Sandy introduced herself to me the way she led her life, calmly and with kindness that seemed to radiate from her heart-melting, big, brown eyes. She slowly waddled over as her pendulous belly swayed from side to side. She sat down beside me, nuzzled my arm, and looked up with a gaze I can never forget. At 33.5 pounds, she was a beagle with a little extra to hug. Her foster mom, Teresa, named her Sandy because she had a sandy stripe down her back. She never answered to anything else, although she had clearly been someone's very cared for pet until she found herself dumped far from any residential area in the middle of Louisa County. The ridge in her velvety fur where her collar had been was still evident when the BREW volunteers found her. I think that she may have had elderly parents because every time Sandy saw a couple over age 70, she became overexcited, wagging and play bowing in anticipation of the cuddles. She also cried (real tears!) every time she heard a siren that first year. If only she could have told me what happened to her.
For the first few months after I adopted her, she only wagged around me. She acted quite depressed, her big eyes expressing so many emotions: sadness, melancholy, heartache, lonesomeness. And yet, her tail wagged and wagged every time we went for a walk or I returned from work. She had clearly been someone's pet. The first evening she was with me in July 2002, I started cooking dinner when I realized that the pitter patter of little beagle paws had ceased. I turned around to see Sandy sitting up on her hind legs behind me, waiting patiently for some dinner to be shared! The first night, I put her dog bed on the floor in my bedroom and petted her as she sat down in it. I climbed into bed and had a solid minute or so of alone time before that pleasantly plump little girl jumped into bed with me. She turned around in circles and curled up by my feet as though she belonged there. Sandy's spot at the end of the bed was short lived, however. Over the next few months, she decided that she could burrow under the duvet and sleep against my feet. Eight years later, she had grown accustomed to sleeping against my legs with one long ear flopped over my ankle or curled up behind my knees.
Sandy was not very vocal. She very rarely felt the need to bay or bark, but her sounds were always entertaining. When she yawned, she would vocalize a noise that can only be described as a slightly muted James Brown scream (owwwwww). Anytime she did this when friends were over, one would inevitably respond "I feel good!" without missing a beat. She had a beautiful arroooooooo, only using it to alert me that someone was at the door or if encouraged by friends to bay. She also snored louder than anyone I've ever met (human or canine). It was one of her endearing qualities.
Sandy and I frequented the Falls Church dog park for awhile. I thought it would be a great way to help her shed some pounds and socialize. Sandy would typically waddle around the perimeter, nose to the ground, picking up leaves with her adhesive-quality drool, and taking care of business. She would then climb up on the picnic table where the people were, lay down on her side, and go to sleep while receiving belly rubs. So much for exercising. Later in life, after we moved to Charlottesville, Sandy discovered trails. Oh dear beagle, where had these been all of her life?! Suddenly, she became super active hiking geriatric beagle. She loved to leap over rocks, gently get her paws just a little wet in rivers, and follow the trail of the other animals. She loved it. Deer would often join us on the trail and unless they came up to her face, she thought that was pretty fun. If they came really close, she would bay at the top of her lungs, scaring the poor deer away. oops.
Sandy was gentle, soft spoken, and very kind. She took treats using only her lips and eating one piece of treat or kibble at a time, causing me to think that perhaps she wasn't a real beagle. Over her lifetime, we fostered many BREW beagles. None were house trained when they arrived, so Sandy would model appropriate behavior. When I would pick up their leashes, Sandy would walk to the door, hold eye contact with her foster brother or sister, and sit. She would only break eye contact to look at me after the other dog sat too. Then, I would attach the leashes to their collars, wait for Sandy to paw at the door, and off we went! Sandy was also excellent at showing other dogs how to take care of business immediately, particularly in the rain or snow. Inside, she would share compressed rawhide bones and even beds. You'll see a picture here of Sandy with a former foster, Tali (Misty), who was adopted by close friends. Tali, Sandy, and another former foster adopted by different friends, Jesse, loved to cuddle and came to dinner I shared with friends every weekend. She cuddled equally with humans, known for always needing to have one part of her touching me if I was seated. She also learned that rump scratches were the best thing ever. One of my friends was particularly gracious with her rump scratches and Sandy quickly learned to do a 180 and back up to her if she appeared at our door. Yes, Sandy greeted some friends butt first, eagerly anticipating that rump scratch.
