Sierra, my little Golden Girl

First time we backpacked together, Sierra was on my shoulders. Soon, she made her way in the woods just fine. In her prime, she was truly a golden goddess.

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Living in the foothills of Northern California, and being a big fan of the mountains that surrounded me, I decided to name her “Sierra.” She was a pound-pup. The most feisty of the lot, yet she still allowed me to handle her six-week-old paws without squirming too much–one of the signs I had read about–suggesting she’d be well adjusted and suitable one day as an adult lab-chow-mutt.

She’d be my first dog (officially). When I was still in diapers, my parents brought home a spotted beagle which they claim I ran from in fright at first sight. One-two-many horror flicks viewed over my older brother’s shoulder taught me that anything with teeth would go right for my throat so I avoided that little dog we’d called Spot. But now, fully potty trained (talking about me now) I decided I wanted a dog; a fishing buddy; a pal to ride up front in the bench seat with me everywhere I’d go.

When she turned 8-weeks old on July 7th, The Pound allowed me to take her home. It struck me then that if my birthday was May 7, we were pretty much born on the same day. So it was a sign. We were twins under different moons.

When I took her to the vet the next day, I beamed with pride when the receptionist asked my little girl’s name. What an original she was. “Sierra,” I said.

“Oh, how sweet, we’ve had two Sierra’s in here today already.” Nevertheless, I would soon learn of other nicknames to call my child. Golden Girl was my favorite tag, but others such as, Shit-for Brains, Goddamn Little Fucker, came to mind as the circumstances arose.

I understand finally, what parents go through when their kid is missing, on the edge, near a curb, etc; she made my life crazy. If it wasn’t the UPS truck running her over, it was the pitt bull across the street slitting her throat with a single bite. They say the chow  in her made her aggressive towards other dogs; but the lab in her coated her dark side with enough sun-colored whimsy that no-one could resist. I was smitten and she knew it.

Her needs soon came first. Like when I gave up my Fourth of July’s for her. She couldn’t tolerate the sound of fireworks. I found this out the first time one popped above us in the sky–easily a mile away–at which point she hopped the fence and ran for the hills. She didn’t stop running till she landed 8 miles away up on the mesa South of town, whereupon a gas field worker noted her tag and brought her to me, 25 hours later. I was ready for the milk-carton folk to have her photo printed up, but she was returned, spent and yet wagging the tiniest bit in the tip or her tail as if to say, “budt I wub ascawurd.”

Despite all the poop she left for me to pick up, the poop she helped herself to out of the cat box, and the poop that she was when I needed her to sit still till the deer were out of sight, I never felt such loss as when she passed.

Maybe it was losing my bride to be, my mother, grandmother and ex-wife and my other dog Kenai–all in the same 12-month period–but when Sierra passed, it hit me harder than all previous losses combined. She’d lived a great life of nearly 16 years, but her last two days with me were spent in hospice: lifting her to pee outside, feeding her with a dropper, kissing her face and holding her for hours while she lay breathing in faint, little whispers.

If my little Golden Girl in fact made it into pet-heaven, I’m praying that Peter, or Spot, or whomever, is kind to her too. She’s probably already dug up the newly planted bulbs outlining the Pearly Gate, which she in turn has already pissed on repeatedly. But I know there’s a place for her, just like the one she filled in my heart when I first held her. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to practicing parenthood, and I miss that job, and that little pain in my ass more than I can truly say.

•••

I wrote this poem right after Sierra left me. I’d held her in my arms, felt her last breath leave her body and I sat down and wrote the following: 

I am sound asleep and my dog is dying
Her breathing thick and rapid
I awake and my dog is dying
I comfort her and weep as she gulps the air
I am helpless while my dog is dying
I make coffee and my dog is dying
The TV mutters to neither of us
Routines abound and my dog is dying
I crush another pill
rolling the powder inside her mouth
I feel helpless while my dog is dying
I pray for her to go quickly as she lay still
The near dawn light is cool and gray
Another day and my dog is dying
Was I a good owner, parent, friend?
I am helpless while my dog is dying

 Sierra May 7, 1992 – Jan 13, 2008