It’s 5:02 a.m., and I just returned from a walk. For years, it was part of my early morning routine. But over the past couple years, I’d stopped these pre-dawn walks because they aren’t necessary.
Two years ago this week, we said goodbye to Sadie, our small, sand-colored “terrier-plus- something” rescue dog. We’d had her for more than a decade, and after a few tough initial days and weeks (nothing surprising when a new family member arrives, and a rescue to boot), she was exactly the dog we had hoped for: kind, quiet and friendly, and we loved having her around.
Most of the time, Joanie was her “go-to” human, but she accepted us all, and we had a lot of fun with her. While my position on Sadie’s popularity chain was much lower than Joanie’s or the kids’, the daily walk was our “thing,” whether it was pre-dawn, during a midday work break or after dinner. We had a couple versions of our basic route, but our favorite was just under a mile, and took us about 20 minutes (sniffing included).
Among other things, Sadie had cancer, and by the time we realized it, it was too late to do anything about it. Even if we had, the doctor said she wouldn’t have had much time anyway, and most of that time would be spent dealing with her illness. There was nothing to do in near the end than to be with her and love her up.
Sad is an understatement when talking about the final days with a pet so dear and so much a part of a family, and if you’ve lost a pet, you know the feeling.
Over the final two years of her life, Sadie progressively lost her sight, and with other issues we couldn’t put our fingers on, she started to slow down, and her routines and behavior became more erratic. We assumed much of it was caused by her blindness, but we don’t know. At any rate, late in her life, she’d often awaken as early as 3:00 or 3:30 a.m., wandering around the house, just loud enough to wake me up.
During those times, those final months, I figured the least I could do was take her for a walk, something she still enjoyed. So, there we’d be, just Sadie and me, two old dogs walking the neighborhood, an old, four-legged sightless insomniac and her seeing-eye human (with plenty of vision problems of his own), at a time when just about everyone else still had hours of sleep ahead of them.
Sometimes, I felt frustrated, getting up that early day after day, knowing if I didn’t, she’d likely have an accident somewhere in the house. But it was the least I could do for our little friend, our family member.
More than anything, it was heartbreaking to see how she had slowed down in that final year-and-a-half, first from losing her sight, then from other symptoms of aging and finally, from her illness. She wasn’t in pain we were told, but for humans – ones with appropriate levels of empathy anyway – we often found ourselves feeling bad for her because her life had become so limited.
After Sadie left us, we eventually moved through the crushing grief and endured countless times people asked, “Are you going to get another dog?” (We’re not, but if we change our minds, we’ll let you know). And after a time, we settled into our new “old” life, one without a dog … but not just without a “dog,” but without Sadie. (By the way, I’m writing this through a blur of tears.)
A few weeks ago, I mysteriously woke up around 3:00 a.m., early even for me (an extreme morning person). After rolling over several times to get comfortable in an effort to squeeze out another hour or 90 minutes of sleep, Sadie popped into my head because that’s about the time she’d be roaming the house “back in the day.”
Without any further thought, I got out of bed, got dressed and checked the weather. It was a cold morning – in the mid-30s – so I threw on a jacket and headed out the door. It had been almost two years since I’d done this, walked this route at this time of day, and it was the first time I’d flown solo.
I walked slowly, just like Sadie and I always did, even stopping occasionally as though I was letting her sniff the base of a tree or an interesting weed on someone’s lawn. At about the midpoint, I started to cry (of course I did), and at that moment, I realized I needed to re-establish my morning walks with Sadie.
So, I did, and now, most mornings, when I arise (not at 3:00 or 3:30 a.m., but still pre-dawn), I stroll along our old route. It feels good because it gets my mind moving, pumps blood throughout my body and puts the outdoor air in my lungs.
That route, the daily walk (short and sweet, just like Sadie), is just one of the many gifts that little sand-colored rescue gave us, and for that, I’m grateful. And I truly believe that my entire family – Joanie, Kate, Will and myself – are all better, kinder, more compassionate people because she was part of our family for all those years.
And every day I walk that route in memory of Sadie, I thank her for that.
© 2023 David R. Haznaw