodness, since one of those accidents came to our house and moved straight into our heart. We named the “accident”  Sage.

Sage at 8 weeks.

Curious.

I was told I shouldn't snoop around but you never know, I may find treats.

All that play is hard work.

The human pups were totally faking it.

He uses me as a pillow sometimes. I love it.

Homework helper.

All grown up at age 2

We foolishly committed to getting Sahana a dog when she was 10. Oh, we heard all the “I will take care of it, feed it, walk it. You don’t have to do a thing!” We didn’t believe her for a minute. But we are gullible, indulgent parents, we gave in. Sahana, predictably, doesn’t feed him, doesn’t walk him or doesn’t take care of him, but she loves him with all her heart. Mom and dad, the suckers, are fine with that. Sage does many jobs in our house. Oh no, not ‘fetch the paper’, ‘open the door’ kind of jobs. He doesn’t do any of that. He does make himself available to Sahana when she suffers from her momentary preteen angst. She swears, stroking Sage gently, helps her calm down. He sits by Ryan’s feet when he reads, he listens yet doesn’t offer any criticism. He makes Sean feel like the most special man on earth when he returns from work (I know that’s my job, but a little word ‘delegation’)! For me? He is my sounding board. I talk to him all day, ask his opinion on things. He agrees with me, ON EVERYTHING! Never talks back, which is so refreshing! Oh goodness, did I just confess I talk to my dog all day? I am sharing much more than what’s good for me. Let’s say I think aloud, Sage just happens to be in the vicinity. Bottom line, all four of us agree, thank goodness for the “accident.”