Forty seven years ago. I was eleven, skinny as a rail, a hard wind would have blown me away. Fall was in the air. I stood on the back porch at my best friend’s house, the Sycamore trees near the dirt driveway dropping their leaves in preparation for the winter rest. My friend and I were headed out to the swing set perched across the drive. I observed a black blob stumbling through the fading grass.
The blob revealed curly, matted hair as it wandered into a closer range of vision, remnants of a dog inched its way toward the porch. The dog lifted its head into the air, sniffing, carefully placing its feet on the ground before it. Two white clouds shone from the darkness of the coat.
The screen door banged behind us. My friend’s mother commented, “That dog’s blind.”
The blind poodle accompanied me home that night when my mother picked me up. She helped me cut the matted clumps off the body to reveal a skinny female who I named Ginny Sally. She ate Gaines Burgers dog food and promptly threw it up. She hadn’t eaten for a long time.
We asked around my friend’s neighborhood thinking she belonged to someone nearby. Surely someone would be looking for her. The lady who owned the grocery store at the end of the street recognized her. She told me to keep her and not tell anyone. The owners lived in her neighborhood about eight blocks away. “She’s better off with you,” she said. “They neglected her.”
Sally slowly learned her way around our house, avoiding obstacles like footstools and chair legs that she first ran into. She walked through our house with an adeptness only a sighted person could do—as long as nothing changed. Once when my grandmother rolled up the living room rug to sweep the floor, Sally walked right into the lump of carpet. She froze. And then became a bundle of nerves, shivering until her legs buckled.
On Christmas Eve morning, we awoke to find her huddled under the Christmas tree with a dead puppy lying beside her. She quietly mourned her offspring with her head resting on her front paws. We hadn’t realized that her plump stomach was not due to eating well, but due to those days she wondered unattended and unprotected from the male dogs.
Sally followed me everywhere in the house. She slept in my bed. She reclined at my feet. She sat in the chair with me. I dutifully took care of her, taking her outside during the day, feeding her meals twice a day and making sure our other dog allowed her to eat, guiding her around the furniture, keeping her away from the gas heater in the living room, and covering her when she shivered with cold.
In turn, Sally nursed me through my bouts of bronchitis, provided me with constant companionship, endured my never ending conversations with her, and gave me comfort as I wrestled with adolescence. My grandmother swore Sally could tell time by some unknown dog method. On school days, Sally walked to the front door and sat down about 2:45 and waited for me to walk through the door at 3:00. I passed through my teenage years, leaving her for Friday night ball games, Saturday night dates, and summer Sundays at Reed Bingham State Park.
Sally eventually became incontinent and arthritic. I took her to the vet to be euthanized. It seemed the humane thing to do at the time. I couldn’t bear to watch her go. My boyfriend, who later became my husband, went with me to Dr. Bozeman’s office, and I left them sitting together in the waiting room. I sobbed all the way back home. My boyfriend buried her out on his farm, out behind the tobacco barn, where all his family animals rested.
I tried to replace my Sally with first one dog and then another. A Dachshund named Mandy who ripped up the arm of my mother’s best armchair. Another Dachshund named Nozy who was bitten by a rattlesnake, a Doberman Pinscher named Trudy who was hit by a car, another Doberman named Heidi who followed my toddler son around our yard and stayed with him while he played in the dirt driveway. Then came Pokey and Scooter, two Rat Terriers I rescued from a deplorable situation. Cats also joined the retinue of animals offered up as consolation for Sally’s departure. There was George Jones, a yellow tabby. Higgins who was named after the caretaker of the estate on Magnum P.I., Junior, the fifteen pound Tuxedo cat with a head the size of a babies’—he disappeared into the cold night on January 1, 1993 after becoming indignant at not being allowed to eat pizza with the rest of the family—and Debit, the starving tiger-striped kitten I found on the back steps of Commercial Banking Company.
As long as thirty years after that fateful visit to Dr. Bozeman’s office, I could not talk about Sally without choking up. I had been totally devoted to her. Her helplessness appealed to my need to nurture. Her memory lingered in my mind, but her name rarely crossed my lips. I couldn’t bear it. And none of these replacements, although I loved them all dearly, seemed to hold a candle to her.
Then, one day in December 2002, some 24 years later while visiting the market in Aviano, Italy, I spied a little white dog with a head twice the size of her body—which she finally grew into—and I took her home.