My husband Noel and I rescued Sally, our 110 pound Leonburger, from a shelter in Lincoln, Nebraska a little over ten years ago. She was about a year old when we found her. At the time, we had just moved out of Lincoln to an old farmhouse on twenty acres. Our wheaten terrier, Finnegan (since deceased), a dear but neurotic dog, needed a companion, and Noel had been looking for several months when he found Sally.
It was clear the family that had taken her to the Humane Society hadn’t wanted to get rid of her, but she was a big dog and they had their hands full with four small children. Sally hadn’t been abused by the family, but she’d clearly been neglected. In fact, she didn’t know how to run, and we suspected she’d been kept on a chain in a backyard her entire first year of life. I still see her the day we brought her home, her awkward attempts to run with Finnegan.
In a matter of only a few weeks, though, she had gotten the hang of the running thing. She was so swift a runner, in fact, she caught and, to our horror, ate rabbits. She proved to be a great companion to Finnegan, too. When we added two kittens to the mix, sisters Maud and Ella, calm and dignified Sally became the mother of all. She once woke me in the night indicating she needed water. I filled the water bowl and then watched, amazed, as she allowed first Finnegan to drink and then in turn each of the cats. Only after the other animals drank did she drink.
At our house, if we’re wondering about ethical behavior, we don’t ask “what would Jesus do?” we asked instead, “what would Sally do?” Anyone who has spent time in our home in the decade since she’s been in our life, has without exception and without prompting, made a point of saying what a magical dog she is. They always say it with the same expression of wonder of their faces.
Sally was recently diagnosed with spinal stenosis. This, and other signs of her aging, have made us even more keenly aware of the short time we have left with her. I’ve been surprised by how many of my conversations with other writers come around to their passionate attachment to animals. This series begins with my own desire to celebrate Sally, and over the coming months I will also invite other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets.subscribe to Ploughshares?