Sandy Bell

Sandy Bell was with me for more than 12 years. I rescued her from an animal shelter in Bakersfield in the spring of 1998, when she was just one and a half years old. They told me she was found tied up to a table in an abandoned apartment. How someone could have left behind this beautiful Golden Retriever/Australian Shepherd mix was simply beyond my comprehension.

We made the long drive back to Huntington Beach, and when she entered her new home with me she seemed excited and stayed close to me. I wondered if she had been on stairs before, but as I walked up to the bedroom she followed me right up like we had been friends for many years. Until the night before she died, that never changed.

When I first got her I would not let her up on the couches. I found dog hair on them one day and started to suspect she was getting on them when I was gone. One day while watching TV she just jumped up on the couch like she belonged there (well, she did, after all) and she looked at me and gave me this look like, “What’s the problem?” She had free run of our home ever since then, except for the kitchen. She was only allowed on the low counter between the kitchen and the dining room. She liked that vantage point, where she could sit up high and watch all the action. This was a big surprise for our visiting Nebraska cousin who thought kitchen counters were made for rolling out pie crusts, not for the enjoyment of lounging dogs. Sandy sure loved hopping up on that counter.

Sandy followed me constantly. She would always wait outside of the bathroom door while I showered, impatiently waiting for me to open the door and pet her and play with her. Where I went, she went.

She had the softest fur and cutest face and ears. I liked taking her to the groomers and when she came home she would prance in like she was some show dog. Truth be told, she was far better looking than any show dog I have ever seen.

Outdoor Life

The first time I took her camping with me I bought a 25-foot chain to tether her with just while I brought the food and gear from my truck to the campsite. It was about a 100-yard distance from our campsite to the truck. Shortly after we arrived and scoped out the campsite I put her on the chain and then headed back to my truck to begin unloading the gear to bring it to the campsite. I had only been gone a couple of minutes when suddenly she jumped in the back of the truck next to me and I could see that she had broken the chain. She would have nothing to do with not being with me.

When we fished together, as soon as my pole bent she knew there was something exciting about to happen. She would get to the edge of the boat while I reeled in my rainbow trout and try to snatch it from the hook as I brought the fish on board. She loved to fish with me. She would get so excited when the trout came on the boat and would bark like crazy, just like she had caught it herself.

A Dog with More Lives than a Cat

Sandy loved to fetch balls and was lightning fast. One day I was hitting tennis balls to her and she was chasing them down. Suddenly a car came out of nowhere and ran right over her. I saw her go under the car and the oil pan rolled her over and then the car drove off of her. I thought she was dead, but suddenly she got up, grabbed her ball and pranced toward me as if nothing had happened. She was full of grease. I rushed her to the vet for X-rays and she was OK, as if nothing had ever happened.

A few years later, she ate snail food by accident and by the time we realized it and found out it was affecting her, she was shaking. We rushed her to the emergency vet and she went into convulsions as soon as we walked in the door. I thought she was dying right in front of our eyes. They rushed her into the back and immediately started working on her. We anxiously waited for what felt like an eternity, but just 15 minutes had passed and the vet came into the room and told us she had gotten most of the poison out and Sandy was OK. I was shocked. They had us take her to an all-night vet to keep her medicated and monitor her because they expected more convulsions. She was all doped up and as I carried her to the car she could barely move. As my we drove to the all-night vet I was so happy she was alive, yet I had tears running down my face because I was so worried about her. She was sitting in my lap exhausted, but she must have sensed my sorrow because she soon turned and gave me the shortest most gentle kiss she had ever given me. I knew it took everything she had to do that. She had a few more convulsions over the next several hours, but she made it through the night and was miraculously completely OK after that.

One time we took stock of these and all her other escapades: Heat stroke while hiking in the mountains, nearly drowning after swimming out too far chasing balls in a lake, having an allergic reaction after getting bitten in the face by a spider (she was six at the time—the vet said that’s the kind of thing that only happens to curious puppies). She was one tough, lucky dog. She survived it all and then some.

Wally Joins the Pack

Wally, a handsome mutt of Golden Retriever/German Shepherd extraction, came into our lives on February 18, 2011. A friend who works with a rescue organization sent us his picture along with a brief bio telling us he was a one and a half year old stray who wound up on death row in, of all places, an animal shelter in Bakersfield. He looked enough like Sandy Bell to be her younger sibling, and he desperately needed a home. Days later they met and got along just fine, and Sandy seemed to let me know it would be OK for him to stay. That night Wally joined our family, and after so many years as an only-dog, Sandy finally had a little brother. We had been planning to take Sandy on a road trip to a fancy dog-friendly resort in May and we were very excited to include Wally in the fun, but sadly it was not meant to be.

Finding Out the Bad News

On March 7, 2011, I found out this special dog, Sandy Bell, who had followed my every move for so many years, had hemangiosarcoma, a highly aggressive cancer that had caused tumors to grow in her spleen and spread to her liver. The tumors had started to rupture and were causing her to bleed internally, and that was what had been making her feel so weak. My heart still aches at the thought.

