Outside of a Dog

She was never the dog we expected.

I thought we’d get an older dog. One that would sit at my feet at the desk as I typed. Jean thought we’d get a lap-sized dog, who’d curl up while we sat on the couch.

The woman at the shelter took us to see the puppies instead. The result of unplanned doggie-sex between a purebred Dalmatian and some wayward mutt. The owners had dropped the mother off at the highest kill-rate shelter in Los Angeles, and the rescuers saved her and the litter.

Her brothers and sisters were insane. They tried to eat my watch and Jean’s wedding ring. She was the runt, and the only one to get her mother’s spots. She came up to Jean and very gently placed her paws on Jean’s leg. When Jean bent down, she put her forelegs around Jean’s neck in an imitation of a hug. When Jean passed her to me, she buried her head under the neck of my shirt and would not come out.

We pretended to think it over and discuss it, but it was done. She’d chosen us. We named her Sadie.

That was maybe the last time in her life she was shy. After that, she inflicted her relentless love on anyone who came into her immediate vicinity.

She didn’t sniff crotches. She sniffed armpits. We had to explain this to everyone who met her for the first time, as Sadie roughly pushed their arms up and shoved her head into their sleeves. We knew who our friends were by who would put up with this.

She loved children, to the point that she thought she owned them. When our friend Mayrav had her oldest son Zev, Sadie would follow her around while she carried the baby, making yowling noises. “Sadie, I will not have you criticizing my parenting!” Mayrav finally told her.

When Jean was pregnant, Sadie knew before we did. When I brought Caroline home from the hospital, Sadie immediately rolled on her back and put her legs in the air. She knew the new boss had come home.

Caroline laughed for the first time when she saw Sadie chasing her tail. Daphne, our younger daughter, decided it was her job to feed Sadie from the table not long after she turned one. They shared a special bond forever after.

This isn’t to say she had magic powers. She was a dog.

She once came to me, wagging her tail with pride after she killed and ate a black widow spider. Her face immediately swelled up like a tennis ball and we made the first of what was to be several emergency vet visits. Or the time Jean left for work, dressed in all white — white coat, white sweater, white dress — and came back inside, a moment later, covered in muddy paw prints.

“What happened?”

“We have a very bad dog!”

Or the time I came home from Comic-Con, and woke up the next morning to discover her digesting a bunch of Bronze Age Marvels, the shredded newsprint all around her.

But Sadie could be surprisingly smart. Once, she got to an unguarded pizza on the counter. Most dogs would have gorged themselves without restraint. Sadie, however, carefully selected a few slices, and then — and this was genius — left one slice behind, so we wouldn’t know if we’d eaten the rest of the pizza or not.

She would’ve gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for the pizza sauce on her muzzle. I can still remember her trying to look innocent with tomato all over her face.

I always said, “God, Sadie, you are such a weird dog.” And Jean would say back, “Yes. I’m sure it has nothing to do with her upbringing.”

She was never a lapdog. She grew to be 56 pounds. Because we got her as a puppy, I honestly thought we’d have more time. I was wrong. She died last night after what was either a tumor or a stroke in her spinal cord.

There’s a quote that goes something like, “To have a dog is to make an appointment with heartbreak.” I don’t remember who said it, and I’m too exhausted right now to scour Google for the exact wording and the source. But to me it means that in a dog, you get unconditional love and acceptance — but only for a limited time.

She was never the dog we expected. But I’m glad she chose us. I wouldn’t trade a moment.

Goodbye, Sadie. You were the best of all good girls. I love you and will miss you.