After I had become a lecturer of English at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 2007, I purchased my first home, and to offset the mortgage, I had taken in a student tenant, Jielei. She was an athlete and a life-guard in the Rec Center. We had nothing in common, except for one thing: we both really wanted a puppy! Strictly speaking, I needed a replacement dog. Every Sunday after church, I used to walk two Schnauzers, Tonto and Lilly, for an elderly couple, my host parents, Tom and Kay, who had kindly taken me in from 2006-2007. Tonto had suffered a stroke two weeks prior, so in order to have a pal for Lilly, who was much younger, I thought it would be nice to get another dog. (I didn’t know back then that Tonto would make a full recovery, and I ended up walking three dogs.)
So I did my research on the Internet, looking for a Labrador Retriever, because I wanted a big, family-friendly dog, whose fur didn’t need to be cut, for long walks around the campus lake. Jielei was afraid of dark dogs, so we agreed on a white puppy. A lady from Sievers Retrievers in Meppen, Illinois answered my email, and I received a photo with three puppies to choose from. I picked the most rambunctious looking one, and named her Sally. She was too young to go to her new home just yet, but I paid a USD 200 deposit, and when she was 7 1/2 weeks old, we were allowed to come and pick her up for the remaining USD 1,000. So Jielei and I set out on March 21st, 2009 to bring our puppy home.
Jielei drove, since I suffered from terrible driving anxiety. The trip took us from 9 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. (although it would normally have been a three-hours drive to St. Louis, but Jielei got completely lost, and of course I couldn’t tell her where to go). When we finally arrived at the breeder’s, hours later than planned, a pack of doggies ran towards us as soon as we opened the car door. I admit, I couldn’t shake a queasy feeling…
I had to fill out some papers, promising I would spay Sally when she was old enough (5 months) and never to breed her. Then, the breeder led us to view Sally’s parents, Brook and Spencer:
They both had tan ears, but Sally was sparkling white and would stay that way her whole life.
Jielei was in love with Sally at first sight, but her nose got offended, so the breeder submitted Smelly Sally to a quick bath, which she did not enjoy at all!
As one can see on the picture below, Jielei had left her ring lying on the white platform next to the bathtub when we bathed Sally. We emailed Sievers Retrievers, and they mailed her the ring a couple of days later.
On the ride home, Sally would at some point start whining, so we drove to the shoulder, I opened the passenger door, held her outside, and she went pee pee that very moment. She always would indicate when she had to go. At home, she fell asleep on a towel in front of her doggy bed; didn’t quite make it into bed anymore. At 5 a.m., she went poopy on my floor, and at 6 a.m. I took her out. I learned her schedule fast, so I knew exactly when I had to let her out into the fenced-in backyard early in the morning. I trained her with doggy pads, and soon, she was house broken.
Jielei used to borrow Sally as long as she was so little, to take her to her friends. The two were great pals.
When Sally was eight weeks old, she walked 2.5 miles around campus lake with my friend Mary and me already, on her little pink leash with her pink poopy bags. We took it in turns to carry her a little bit, but she did fine. Tonto and Lilly didn’t, on the other hand – they were pulling, barking, and misbehaving, and at the middle of the path around the lake, Lilly collapsed. We thought it was a heat stroke, so I carried the big, fat girl into the water. In the water, she just lay around and wouldn’t come out any more, so I carried her back out (and got completely wet and muddy), and since neither of us had brought a cell phone, we asked some pedestrians for one to call Tom. Tom and Kay came with the van and picked Lilly up. However, they didn’t take her to the emergency vet. They rolled her into a pillow and laid her before the front door. She was still there when the two of us brought Tonto home later. She was able to lift her head. After some time, she miraculously recovered, just like Tonto had done. Their owner assumed they had licked some pesticide off the grass and got poisoned.
Sally loved to help Jieley cooking. Especially the paper towels had caught her eye.
Sally was raised on what I thought was the best and most expensive puppy chow, Eukanuba.
Only as she got older, I switched to cheaper brands like Beneful from Purina as dry food, and Choice Cuts in Gravy from Pedigree as moist food. Sally loved bacon! Actually, she loved food per se. If a burglar had brought her a bone, she would gladly have let him into my house. When I walked her, I usually had bacon strips or other chewies as treats with me, so I could teach Sally good manners when other dogs approached.
When you get a puppy, you’re getting into something… I had picked a puppy from a breeder on purpose, because I thought that if I got a shelter dog, it might have previous trauma and have problems bonding with me, or try to bite me. (Turns out, I was mistaken.) I thought if I raised a dog from the start, we would be more attached. According to the breeder’s website, Sally would be “calm” and not destroy my home….
Hmm, the prediction about her “tempermant” was about as correct as the weather forecast. Calm, Sally calm??? She was hyperactive at best, and her strong tail made glasses fly off the table. If I gave her a chew toy, it would be gone in no time, and the ground was littered with the inner life of whatever cotton-filled plushy she had torn apart. I switched to sturdy ropes and tennis balls, and even those didn’t last long. Sally chewed the legs of my chairs and tables when she was teething, even the bottom of my glass cabinet; one day, she knocked over a night table and tore an expensive quilt that hung on the wall into shreds. She got to my glasses and chewed on the frame – and when caught, she would glance at me with her irresistible, smokey puppy eyes, as if she wanted to say, “What’s the matter, mommy? I was a good doggy.” One day, my tenant Jielei complained that she had no Internet – I soon found out why:
Sally wasn’t very “intelligent,” either; when she had run around a street lantern, she could not disentangle her leash. And when she was little, she jumped into the campus lake from the pier and could not get back up when she was exhausted. I had to ask some canoeists to save her. It’s a wonder that she passed puppy class at Petco; when she started it, she was called “bulldozer,” and by the time she finished it, she was called, “tank.” She had just grown so much! And she knocked down everything that got in her path. Sally was supposed to learn to walk past treats through the pet store where her puppy classes took place, but of course, she went right for the treats!
