The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog 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. Today, please enjoy this essay by Gretchen Henderson.
—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief
We met Sierra as a seven-week-old puppy, palm-sized and all paws. The rescue organization said she was a Bernese Mountain mix. Her mother and five siblings had been found on the streets of Los Angeles. Each puppy was about 10 pounds, projected to grow into 100-pounds, piled in a sidewalk playpen, sleeping in the sun. She was the only one awake, looking out the bars, wide-eyed and curious.
We had not planned to get a dog that day. We were just beginning to explore local rescues, waiting as we had for years to be more settled to responsibly care for a dog. There always was a rational reason to postpone: space, time, money, our lifestyle as academic gypsies. We had a tiny apartment with no yard. But watching her peer out of the pen in wonder, our reaction was immediate. We stopped questioning the dog, instead questioning anything in our life that would prevent us from taking her home.
Life can be turned upside down when tragedy strikes, and you can adjust, even if it involves moving mountains. So, we thought, why not move what seemed like mountains to make room for something wonderful as a mountain dog?
The process was quick, since Los Angeles was overrun with dogs needing adoption. A sidewalk interview and application; an apartment inspection. Within three days, she arrived. We named her Sierra, after the mountain range in California. Within two weeks, her stub of a snout grew. Her floppy ears shot up like antennae. She was a puppy version of Dumbo, curiously resembling a German shepherd (albeit with a Bernese’s signature white chest and paws). Despite the mammoth projection, she grew into 55 pounds, small for a shepherd but perfectly proportioned. At 4-1/2 years now, she still is mistaken for a puppy.
It’s impossible to imagine what could ever have prevented us from getting her. Sierra is super sweet and smart, engaged, trusting and trustworthy, and elicits pats and kisses wherever she goes. When we’ve moved geographically, she has been a welcome wagon, attracting new friends. When my husband and I ended up doing a long-distance commute for work, he insisted that she live with me. She has attended my classes and makes rounds to ensure each student is okay. Her fur is unbelievably soft. Her gentle silliness can’t help but invite smiles. She wiggles and wags about sticks and scents, showcasing simple pleasures hiding in plain sight.
We take multiple walks each day. Off leash, her sleek and elegant run catches my breath. At home, she curls up quietly, often beside me or at my feet, “going to work” on a bone. She keeps watch at the window and has adjusted surprisingly easily going from Los Angeles, to rural Ohio, to Boston, and soon back to California (driving cross-country with my husband, their own rendition of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley), so our “pack” can be back together. No longer palm-sized, Sierra is still wide-eyed and curious as when we first met her.