Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Al Steuber, father of Sadie Steuber. Click here to read a previous post about this wonderful family: https://retiredretrievers.org/2014/11/30/sadiesretirementhome. And click here to see their interview on WTOC Mid-Morning Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdTGvhbGipw.
Empty No More
By Al Steuber
When we opened the foyer door that painful August afternoon I knew she wouldn’t be there. The emptiness was confirmation. Allie’s gone.
A foyer greeting had been her trademark. No matter that one of us remained, when the other left Allie camped in front of the foyer door until the person returned to receive his or her hind end wiggling, tail wagging greeting. We endured an empty foyer for six long weeks and it may have continued to this day but for our daughter Amy, a savior named Suzanne (more later) and the grace of God.
I’ve told the story elsewhere – Amy’s web search, my initial rejection, my inexplicably tapping out an email to Suzanne, our test visit with a rescue dog found wandering without ID in a Food Lion parking lot. Not a test really, an instant love affair.
Amy visited last week, the first time since she set this wonderful chain of events in motion. It was her first visit with Sadie and they bonded immediately. If I didn’t know it couldn’t be true I’d think Sadie sensed Amy’s role in her life…….it couldn’t be, could it? After four days together Amy concluded there was absolutely no room for improvement, said “I love my dog but I’d take her home in a heartbeat” and added “I think you should rename her Flawless.”
Sadie’s been a family member for seven months now and has settled in to a routine as predictable as a metronome. Her day begins when I sense a thump on my side of the bed as she slaps a paw near my head. If I open my eyes I’m looking into hers. If I don’t, she soon removes her paw and that’s the last I hear from her, displaying a characteristic repeated multiple times each day: patience.
When I do get up she’s at my side knowing breakfast is about to follow which has its own routine. With her dish on the floor I pour in the first cup of kibble with one hand while trying to fend off her head with the other. She quickly wins and begins inhaling the first cup as I pour in the other. By the time I get her incontinence pill out of the bottle to drop in her food the dish is usually empty. She’s an eating kamikaze!
She follows me to the kitchen and takes up her favored position lying just at the entryway giving me the best chance of tripping over her as I exit with my orange juice. Then she lies in front of me without complaint as I turn on the TV, check my email and finish my orange juice. Mind you she has not emptied her bladder for at least twelve hours and she’s ten years old! Not until I leave my chair does she show any sign of impatience, hurrying toward the door. Even then, and this is something Amy remarked on, unlike many dogs who push you aside as they bolt through the door she waits to be invited.
Then comes one of my most appreciated performances, her marshes toilet. Not immediately. First she sniffs and pees several places and several times, even partially lifting her leg occasionally in comic imitation perhaps of something she has observed? Then she trots along the edge of the marsh making partial entries until making her final selection where she disappears exiting somewhere else down the line. She trots back to me expecting and receiving her treat, one of her three daily glucosamine tablets. This habit, the marshes toilet, is one of two uncommon performances she shares with her predecessor, Allie.
Next comes my breakfast, usually an English muffin which, like all of our meals she expects to share, her head containing a food magnet. She lies in front facing me never taking her eyes off my movements. When down to the last bite of the first muffin she stands and waits, again patiently, knowing that piece belongs to her. After taking it none too daintily she resumes her lying-in-wait position knowing we’re only half done. Gulping her last bite she whirls, almost as if choreographed and trots into the bedroom.
Thus begins, for me, her most heartwarming performance, uncannily similar to Allie. She tucks herself as close to the bed as she can beneath mom and stays there until mom gets up, sometimes three or more hours later. This time I won’t say “as if” but “because” she senses a need. Especially as mom declines cognitively Sadie’s presence beside her chair, hand resting on Sadie’s head, is one unchanging constant in mom’s world. That Sadie returns the affection makes the bond complete.
With all the bonding description given to Sadie and mom I don’t want to leave the impression she treats me as a potted plant and food stop. During her morning bedside vigil she occasionally comes out and stands in front of me for a pet before returning. I’m pretty sure this is her way of assuring me I’m not forgotten. She’s much too sensitive to people’s feelings to do otherwise. Occasionally too she leaves mom’s chairside to join me when I’m in my den.
I often ponder Sadie’s background and wonder how anyone could part with such a complete and loving dog. She’s obviously trained, well socialized with people and other dogs. She’s already become a favorite with neighbors (the dog aware type) and staff. I marvel too at the brief moment in time when the stars were aligned. She was only in foster care for two weeks.
As a family we are whole again. We open the door in happy anticipation knowing the foyer is empty no more.
Retired Retriever Rescue
This story is incomplete not mentioning a remarkable lady without whom there would be no story. When my daughter searched the Internet she was surprised to find an organization in this small city that seemed to fit her search requirements precisely: older Labrador retrievers. My daughter, Amy, presumed the person who responded to her inquiry, Suzanne, was a spokesperson for the organization. Turns out she was the spokesperson but much, much more. Suzanne Mooney IS Retired Retriever Rescue. Along with what I presume to be a supportive husband she takes in and houses old retrievers herself, searches out foster caretakers, participates in rescue chains accepting dogs from other states, attends adopt-a-dog fairs, solicits donations thanking each donor personally, publishes a blog and maintains a Facebook presence. You get the picture. Now for the kicker – she also holds down a full time job! I don’t know how she does it but then, as I pointed out, she is one remarkable lady.