I first met Sugar, our golden retriever, over ten years ago, when she was just a little puppy, days after my future wife had adopted her. I remember going to her apartment in Foster City with some friends (who worked with her). There was this tiny, friendly, playful golden retriever who no one could resist playing with. I had no clue she would one day become a part of my family.
Four years later, when we met up again, one of the first “dates” my future wife and I went on was taking Sugar and her roommate’s dog, Nellie, for a walk down in Half Moon Bay. And from then on Sugar was a part of my life, representing a constant partner and friend. I never had pets growing up, but have always loved both cats and dogs — so it was wonderful to be adopted by such a wonderful dog. When we lived in Belmont and my home office had a separate entrance, I knew every day wasn’t complete until Sugar would come down and climb up on the futon in my office to spend time with me, waiting for my wife to get home.
While many of our friends have one enduring image of Sugar: the lazy dog sleeping in the corner, we remember her as the dog who loved swimming more than anything (as I look through old photos of her, they all seem to involve trips where she went swimming). We remember the dog that couldn’t wait to go for a drive and a long walk in the morning, dancing and leaping around as we’d pick up a leash or keys for the car. And, it’s impossible to communicate the joy you could see in her face when she’d sniff out a rabbit hiding in the brush out by the swamp behind Oracle, giving her something fun to chase.
She was an incredibly expressive dog — and you could almost always read what was in her mind (though, all too often her “logic” didn’t make much sense to us). I remember soon after I started dating my future wife, we were heading out for an evening, and left Sugar sleeping on her bed in the living room. Soon after getting to the car, we realized we had left something in the apartment, and went back up the stairs. We opened the door, and discovered that in the minute or so since we had left, Sugar had moved from her own bed, into the bedroom — but as soon as we opened the door, she walked back to the living room, giving us an amazingly guilty look, as though we had “caught” her sneaking into the bedroom.
I remember how much fun it would be getting up on a weekend morning and taking Sugar out. She’d dance around and run out to the car, waiting eagerly to get in the back seat… where she’d immediately flop, as if her initial excitement was totally forgotten. Then we’d drive down to Oracle, and as we got close, she would get excited again, sticking her head out the window and eagerly smelling the air. We’d get there, and she’d immediately run to one of the fountains to swim around, before climbing out and rolling ecstatically in the grass to dry off. And then we’d be off going for as long a walk as possible. She’d sniff out rabbits, scare off ducks and even chase some squirrels. And she’d always want to keep going. We’d say it was time to go, and she’d give us this look that said “no way, I’m gonna keep going further and further.”
Sometimes, if our walk took us over the footbridge bridge to Belmont, she’d end the walk in the fountain on that side of the bridge. She would climb in, rub along the edge of the fountain, and then settle down in the water, with her head perched directly on the ledge looking over the bridge — with a pathetic look on her face. She had learned, correctly, that no one could walk across the bridge and see her head plopped there looking at them without coming over to pet her.
And, like many dogs, she loved being pet by anyone and everyone. If we had people over at our house, she’d go from person to person waiting for them to pet her. She had an uncanny ability to look at a person when we were out on walks and determine whether the person was a dog petter (worth going over to) or not (not worth bothering).
Then, of course, there was her “welcome home” routine. After spending a long, difficult day sleeping on our couch, when we’d get home, she’d come wait for us at the door, and start whining as loud as possible, rolling over to expose her belly, demanding a belly rub as an apology for leaving her alone for a day. In the last couple years, if my wife and I would hug and kiss before rubbing her belly, she’s make sure to bark (about the only time she ever barked) to express her feelings.
After dinner, if we sat on the couch to watch TV, the second we’d sit down, she’d make sure to climb up to join us, demanding that we’d pet her while watching TV and before taking her out for an evening walk. Often, after eating her own dinner, and getting a good brushing, her and our cat would play with each other. Our cat would come over and “attack,” grabbing Sugar’s leg and biting. Sugar would stand over her, and the two would begin a complex slow motion “dance,” where Sugar would jump up and down a bit, bobbing her head at the cat as the cat would weave in and out and jump at Sugar. Eventually the cat would give up and my wife would usually declare Sugar the “winner.”
Back in July, I took her out for a walk, and she was in one of her “long walk” moods. She kept pushing us to go further, but as we started to get back towards home, she suddenly stopped, and lay down in the middle of the road. I finally convinced her to get up and we moved to the side of the road, and sat there, petting her and letting her rest. We eventually made it home, but she was limping pretty badly. We took her to the vet and discovered she had a torn ligament in her leg. In August, we brought her in for surgery to repair the ligament — and we were happy (and relieved) to get back the results of her blood test that suggested otherwise she was in good health.
In late August, we took Sugar on our road trip to Chicago. We had to be in Chicago twice in about a month, and figured no one could care for Sugar better than my wife’s parents. Plus, Sugar loves being in the car, loves roadtripping with us and hates airplanes. So the easiest thing was to drive to Chicago, leave her there and then drive back with her later in the year. The roadtrip was fun, and even though Sugar’s leg was still healing, she seemed to enjoy the ride and the sight seeing. We left Chicago the day before Labor Day, saying goodbye to Sugar, figuring we’d see her again, just five weeks later. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
My brother-in-law called Friday evening to let us know that Sugar didn’t seem to be doing that well. She wasn’t really moving and looked a little swollen. We sent over some medical info and Sugar went to the hospital Saturday morning. My sister-in-law was out here visiting us, with plans for a red-eye back to Chicago that night anyway. We had planned to go up to Pt. Reyes for a hike and some oysters at Drake’s Farm. As we drove up, we got updates from my brother-in-law and it didn’t sound good, with the vet suggesting that she was deteriorating quickly with a variety of problems. We got the oysters for lunch, but realized we were out of cell phone range, so we headed back into town, and sat in the car, talking things over, finally deciding that we’d try to fly back to Chicago to see Sugar this morning. We got back and discovered that there was only one seat left on the plane — which my wife got. I took my wife and her sister to the airport last night and they flew home.
Unfortunately, Sugar didn’t make it through the night, as my wife was told on landing at O’Hare. My wife got to go to the hospital for one last chance to see Sugar, and said she looked peaceful. Meanwhile, I’m here at home, being consoled by our cat, who we’d already been noting seems to miss Sugar’s presence (especially in that another local cat seems to have moved in on our property, no longer scared off by Sugar). I’m watching the very last game at Yankee Stadium (I have another blog post in waiting about my last visit to the Stadium earlier this year) hearing all these stories about an “end of an era.” Yankee Stadium sure means a lot to me, but the only era ending event I can really think about today is that I won’t be greeted by my dog like that ever again.
That said, Sugar gave my wife ten great years as her best friend and personal guardian. I got to share six of those years. The end may have come suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly, but I wouldn’t give up those six years for anything. My mother in law says that Sugar was my wife’s guardian for 10 years, and now that she knows there’s someone else to be the guardian (me, apparently) she felt comfortable moving on. While I appreciate the vote of confidence, I wish she could have chosen a better way to express it. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the time I spent with her, and even though I miss her terribly, I’m thankful for what she gave me.