She had been aging and slowing down, but in the week prior to her diagnosis she was so tired and her eyes looked so sad and distant. She had perked up a bit by that Friday, but we still took her in to see the vet just to make sure everything was okay. The vet ran some blood tests and said her red blood cell count was half what it had been less than two months earlier. She took some X-rays and said she suspected there might be tumors on her spleen. There was hope that they could be removed surgically, but a radiologist would have to exam her first to make sure they had not spread. We took her home and had a good weekend together. She seemed just like her old happy self, so full of life it was hard to believe she might be seriously ill.

The ultrasound was performed that Monday, and that was when we received the terrible news. We bought her home and prepared to start her on a new and promising drug that’s supposed to slow down cancer growth. In one way I felt like it was good that that I could plan to spend the remaining days we had as close to her as I could. I knew I would not let her suffer and I promised her daily that I would do everything I could to make her better. On the other hand, it hurt knowing her time was short.

We started the new medication that Saturday. She didn’t like it much but we wanted to be sure we were doing everything possible to try and extend her time with us and enhance her quality of life. She had her second dose the following Monday, and we started to wonder whether she was having a reaction to the medication because she seemed a little listless. She ate her dinner very slowly, and only with much coaxing on our part and my wife basting it with broth and cupping it in her hands for Sandy to eat. She tried to make us feel better by wanting to play with her new tennis balls, and carried one with her when she came upstairs to bed that night, but she was clearly more tired than usual, and she knew we were worried about her.

Tuesday turned out to be our last night with our beautiful Sandy Bell. She was so very tired. She stayed by her water bowl most of the night and hardly moved. She did not want her dinner, but finally ate a few bites along with her pain pill in a piece of cheese, and gave my wife a kiss and ate a couple of Canine Carryouts, her all-time favorite treats, to make her mom feel better.

I slept downstairs on the couch near Sandy so she would not feel alone that night. I woke up about 2AM and she was at the foot of the stairs with Wally. I went upstairs to bed. It was the first time ever that she did not come upstairs to sleep near us. My wife went downstairs a little later when she heard Sandy crying and slept curled up with her at the bottom of the stairs. About 4AM Sandy did something else she never did. She went outside, and from sheer exhaustion she sprawled out on the wet, muddy grass. In the summer she liked to lie on the cool flagstone, but she never slept on the grass. My wife brought her back in and she lay back down by her water bowl, where she stayed for the rest of the night. My wife slept on the couch next to her. Wally never left their side the entire night.

The Hardest Decision

Wednesday morning at about 9AM my wife called me at work, sobbing. She told me Sandy looked real bad, and she had called the vet for an urgent appointment. I left work almost knowing what was coming. I got home and poor Sandy looked as bad as when I had left a few hours earlier. She was very tired and could hardly move, and her gums were yellow-white, but still there were sweet loving kisses for Mom and Dad. We loaded her in the car and she was breathing so hard. We got out and walked a little before going inside. I was thinking, this may be the last time she gets in my car.

The vet said she was bleeding internally from the tumors again. She was not sure if it would stop. She said there was no wrong decision. We could try to keep her on the medication a few more days if we wanted to wait and see if it would start working, but there was no guarantee and we would also run the risk of her dying at home. I could not stand the thought of her dying alone while we were at work, or worse find her dead in the backyard wet from the morning dew. I had always promised her the dignity she had earned. I knew I had to keep that promise.

I gave the vet the OK, and soon Sandy was asleep in our arms, free of suffering. We cried and cried, I took off her collar to keep and we walked out and went home. I was numb and sure I did the right thing. I went to work and my wife stayed home. I could not sit around and think about it anymore. She could not bear to see or speak to anyone.

Forever in Our Hearts

It’s been just over a week since Sandy has been gone. I miss her more than I ever imagined. One week later I still feel in some way I have let her down and could have done more. I know that’s just nonsense… but that’s what I feel. I have never felt anything like this before. I have read a lot about the loss of a pet and all I can keep coming back to is that I did the right thing for her and that she will live forever in our hearts: The lovable, loyal, mischievous, and beautiful Sandy Bell.

I have her collar on the mantle with a candle and two balls. We will light the candle every night for a year in honor of this precious dog, and soon we will bring her ashes home and keep them in a place of honor. I think that the best way for me to cope with this is to listen to her message to me. She showed me the bond between man and dog. It’s strong and true and like nothing else in this world. She was loyal, lovable, cute, funny and a proud dog. She hardly left my side in all the years I was blessed with having her.

I will watch over Wally because of her, and make sure he’s safe and happy because of her. Maybe even more than I did for her, as now that she is gone I feel I should have done more for her. I will donate more money to dog foundations, and every dog I come in contact with will benefit from the love that Sandy showed me, for she showed me how special dogs are to us and how lucky we are to have them in our homes.

I often think that we humans would not have survived as well as we have without dogs. They have gone to war with us, they police our streets with us, and they rescue us from all kinds of danger. Sandy has done none of these great deeds. What she has done is what all dogs are born to do, and that is to love and be loyal. She gets a gold medal for that. A more loveable, loyal dog I have never known.

To Sandy,

I love you so much, Sandy Bell. You have been my loyal friend for so long and life without you is not the same. You shared so much with me over the years. I trust you are in heaven and romping in the fields chasing balls with our other lost dogs and waiting for me to show up and throw you the ball and kiss your face to say how much I have missed you.

— George from Huntington Beach, CA