Red Card Roberts
June 26, 2012
I know this column appears every week in the sports section. I know I don’t write for the obituaries. And I know, even if I did write obituaries, people don’t usually send in written announcements for the death of a pet.
I know all that. I just don’t care. This week I am tearfully submitting an obituary for my beloved dalmatian, Sabor, who passed away on June 18, 2012.
I would argue that her obituary actually does belong in the sports section. After all, in Park City our dogs play a very active role in how we recreate. And Sabor was just as much a part of the Park City sports scene as any dog or person in this town.
She was a hiker, a trail runner, mountain-biking companion, camper, snowshoer, backcountry skier, extreme sledder and squirrel hunter. She was also a fan of sports and could often be seen on the sidelines of my soccer and softball games, filling the role of spotted cheerleader. We spent countless Sundays cuddling on the couch watching football. Like me, she was a Cowboys fan. And when age robbed her of her ability to participate in athletic endeavors, she was always at the door to greet me when I returned from mine. But, of course, she was much, much more than just a doggie jock.
For 15½ years, Sabor is who I came home to every night. She’s who I had dinner with. Who quietly listened to any gripe I had. Who never passed judgment on the bad decisions I made. Who kept all of my secrets. Who licked my tears away when I was sad. Who loved me regardless of my failures and shortcomings. Who was always up for any adventure, even if it was just a ride to the grocery store. As long as she got to be with me, she was happy. She was what every dog is: Unconditionally loyal.
And she is unbelievably missed.
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I miss her velvety ears. I miss the way she groaned with pleasure when I rubbed them. I miss her big, soft, brown eyes and the way she communicated to me with them. I miss the feel of her cold, wet nose on my back when she wanted me to wake up. I miss her disproportionately little paws. I miss just walking into the house and knowing she’s there. I even miss her old-dog bad breath.
I know she was a dog. I know that when you get a pet, it is with the understanding you will outlive it. I know I am not the first dog owner to cry myself to sleep and ache at the thought of my loss. And I know she had a better life than a large number of people on this planet. I know all that. But it doesn’t make me miss her any less.
I got Sabor in college. She was actually a Christmas present from me to my then-boyfriend. We’d been together for a long time. We were young and in love, clueless about life, and talked about getting married. I just assumed we would. Five months after I presented him with an adorable spotted puppy with a big red bow on her head, we broke up.
It was my first broken heart, and I was completely devastated. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t focus. I wanted to escape. I wanted my mommy. But I wasn’t going anywhere without Sabor.
I begged him to give me the dog. He refused. So I did what any scorned woman would: I went Jerry Springer on his ass.
I broke into his apartment when he was at work and took Sabor. Sabor and I became fugitives, driving 1,500 miles from Texas to Omaha to spend the summer with my parents.
That summer, my broken heart was mended by my spotted dog. Many days she was the only reason I peeled myself out of bed. I had to take care of her.
After college we moved to Illinois where I took a job. Every month or two I would drive home to Omaha to see my family, with Sabor always sitting shotgun, keeping me company for the long, flat drive west on I-80. Barking at cows along the way.
I remember coming home one weekend after being told in advance I was going to meet my sister’s new boyfriend, Bob. When we arrived, with Sabor running into the house in front of me, Bob greeted me with a handshake and asked, "Where’s Sabor?"
"Right there," I said pointing to my dog, who was now in full pursuit of my sister’s cat.
Dumbfounded, he said, "All I’ve heard from your family for the last two months is ‘Amy and Sabor did this today. Amy and Sabor did that. Amy says Sabor had a nice birthday. Sabor hates the feel of flannel. I called Amy, but she’s out with Sabor.’ I just assumed Sabor was your boyfriend."
We were an inseparable team.
A few years later we found ourselves in Park City. By then we’d acquired another member to our pack, a big yellow dog called Boston. Together, we fell in love with the mountain lifestyle. And Sabor became more than just my constant companion. She became my mountain trail guide. Always ahead of me. Always exploring. Fearless and curious. She decided which way we were going.
There’s a theory I read in a book once. It states that if you’re a dog person, you will have many dogs in your lifetime, and you will love them all. But there is one that you will consider your "lifetime dog." One dog you will think about on your deathbed. One who will always be a part of you. One whose bond with you is so strong, you could never explain it. And that’s okay because no words would ever do it justice anyway.
I’m pretty sure Sabor is my lifetime dog.
Perhaps that’s because Sabor was the first dog that was all mine. (Well, after I stole her.) She wasn’t a shared-responsibility family pet I’d grown up with. Perhaps it’s because she’s the dog I entered adulthood with. I can’t think of a more transitional decade of your life than your twenties, and she saw me through all those changes. But maybe it’s also because I don’t think I can ever love another dog this much again. Not in this lifetime.
I knew the day was coming. The last few weeks it’s felt like I had a fire-hot marble lodged in my throat that I couldn’t swallow back. I cried myself to sleep thinking about her dying. I didn’t want to make that decision I wanted her to.
But in the end, you have to separate love and mercy. You have to let your head make decisions your heart curses you for. You have to love enough to endure the pain of goodbye.
It was one of the worst days of my life. But it wasn’t the worst day of hers.
But that awful, horrible day was eased significantly by a number of people: My friend and veterinarian John Artz, who came to my home, and with genuine compassion for Sabor, ended her suffering. Pat Werner and Shawna McCall, the dedicated women who run Utah Pet Rehab & Acupuncture. They treated Sabor the last few years of her life, and I believe their water therapies and lasers and acupuncture treatments (and spoons full of peanut butter) gave me more quality time with her. My dear friend Cathy Clark, who wept with me and helped me spoon-feed ice cream to Sabor. My dad who, without hesitating, booked a last-minute flight and flew 1,000 miles so I didn’t have to be alone when I said goodbye. My mom who reminded me that no matter how much my heart hurts right now, I will never feel any regret about the life I gave to Sabor.
This might seem silly to some. Maybe even a bit dramatic. I know that most people don’t get this many years with their dog. I know there are people who don’t even get that many years with their child. But I also know that my best friend is gone. Grief is grief.
I loved my dog. I always will. I look forward to the day when I can think about her and smile instead of cry. At this point, I look forward to the day I can walk by the dog-food aisle at the grocery store and not burst into tears.
Because that is what she deserves. She gave me so many years of happiness. The least I can do in return is smile at the thought of her.
Rest in peace my sweet, sweet girl. I know you’ll be waiting for me at the Rainbow Bridge.
Sabor Marie Roberts. 10/16/1996 6/18/2012. Survived by her "brother" Boston and her "cousins" Krauss, Sky, Royce, and Bailey. Preceded in death by Panda, Riser, Peppi, Shammy, Jill, and Tuff.
In lieu of flowers, please offer an act of kindness to a homeless animal.
If you have a story idea for Red Card Roberts, please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.