Sandy was also kind to those some would think she would naturally hunt. When her beagle friend, Jesse, caught a squirrel while staying at our place, Sandy reacted differently. Luckily, Jesse immediately followed my command to "drop it!" Before the poor squirrel could get away, Sandy leapt forward, holding the little furry thing down while licking him. The poor squirrel was terrified, but Sandy seemed determined to mother him back to health. She was quite upset when I carried her away. On another instance, she found a hurt squirrel on a walk. She repeated her mothering techniques, becoming concerned when I yet again carried her away from a terrified squirrel unaware that she was clearly nursing him back to health (in her own beagle-y way).
Have no fear, fellow beagle families. Sandy had her spunky beagle moments! After a particularly tiring day at work, I ordered a pizza. When the pizza arrived, I set it on the dining room table to cool and went to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. I returned to find Sandy standing on the dining room table licking the entire pizza pie!!! She looked up at me, licked her lips, and stuck her head right back down. No remorse at all! She had a similar experience once with a Mediterranean pasta salad. It was one of my favorite meals and I made enough to supply dinner for myself for an entire week of graduate school. It was cooling, but I had learned from the pizza experience a couple of years prior to push things far back on the kitchen counter where she couldn't reach them. I stepped back into the kitchen to find Sandy, having pushed a chair over to vault over the open bar area, sitting on the counter with her entire head in the bowl of pasta. That dish was henceforth called Sandy's Favorite Pasta by my family. If the time approached 5pm (dinner time!), she would hop up beside me and start swatting me with her paw. She may not have had command of spoken language, but she communicated quite clearly.
Sandy had a way with people who were terrified of dogs. I don't know how she did it, but within minutes of meeting a person who would not willingly touch a dog in any other circumstance would cajole some petting from them, if not an invitation to sit in one person's lap. Sandy also had a way with my sister. My sister likes dogs, but isn't particularly fond of sharing a bed with them. Sandy seemed to immediately detect this and although she never slept near my head decided to sit on my sister's head at night when she was visiting. She never did it to me or our other sister. I think it was Sandy's way of teasing her.
As Sandy aged, she seemed to know that she wouldn't be abandoned again. This seemed present multiple new opportunities for behaviors I found less desirable. I was taking a nap one Saturday afternoon when I some strange sounds awakened me. I got up and followed the noises to the kitchen where I found a strikingly beautiful Sandy. Yes, that spunky little beagle looked just like she belonged on the top of a wedding cake. You see, she had climbed up the pantry shelves, retrieved and opened the tupperware container of sugar, and the combination of excessive drool and sugar combined to make a fine lacey glaze..... all over her. Lovely she was.
Sandy also took the opportunity to retrieve things from the dishwasher and serve as the pre-rinse. I'll never forgot the image of Sandy (during the last week of her life no less!) running past me through the living room with a cooking spoon sideways in her mouth, my sister chasing her while the kitchen sink was still running. "Sandy! No! Sandy! Drop That! Sandy! I just put that in the dishwasher!"
Sandy was diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma, otherwise known as bladder cancer, in January 2010. The tumor was deemed inoperable. I sobbed, but in true Sandy fashion, Sandy cuddled closer and tried to console me. We opted for integrated approaches to ensure Sandy's good quality of life as long as she was here. Dr. Kim Danoff worked with our traditional vet, Dr. Allison Kramer at Old Dominion Animal Hospital in Charlottesville. Sandy received a dairy free, gluten free diet complete with home cooked organic beef and turkey every day. If nothing else, that diet led Sandy to believe this cancer diagnosis was a good way to end her time with us. She lived for 7 months past her diagnosis, happily playing, stealing things from the dishwasher, gobbling down her home-cooked meat, and dragging me down her favorite trail even in her last week with us. When she let me know she was ready to say goodbye, Sandy closed her eyes, head resting in my lap, butt being scratched by her favorite aunt. I saw her tail wag a little as we told her how much we loved her and she left this earth as gently, calmly, and quietly as she lived her life.