posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken

Sandy was never a satisfactory dog. No dog is perfect, of course, as we well knew from earlier canines we'd taken in.

Our first, Sheba, was hit by a car, and Whiskers, who we loved dearly despite her chewing everything, we had for 15 years.

I thought I wanted a dog, and the kids were sure they had to have one. Ray didn't want one at all. Several years passed before some people showed him the picture of a dog they had to give away.

After consulting with us, he brought her home. Sandy was a full-grown beagle/collie/terrier cross who had been in a family with five boys. They assured us she was housebroken. They lied.

The only thing that dog could do was catch a ball. She could play catch for hours on end, long after everyone else in the house had lost interest.

I still don't know if you can teach an old dog new tricks, but it was impossible to teach this young dog anything she didn't want to learn. Which was pretty much everything, like "don't bark", "heel", walk on a leash, "don't chase the cats", "come", and the ever popular "Pee outside, not in the house." She ruined most of the rugs and hardwood floors in the house, until she finally realized it would be better for all concerned to pee outside. The kids did teach her to roll over and play dead with her feet in the air, on the command: BANG!

Sandy was the only dog I ever met that didn't like to ride in the car. We figured this was because every time she got in the car, she was either taken to the vet or given away to live with strangers. We thought she'd get over it eventually, but we were wrong.

Forget taking her on vacation with us; just the pitiful shaking and drooling on the drive to the kennel was traumatic for all of us. Vet trips were another story; that was the only place she ever bit anybody, so she was muzzled the second we dragged her in the door. (At 50 plus pounds, there wasn't a lot of carrying going on.)

This vet-phobia was all the more discouraging because she greeted everybody else with much barking, dancing around, and tail-wagging. I bought a big cage because the guidebooks said she would feel safe there, but Ray thought it was cruel and took it apart. I borrowed a "no bark" collar to teach her not to BARKBARKBARK at everything. Ray thought it was cruel and gave it back.

"You're a lucky dog," I told her. "We're suckers. Not everybody would keep you around."

The town passed a leash law, but Ray figured, since her arrival preceded its passage, that she was "grandfathered" and it didn't apply to her. She would make the rounds of the neighborhood, checking out everybody and his dog. We followed her progress by the barking.

We had her for a long time but a couple of years ago, Sandy slowed down. We'd gotten her "used" but estimated her age as 13 or 14. She found it harder to climb the stairs to the bedrooms, to hop up on the living room couch or the bed, which she hogged shamelessly. She tried to control the cats by stern glares rather than by chasing.

She had been sick for a few days when Ray made a vet appointment. She was off her feed and water, seemed weak, had a warm nose. We'd pet her soft ears and murmur endearments, but we weren't looking forward to the vet visit, and we weren't sure she'd be coming home, either.

She was a smart cookie and she knew a vet trip was in the offing. That morning Ray found her lying beside the back door, and when he opened it, she struggled down the steps and off into the woods.

She never came home. Knowledgeable friends have assured us that dogs, knowing they're dying, go off on their own. Perhaps so. Despite her myriad shortcomings, she was our dog and we loved her. We cannot shake the feeling, even a year later, that we failed her at the end.

We still do doggy things. We spoil our friends' dogs. We listened to Marley and Me on long car trips and knew that Sandy had been that lovable, too. A daughter and I researched dog breeds, hoping we could find one that Ray would accept--a fellow couch potato. He still says no.

There's an old joke.Three men of God are discussing "when life begins." The Catholic priest says, "Life begins at conception." The Protestant minister says, "No, life begins at birth." The Rabbi says, "You're both wrong. Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies."

I wouldn't know. We no longer have a dog, but the kids, 25 and 31, show no signs of leaving.

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