Sabot, Our Oldest Four-Legged Friend by Will Rodriquez.
With a broken heart and significant physical difficulty (it’s hard to type constantly wiping away one’s tears and blowing one’s nose) that I report the passing of our oldest, wisest and most loving four-legged friend.
I adopted “Sabot” as a gift to my wife a month after our wedding on Valentine’s Day almost 15 years ago. The staff at Ft. Benning’s pound (I know, BIG spender Will!) steered me to their favorite and oldest boarder, “Bear”. Bear had been surrendered by their family upon receiving orders to their next post. A too tragic fact that too many military families give into. (Moral – Don’t adopt a dog unless you are going to keep and provide for him for life.) The staff told me “Bear” was a HUGE lover and their favorite. Sadly, he was also there the longest and might not be with them much longer.
I was looking for a companion dog for the two of us. Through his kennel’s fence I saw a long haired black dog, a chow/border collie mix approximately three years old based on his youthful appearance and teeth. Bear was skittish alternating between staying behind his dog house and coming to sniff at the fence. I entered the kennel and gently approached Bear who cowered and nervously urinated on the floor. I sat in the kennel and spoke gently to him about his misfortune and if he would like to try a new family. I already had a soft spot for Bear. Besides his sad story, he resembled my previous dog Mishka, a black Chow. It was also obvious that someone had disciplined him harshly. I made a decision that would change and bless all of our lives.
Denise my wife has a huge soft spot for animals which is a likely reason for why we have so many. Her and Bear bonded immediately, and she would refer to him after as “My Valentine” when he was at his most loveable which was often. I changed his name to Sabot in recognition of his blinding speed and an effort to create some distance with his troubled past. Sabot took to CONSTANTLY following Denise around the house which I found reassuring. The following day we adopted Bradley, a puppy from the same pound and the younger sibling Sabot bonded with as an older brother would a younger one.
Early on we learned of Sabot’s love to corral. It left us little doubt to his border collie lineage. Sabot corralled everything. He dominated Bradley who would grow to almost twice Sabot’s size especially when it came to agility, speed and running around the yard. Sabot had monstrous amounts of energy to dedicate to corralling Bradley and the 2-3 cats in the house to their chagrin. We often had a difficult time playing with the cats because of Sabot’s desire to control the “red dot” and how much fun the cats were having. Sabot was a bit of a control nut and ham. He always found a way to get into the center of any activity and answered to any dog, cat or persons name called.
Sabot finally met his match when we homed Sugar. Unfortunately, my mother in laws management decided they didn’t want the Chihuahua puppy distracting everyone at work by her visits to each office on the floor. We all felt it was unfair to keep Sugar in a home by herself for 8-12 hours so she moved in with us. Sugar must be part Greyhound and left Sabot in the dust with her agility and speed easily defeating his feeble attempts to corral her. They became fast friends with Sabot’s daily attention.
Sabot’s extremely kind and gentle demeanor was a constant salve on the injuries caused by the daily grind. His constant smile and desire to be petted always left one feeling “it’s going to be alright”. The only issue being there was no such thing as too much petting. Stopping the slow stroking of Sabot’s abundant fur only invited a furry paw with wisps of hair protruding on your arm, hand, leg or face reminding one that petting hasn’t ended. Sabot always enforced a large petting tax. His love for affection wasn’t limited to us. After occasional protective barking, Sabot always approached strangers with the required petting tax. His huge heart and loving aura would have made him a perfect therapy dog. I regret not sharing him that way, but he did become the director of “Pawblicity” for all our public relations outreach.
As time inflicted its slow toll we watched Sabot slow down and Sabot watched the world. He would always create a favorite perch to watch the world pass by. Early on, his favorite perch was a shared front windowsill or shady spot in the backyard. On the road he loved to sit in the driver’s seat of the RV when we weren’t in it. He caused many a chuckle to the passerby as they did a doubletake at the black dog driving the RV. His all time favorite spot was a corner of the enclosed pool area where he could watch out at Florida’s wildlife. Besides barking when we fed the ducks, he’d lie in wait until the ducks came close then pounce the fence scaring the ducks away. His chest was puffed high at the threat he had dispatched.
