A Tribute to Sarah: my dog rocks!

I had all these plans to tell you about my dog and how great she is, but I’m in an utterly foul mood. Normally I try not to post anything online when I’m in such a dark place because really, no one else wants to read that, but at this rate I’m afraid you wouldn’t hear from me until Christmas. So I’ll just soldier through and we’ll see how it goes. It’s 10:30pm Eastern time tonight and we just got home for the day. I have the best dog in the world because she patiently waited for us to get home before going outside to pee on our front sidewalk. At about 9pm, I had resigned myself to going home and cleaning up the mess while I reminded Sarah what a good dog she is, but she rallied for me. I really do have the best dog ever.

Sarah didn’t always used to be this fantastic, though. I can remember late night conversations with Jeremy years ago with tears streaming down my face as I lamented that we didn’t know what to do with her. That she was such a pain in the ass to be around but if we couldn’t keep her no one else would and we would be offering her up for a fate worse than death if we tried to give her away.

It was spring of 1998, if memory serves me right, and Casey was just starting to show signs of being an old dog. Jeremy and I decided that if we got a second dog, maybe he would perk up some and perhaps deign to leave the sofa once in a while. So we looked through the local newspapers and we found what we thought was a border collie mix. Casey was a border collie/akita mix and we were really fond of his personality, so we hoped to find another border collie mix, one that would be clever but not necessarily decide to rewire the house while we were at work like a purebred border collie might.

So Jeremy, Brian (our perennial roommate) and I drove 45 minutes to a house in the suburbs of Roanoke (if Roanoke is a large enough city to really have suburbs). They had one female collie mix that was 14 months old. Note that I said collie mix and not border collie mix. I think this was a typo in the paper or wishful thinking on our part, we’ll never remember for sure. The couple brought out this shy little runt of a dog, who seemed very sweet, if a bit needy. They told us her name was Lucy after the character in Peanuts because she was the pushiest puppy in the litter. Apparently, some brother or relative of theirs kept telling them he was going to take Lucy home with him but he lived far away and it had been over a year and Lucy was still in their backyard. We asked if she was housebroken and they said, “well … she’s getting there. She’s spent a lot of her life outdoors, but we’ve been working with her recently and she seems to be picking up on it.” She seemed really sweet and she was awfully pretty so we decided to take her home. The price tag of “Free to a Good Home” was appealing to our meager budget as well.

If only we knew then what we know now, I’m not sure what we would have done.

Since Lucy was too close to Casey, we decided to give her a new name. She had long legs and was very thin, but was shy and a bit too eager to please. So I decided to name her Sarah – as in “Sarah plain and tall.” It worked well with our theme of naming dogs with human names and didn’t sound anything like Casey so we hoped she wouldn’t get confused. And we welcomed Sarah into our home with love and enthusiasm.

Oh dear God, what a long few years those were. Sarah was in fact not housetrained at all. It’s very hard to housetrain an adult dog when you both work full time jobs. It’s also very hard to housetrain a dog when the back door leads out onto a deck that overlooks a rocky, pitted backyard full of poison ivy. There was no real desirable place for her to go, short of the deck itself (if she went outside at all). Sarah was also an extremely passive dog, scared of everything and everyone. She would pee when she was excited. She would pee when she was scared. She would pee if you said her name sternly. She pretty much would pee at the drop of a hat.

I maintain that Sarah is a very bright dog, but she had a hard time showing it in a multi-dog household that was full of people and activity. Her hardest thing to comprehend was the connection between pooping in the house and getting into trouble. It was as if she didn’t understand that the turds had come out of her, but instead that a Turd Fairy had visited the house directly behind her. At least twice, I caught her shitting upstairs and as soon as she turned around and saw the turds on the floor and the angry look on my face her little doggie eyes would day “oh God, the Turd Fairy has come again! Mom is going to be sooo pissed!”

We started with baby gates all over the house and progressed to crating her while we were at work or if no one was home. Our lifestyle was much more hippy then with lots of friends dropping by the house, so it wasn’t that often that she was left in the crate all day. But everyone was under strict instructions to keep a watchful eye out for the Turd Fairy.

And this went on for months … even years. If anything in her daily life changed (new friends coming over, new foods, God forbid moving) the Turd Fairy would come back. A small consolation is that Sarah is perhaps the most regular dog on the planet and so the Turd Fairy, while she came often and left her gifts strewn about the house (Sarah apparently shits as if chased or on her way to a very important appointment that can’t wait, so it’s more of a trail than a pile), it was easy to clean up. In those days, we took what little bit of good news we could.

Eventually we managed to house schedule her instead of housetrain her. She went out every morning before work and immediately after we got home (between 5:30 and 6pm). If one of us was delayed for any reason, we were racing the Turd Fairy to the house. She only ate one meal a day of dry food and it was between 6 and 7pm. She had unlimited access to water, but that didn’t seem to be an issue.

And over time, her good qualities started to shine through. She plays well with other dogs and children. She comes when you call her and hardly needs a leash except to abide by local city ordinances. She stays in the yard even if you forget to close the gate and there are other dogs walking on the sidewalk or kids waiting for the bus only a few yards away. She has an “indoor” and “outdoor” voice, where she will only bark if outdoors or thoroughly provoked into rowdiness in the house. Most of the time, she just quietly boorooroos in a sassy nature. She sits patiently at the vet and doesn’t make an ass of herself in the waiting room. She loves being brushed and getting baths and will lie on the floor while I trim her nails and cut down the hair on her paws.

When Jeremy and I split up and she became the only dog in the house, the Turd Fairy all but disappeared. She would leave the occasional gift but it was only in those first few months when there was a lot of upheaval going on and really, we should all be glad that I didn’t take to pooping on the rug with her.

And now she has become an ideal dog. My father said when we first got her that we wouldn’t have paid a nickel for her (good thing she was free). But now I think she’s worth a million dollars. She’s patient with the kitties and empathic to everyone and a very polite dog. I even like how she’s kind of prissy and doesn’t like to get her paws wet outside, preferring to pee on the sidewalk if it’s wet outside.

In some ways, I think she was always a good dog and just needed a little help to show it. But I also remember how really fucking hard it was to get her to where she is now. Jeremy’s mom said that we should have offered a service where we took problem dogs into our home and made them into good dogs to give back to their owners. But having spent so many long, painful, frustrating years with a chicken shit dog with no clue or control over her bowels and now gotten the reward of such a fearless, friendly, sweet dog that sparked more excitement from trick-or-treaters last night than our bowls of candy, I can’t imagine doing all that and giving the dog back. She’s one of us now forever.