Isn’t it funny how seemingly innocuous, simple things can trigger a wave of emotion, a tsunami of memories. And that’s what happened to me when I saw that metal bowl. Just a month ago, a bowl by a dog bed near Jim’s desk was routine…necessary…an everyday thing.
Sugar had to have water. Sugar had to have breakfast and dinner in bed.
But now, Sugar is gone and the sight of that bowl brought her memory rushing back to me. Sugar was a beautiful Dalmatian. She was one of Jim’s harem of adoring girl dogs that follow him through the house. He’s lucky I’m not the terribly jealous type.
Admittedly, the last year of Sugar’s life was not easy. She lost mobility in her rear legs and her care requirements were high and non-stop. But it didn’t matter. We would have done anything for this dog as long as her health was good and there was a sparkle in her eyes. And for a very long time, Sugar wanted to be here with us…working rear legs or not.
So we went the extra mile for her. We kept a supply of piddle pads handy. We had comfy beds for her. We purchased a special dog wheelchair. Jim gave her countless baths and rubbed special cream on her skin to keep her healthy.There were physical therapy appointments and acupuncture. There were special harnesses. There were arms always willing to carry her.
And there was breakfast in bed.
Admittedly, my first memories upon seeing that metal bowl were of Sugar’s last moments. I felt a little catch in my throat and a tear escaping my eye as I pictured the morning when she seemed off, too quiet. I remembered the instant in the vet’s office when Jim and I learned that Sugar’s kidneys were failing.
Kidney failure can be a sneaky bastard. If caught very, very early, there are special diets and medications that can slow the inevitable. But, despite doing routine blood work, we had not caught Sugar’s kidney disease in early stages. She was seemingly fine one day, and refusing her breakfast the next. There were no heroics, no miracles. To try to prolong her life for even one more night together would mean extreme discomfort for our dear girl. Neither of us would allow that.
So Jim held her on his lap as I kissed her nose and told her what an amazing girl she was and how very much we loved her. Our veterinarian, who is also a dear friend, eased our Sugar’s spirit out of her failing body.
Just as quickly as this memory of loss crawled through my mind, it was replaced by the memory of a gorgeous, bright day more than 15 years earlier—the day I received a call about “a beautiful, perfect little Dalmatian puppy” a family had found running down the middle of a busy city street.
Not to sound cynical, but the call about the puppy came during a busy era for my Dalmatian rescue group. We were still coming down from the Disney 101 Dalmatians craze that caused the number of Dalmatians irresponsibly bred and, in many cases, subsequently abandoned, to skyrocket. I received call after call for help with Dalmatians, Dalmatian mixes, Dalmatian wannabes, and any dog that had a spot or two. Or in some cases not spotted at all.
A lot of the calls resulted in meetings with cattle dogs, Lab mixes, pit mixes…dogs that were not even remotely Dalmatian. But I always looked. And if I could help the dog, I helped. And if it was a Dalmatian or a “close enough,” I accepted it into our program to care for it and find it a new, responsible home.
So the inside-my-head response to this call from a family who claimed to have found a perfect, beautiful little Dalmatian puppy? “Yeah. Right,” said negative Nancy. But as I walked into the house, I was greeted by a parade of four excited young children followed by a darling, prancing black-spotted puppy with ears perked, and tail wagging wildly.
I couldn’t believe it. Who loses their perfect, beautiful little Dalmatian and doesn’t turn the world upside down to find her? I can’t tell you how many times I have asked myself this question in 25 years of rescue work. But there she was.
I loaded her up in my car as the parents in charge of that parade of now pleading children explained for what must have been the 101st time why they could not keep the puppy. As I drove away without looking at the sad little faces in my rear view mirror, I called one of my fellow rescue volunteers to see if he could provide a foster home.
The volunteer was a guy named Jim (Yes, THAT Jim. This was during the pre-Nancy/Jim era). Jim agreed to keep the puppy while our rescue group worked to find her a permanent home. That guy Jim met me at our veterinary clinic where we had the puppy checked over and vaccinated. After a few photos for her listing on our adoption site, Jim left with the puppy.
I don’t even think I made it all the way back to my house before my phone rang. It was that guy Jim and he quickly told me not to list the puppy for adoption. In rescue circles we call this a “foster fail” and, in my rescue career, this was the fastest “fail” on record. It’s a record that stands to this day.
Jim fell for those little puppy eyes in the span of a car ride home. He named her Sugar and that was that. Homeless no more!
Sugar and Jim were quite the pair. They played together, they trained together, they snoozed together. Sugar grew to be a gorgeous girl and an incredibly talented agility dog. As a team, man and dog earned four agility titles and could have gone on to win more ribbons, but you know, life gets busy.
In fact, life got very “busy” (little word…LOTS of change) for both Jim and I for awhile there. So yadda, yadda yadda, and after the dust settled, we found that we might be more than just friends and that’s when we truly became “we,” and “we” formed quite the canine Brady Bunch…his, mine, and eventually ours (we both have a serious addiction for Dalmatians and for picking up stray dogs).
So sweet Sugar became my family too. She was an active, funny, bright girl and we have always been so grateful for that day in 1999 when a nice family found her, saved her from oncoming traffic, and let her become our special dog for more than 15 years.
She was the last of the original dogs Jim brought into the Brady Bunch mix. In fact, she was the last of all of our original Brady bunch dogs…a bittersweet reality.
Still wrapped in memories, I picked up the metal bowl, took it back downstairs to the kitchen, walking through a herd of you’re-holding-a-food-bowl hopeful “ours” dogs. With a smile, I washed it and placed it on a stack of identical bowls.
My last thought in this moment was of the song I always sang to Sugar. So yeah, I belted out the chorus for the still somewhat hopeful dogs milling around me.
Sugar, ah, honey, honey
You are my candy girl
And you’ve got me wanting you…
It was just a simple metal bowl, sitting slightly out of place. But you know what? In that moment, it was filled to the brim with memories of a beautiful, perfect little Dalmatian puppy.
Good girl, Sugar.