While still the Alpha, Sabot didn’t dominate Bradley as much. And after we lost Bradley, the candle light in our home seemed a little dimmer. I started watching Sabot with an apprehensive eye. He was at least three years older to Bradley’s 12 when Bradley crossed the rainbow bridge making him 14 or 15 years old. Our walks were getting shorter, but Sabot had another great gift to give us.
We brought a little puppy into the house a couple of months after Bradley’s passing. Gabriel was a handful. Sabot was rejuvenated overnight and for almost four years Gabriel became Sabot’s mission. Sabot taught Gabriel how to follow, how to play, how and when to bark, when to listen and when to obey. I think that mission gave him more years because he knew we needed his example. He did it all much better than we ever could and in the back of my mind I feared it would be the last gift. I should have known though, Sabot would always have one more surprise.
Late last year Sabot started having trouble getting up. At first it was very slow. Then he needed a surface that gave him friction and we had to be sure to keep his fur trimmed around his paws so he didn’t slide. After 13 years of truly unconditional love and loyalty now was our chance to give to him. Eventually he couldn’t walk without assistance and for several months we’ve assisted him outside with a sling to carry his rear weight. He still had a strong appetite, was very alert to everything going around about him and interacting with the family as best he could. He loved to watch the goings on in the house, participate in living room bark fests and let the cats know when they were getting too unruly. We constantly assessed his quality of life and looked-for pain. During the worst patches we asked each other if it was time for that trip to the vet but Sabot returned to his always smiling self.
The last two weeks Sabot wasn’t sleeping well through the night and was having trouble sitting up. We started asking ourselves if it was “that time” as we prepared for a long eight-hour road trip to winterize a home in another state. We bundled Sabot into the SUV ensuring he had a comfortable spot and in the back of my mind I wondered if we would return with him. Sabot snored loudly as we drove to the home he grew up in a sure sign he was getting some much-needed rest. After arriving, he rested in his spot, slept in our bedroom and spent a day in the sun but wasn’t drinking or eating as usual. During a nap Friday evening, Sabot peacefully passed away in the home we shared for much of his life and where Bradley passed. Denise called me in the midst of heavy Atlanta traffic to tearfully give me the news. I sobbed on the way home alternating between grieving for his loss and thanking God for the merciful way he took him home.
When I got home I petted Sabot, told him what an awesome friend he was and that I would miss him but looked forward to seeing him again. Denise and I hugged and cried on each other. We shared stories of our moments with Sabot and remembered some of the great gifts he gave us. We learned after losing Bradley that separately writing down our friend’s unique “isms” and then putting the lists together helps with the grief and preserves the memory. As I write this I remember his last gift being the opportunity to care and show love to someone who couldn’t take care of themselves.
We’ll never be the same without Sabot but that’s a good thing. While he leaves a huge chasm in our hearts he has made us better people showing how to love, serve and be a subtle leader while having fun the whole time.
My list is nowhere near complete but here’s the start of my “Sabotisms”:
Digging deep holes in the back yard and having a face covered in dirt resembling a miner minus the mining helmet.
Getting excited about a stuffed animal and playing keep away until finding a quiet spot to lick that stuffed animal completely “clean”.
Laying in the back yard shade in a shallow hole he scooped out to stay cool.
The one time I wondered aloud if I had finished a slice of pepperoni pizza I had set on the coffee table and seeing crumbs on Sabot’s inquisitive face.
There are many more to come…
“See you later Sabot. Don’t miss me too much. Enjoy your renewed vitality corralling Bradley, Floyd and Mr. Socks, watching/barking at ducks and greeting every person that comes across the Rainbow Bridge. Denise and I will be along, and we’ll catch up.”