On May 8th, 2009 a big storm, called an “inland derecho,” hit Carbondale, IL. It wasn’t quite a hurricane, but it was devastating on the community. Many houses and cars were hit, trees and cables were downed, power was out for a week, Internet for several weeks, and debris was lying around everywhere. We could not walk around campus lake for a while, because there was the danger of snapping trees even after the storm was over. Sally was a five-months-old puppy then and enjoyed our “disaster walks” through the city; she bathed in the muddy puddles under the uprooted trees, she carried trophy gloves that the workers had lost. For her, it was all a big adventure. Also, she was allowed to stay inside more, because four trees had fallen into my backyard and knocked over the doggy fence.
The best time of Sally Girl’s life started when I adopted Honey Girl from the Humane Shelter in July 2009. The girls bonded quickly and loved to play in the campus lake together. Below, you see the “branch manager” and the “assistant branch manager”! They used to swim after a stick thrown into the lake together. Honey was the better swimmer and got to it first. When she swam back to the banks with the stick, Sally caught up and grabbed the other side, and they proudly held the stick together, one on each side. When arriving at the bank, Honey tore loose from Sally and brought in the stick by herself, because she wanted all the praise!
Sally never properly learned to walk on a leash; she would tear loose and run towards other dogs or after squirrels whenever she pleased, and she was strong and got up to over 80 lbs, while Honey was only about 60 lbs. Sally was a British Lab, bulky chested and thick necked, and Honey was an American Lab, slim and slender built. Honey was a great swimmer and could make it clear across the lake, chasing the ducks.
My friend Mary and I became a fixture in Carbondale, now walking around campus lake with four dogs: I held Honey and Tonto, and she led Sally and Lilly. When people approached and asked what kind of breed Tonto and Lilly were (most of the time, their fur was so long that you couldn’t tell front from back), I said with my strongest accent, “German Moon Dogs!”, and many people fell for it ;)) Alas, one tragic day in 2010, I had gone to vend at a reptile show, and Mary took out all four doggies walking alone. Plus, she was holding a loaded poop bag. They spotted another dog on the opposite side of the road and pulled her over there. She fell, broke her skull, dislocated her shoulder, and woke up in an ambulance (she didn’t even know who called it). She called me from the hospital; her face was all green and blue, and she had two liters of blood trapped under the skin of her hip. She did not know where the doggies were – the police had gone searching for them, and I picked them up from the Humane Shelter the very next day. Mary was out of commission for two weeks. We joked that she did not need to disguise for Halloween, because she could just go the way she looked right then and there.
The girls loved to play in the snow!
Time went by, Tonto and Lilly passed away at ages 16 and 15 (little dogs get older than big ones), I got married to David in December 2014, and Honey and Sally moved into my husband’s house. They were seniors already, aged 6 and 7. We had a high wooden fence built around our backyard, so Honey couldn’t escape and roam the neighborhood. The doggies lived in the basement. David’s place was just around the corner from my own house, which I rented out, so our doggy walking routes did not change. David held Honey, who was more mellow, and I held Sally, who pulled with all her might.
After our happy years in Illinois and the death of my husband, I moved to Tennessee in 2017. Again, I had a high wooden fence built around the vast back yard; it cost USD 10,000! Both dogs were very protective about and gentle with my pregnant belly. There was considerably less snow in Tennessee, but they still enjoyed it:
When my son Leander was born, the girls were really careful and loving with him. I had feared they might be jealous, but they weren’t. As soon as Leander could run, he chased Honey and Sally around, and vice versa, and they spent many happy hours in our big back yard playing ball. If he got knocked over by an excited doggo, there were a few tears, and then a happy embrace again. The girls had found a little being to protect. As you can see, Sally is following Leander closely as he inspects a hole in the fence from the last storm, which could have been a possible escape route…
Here’s a video of Lyons Cub and Sally in the back yard:
When the pandemic struck in the fateful year of 2020, we decided it was safer for a widow with a toddler to move back to our family in Germany, so we would have protection if something happened to me. However, due to Covid-19, no animals were allowed on international flights. With a heavy heart, we had to adopt out our elderly dogs. Kim, our doggy walker, found a nice couple willing to care for them for the rest of their lives. The saddest thing was that when we already lived in Germany, and two months later, our boxes from Clarksville arrived by ship, I told my 2.5-year-old son that all our things from America were here now. He ran between the boxes and called, “Honey and Sally???”
In January 2021, Honey succumbed to her cancer. She had had an open sore on her leg that would not heal anymore. At 14 years of age, she had surpassed the general expectation of life of her breed (10-12 years). Sally was a year younger and still liked to fetch balls, but she was slowing down, too. Here is a last photo of the girls together, which the adoptive family sent us. They had a beautiful last Christmas, new leashes, and soft, warm beds.
Sally Girl died on February 23th, 2021. She was 13 years old. This is the last picture I received from her adoptive parents. They gave her a wonderful, last half year of life as an inside dog, with all the comfort and veterinary care she could have wished for.
She was euthanized because she could not walk anymore. Sally had suffered from hip dysplasia for a while, and I had noticed the previous year that she was limping a bit and her hind legs gave in sometimes when she chased her beloved, muddy soccer ball. She had a good, long life full of love and running around and chasing balls until the very end, but I’m sure she missed her companion, Honey, and did not want to stay behind. The two had been inseparable. Smokey Eyes was one faithful doggo; people just had to love her with her innocent look. “Good girl,” Sally!