Last night Sugar took her last ride with Martha and me. She was almost 14 years old, and her hips and joints finally gave out all at once yesterday. She could not climb up the two steps she likes to climb up to rest on the door step in our garage. I held her in my lap as Jerry kindly helped us drive her to the vet. For the entire ride to Bainbridge, she continued to lick the tears from my eyes, and assured me that she had led a good life and knew that she was loved. As I held her head in my arms while the vet administered the medicine, the last thing that she tried to do before closing her eyes for eternity was to lick my face once more.
I had already called Cader IV, and he was digging her grave on the banks of her beloved Flint River that she so enjoyed swimming in daily. Cader IV’s precious daughter ,Caroline, sent over a few flowers left over from her dance recital, and we laid them on top of the grave when we were finished.
And then the tears and memories came flooding in. Sugar was almost 14 years old. I remember like yesterday the day we went to Rodney and Luci’s house to pick our puppy from the litter. This litter all ran to big dogs with the females weighing 80-95 pounds and the males weighing 100-125 at maturity.The only thing we were certain of is that we wanted a female. Martha asked me on the way,” How will we decide which puppy to choose”? I told her that we would not choose the puppy, but the puppy would choose us. When we arrived, Rodney let all of the puppies out, and we sat on the ground while they cavorted around us. One little brown fur ball kept climbing between my legs and nestling in my lap while the others rambled here there and yonder. I knew that our dog had chosen us, and we registered her as ” Martha’s Sweet Brown Sugar”. Of course, she quickly became known as just Sugar.
Sugar was my first Lab that I owned after all of my children were grown; so I was able to train her as a real hunting dog. I had allowed the kids to ruin the others by chasing after them with balls, but I have always believed that it was more important for the kids to have a pet than for me to own a jam-up retriever. I did not have that to contend with when Sugar came along; so I trained her to be a first class retriever as well as a wonderful companion. She may have been the smartest dog I ever owned, and had an excellent nose as well as eyesight.She learned hand signals on her own by jogging with me daily as a puppy. When we would come to a fork in the road, I would motion to her which direction I planned to jog. She had directional hand signals down pat before we ever really started serious training. Once trained to all commands, she would only obey Martha if she looked at me first as if to ask,” Do I have to do what she says”? That was funny to both Martha and me as she would only obey a sit,stay, or come command from Martha after looking at me for a head nod.
On our first dove hunt, everyone was in stitches watching her. When no birds were coming in, she would insist on crawling in my lap. She probably weighed about 75 pounds then, and 75 pounds of fur sitting in your lap in September is hot. I also recall on that hunt, I made a snap shot at a dove flying behind me in a thicket. I thought that I had missed the bird. Sugar kept whining and trying to leave our stand, and I was becoming agitated. Jerry Cooper, who is a great dog trainer, was on the stand up from me. He finally walked down to me and said,” Boss, you killed that bird. I saw it go down, and Sugar did also. She wants to go get that bird”. I turned her loose, and she came back proudly in about five minutes with a dove in her mouth.
Another thing that absolutely amazed me about Sugar was how gentle she was with my grandchildren. The only time she ever hurt any of my triplets who were very young when Sugar was young too was when she would accidentally knock them over wagging that big tail of hers because she was always so happy to see them.It absolutely floored me that a dog with enough bite pressure to snap her jaws on an armadillo and squeeze its intestines out of its rear end could feather a tennis ball out of a four year old’s hand without ever touching a finger of one of my grandchildren.
I read a story once of a man who realized that he had died. He found himself walking down a dusty trail with an old dog of his that had died many years ago.After they had walked for a while and had become thirsty, they came to a gate. He knocked on the door. When the gate keeper answered, he asked what this place was and was informed that this was heaven’s gate. The man asked if he and his dog could come in and get a drink of water. The gate keeper replied that he was welcome to come in, but no dogs were allowed. The gentleman said, ” Well, I reckon that I don’t belong here either. They traveled on a few miles and came to another gate. He knocked on that one also, and inquired if he and his dog could come in for a drink of water. The gate keeper replied,”Certainly”.Once inside, the man asked what the name of this place was and was told that he was in heaven. The gentleman was puzzled and mentioned that the last place that would not allow his dog in had claimed to be heaven also. St. Peter replied, ” NO, that was a test. Any man who would leave his dog and walk in that gate entered hell!
All theology aside, I choose to believe that my sweet Sugar is in heaven. She has all of her strength and stamina back. She can now not only chase squirrels and armadillos, but she’s catching them again. I miss her, but I have a lifetime of precious memories of my sweet,old girl!