This post was written by Ryan about our dear companion, Sasha.
Not a Dog Person
I can’t remember any point in my life where I felt like a dog person. To be honest, most made me nervous to be around. Dogs were something to be kept in the yard and brought out to play sometimes.
Perhaps it was because I valued my independence and living flexibility that the thought of having a dog never even crossed my mind. The few times the idea was entertained, it was dismissed because I didn’t want to commit to one.
I didn’t know it at the time, but those circumstances began to change when I met my girlfriend, and when we moved into our current house. She started entertaining the idea of getting a dog in her best way: sending me links of dogs for adoption.
At first I passed off the idea as whimsy, but then I figured out that she was serious, but didn’t want to push it too hard – after all, I wasn’t a dog person. Fast-forward several months and now I’ve set up a criteria:
- Must be able to walk itself
- Must be intelligent/loyal
- Not too small
So when she sent me a picture of Sasha for the first time, I could tell from one look that I wanted this dog. She was older – 7 years – but only had one previous owner and her history was well-known already. Let’s see how our criteria looks:
- Must be able to walk itself Yep
- Must be intelligent/loyal German Shepherd mix, probably with an Australian Kelpie. Check.
- Not too small 60 pounds will do
Great, we’ll take her.
Bonus: Being older, she didn’t have as much energy as her younger years and was well-adjusted to life with an owner… so they said.
The Humans Learned
That first month or two really caught us off guard. She. Was. A. Nut. While she behaved herself at home alone, this only came after two walks a day. On top of that, these weren’t simple walks around the block – they had to be places where she could run her heart out.
The separation anxiety was another issue entirely. From the first night she would scratch at the door to get in while we were sleeping. We did what you were “supposed” to and ignored her until she went to sleep. But there was no proper manual for Sasha, because she would just stand up scratching the door for hours until you came out. Talk about a jarring way to wake up!
One of my favorite memories from that time was going out there to sleep near her on the couch. I started having a dream that I was in a place with a lot of gravity. Everything was weighing down on me, and I didn’t know why. Then I woke up to find her sleeping on top of me.
You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?
Eventually we figured things out.
You know those walks at the park? They were boring, apparently. Increasing the walk time and frequency had no effect on her midnight behavior, either. She was lacking mental stimulation.
So we decided to get creative with teaching her new tricks. Lucky for us, she was eager to learn new things and get rewarded for it.
“Earthquake” Go find the nearest cover and wait there (A San Francisco favorite!)
Sasha became far more obedient over our time with her, but I think she just found ways to satisfy us while still getting her way.
When we first got her, she would not drop her ball for any reason. In fact she’d fight you over it and run away. This made for some challenging times at the dog park when she would chase down someone else’s ball you needed to return. Eventually she started listening with some work from us. We had won.
But then I noticed something else happening. Whenever I’d throw the ball for her at the park, she stopped returning so quickly. For some reason, she always had to pee after retrieving the ball, even though we just walked for half an hour? She would also steer clear of me by a good 30 yards.
Then it clicked for me: She knew if she came close, I’d tell her to drop it and she had to obey. She also knew that I stopped calling her if she was going to the bathroom. She didn’t have to go to the bathroom, she was avoiding giving the ball up!
She was always an affectionate dog to people in her pack. She would love to put her head under your hand and fling it up so you would pet her. She did it so often it even got annoying at times. So I started hiding my hand. Her response? Put her paw on you and drag your hand over to pet her.
Even though she wasn’t good with cats at first, once she learned she even got affectionate with him. She would lick his head, and he would like it and rub himself all over her.
Sergio is another amazing animal story for another day, but let’s say he came a long way with Sasha, the dog he was initially convinced wanted to eat him.
She also reacted well to other dogs. Sure, she got grumpy if they wanted to play physically, but she never once retaliated or showed any aggression towards a dog. Not even the little Chihuahua who charged her and attacked one random morning. She just ran away even though she probably could have made quick work of it.
I had finally found her favorite park – McLaren Park. It’s seriously a great place with various areas, hiking trails, lakes and most importantly – squirrels. At first she would rambunctiously chase them on sight, and they’d have no problem getting away up a tree. So I decided to teach her to be stealthy. In no time she learned to approach quietly, from cover, and don’t start sprinting until you’re close enough to have a chance.
Only problem is, while I didn’t think she had the prey drive, you would never really know until she had a shot. She was put to the test one day when two fighting squirrels fell 30 feet from a tree. I remember thinking it was amazing they were still fighting after such a long fall, but before I could even complete the thought, Sasha was already running down the field for them! I thought, “OK, that’s it. I’ll find squirrel recipes.”
When she got there, she stopped – the squirrels hadn’t noticed. She stood over them a second, staring, trying to figure out why they weren’t running away. They figured it out when she let out a loud bark, which sent both of them back up the tree again, together, to quarrel another day.
Our Final Days
Sasha always behaved a certain way when she was afraid of something, and it usually meant crawling under my desk to shelter herself. So one day, and the beginning of July, she crawled under my desk, feeling sick. Having seen two dead, non-roadkill skunks in McLaren park that week, we first suspected poisinous meatballs that some idiot had been leaving around the city.
A trip to the pet hospital didn’t find any such evidence, and over the weekend we eventually found out it was far worse – she had Lymphoma, and that couldn’t be fixed. We did what was reasonable and put her on medication to slow down the cancer so she could feel better temporarily.
We spent our last month with her cherishing every moment, and trying to only worry when we had to. Despite our best efforts to stay cheery, handling the gravity of what was about to happen was difficult and grew harder as our last days closed in.
One random Thursday evening, I decided to take her back to her favorite park one last time (we hadn’t gone in a couple of weeks). I had forgotten her collar, but it didn’t matter anymore. Despite her degraded condition she had a blast, running around like it was her last time. Unfortunately, she may have known it was.
The next morning she went under my desk one last time, not eating anything she had ravenously consumed the day before. It was time, and we had Dr. Van Horn scheduled to come out later that day.
Looking back, no matter how tired or interested she was in something else, she never voluntarily left our sight. Not even when I was doing something mundane like taking out the garbage, doing laundry, or even going to the bathroom. So the least we could do was be there in her sight until she departed. I think she appreciated it because her final moments were peaceful as she lay on the couch, without a single protest or sign of discomfort.
When it was over I carried her lifeless body out of our house as gently as I could, cherishing her physical self last time, and said goodbye with a kiss she couldn’t feel anymore. It was the only dignity I could show an animal who had given me joy every day I was with her, made me miss her when we were away, and ultimately made me a dog person.
Rest in Peace, Sasha. We’ll always miss you.