No farm is complete without a farm dog. To be honest, most families aren’t complete without what they call “man’s best friend.”
Sarge came into my life in the summer of 2009. I’ve said many times the fact that I got him in particular was due partly to fate, and more so from my absent mindedness.
The adoption event we had wanted to go to was in Denver CO. I was interning at a ranch in Yampa CO. We had some morning chores to be done at a guest cabin, and then had planned to head to Denver to pick up a Dutch Shepherd puppy that was on the rescue’s website. As we were driving down the single track “road” from the cabin back toward the ranch, another truck was coming to the cabin. I pulled off the drive to allow the other truck through, and as I drove forward to then get back on the road, what I couldn’t see due to the four foot high grass on either side of the drive was a four foot deep ditch. My truck ended up at a 45 degree angle in the ground. Rear wheels in the air. Needless to say, our ETA to the first come first serve adoption event was delayed.
With the help of some very nice cowboys, a tow chain, and a much bigger truck than my Nissan Frontier, we got out of the ditch and booked it the several hour trip to the Denver PetsMart. Despite everything we were second on the list. But of course, the first family in went right to “my” dog. Disappointed, I still took my turn to go in and see the puppies still available. Walking into the taped off area of stacked two high dog crates I looked past the little yappy puppies. Kind of still looking over my shoulder at the Dutch Shepherd and his new family filling out their adoption paperwork, there was a cage tag that said “ridgeback/hound mix.” There were three puppies inside. Two white with brown patches that almost looked jack russel like in coloring. The third, a Sandy brown male with what looked like eyeliner around his eyes. He was overshadowed by his cage mates. But ridgeback caught my eye. The grandmother on the non blood relation side of a cousin always had ridgebacks and I always loved them. So my friend and I decided to look at him. The foster family took him out and let him loose with us in a makeshift pen. The pup was more interested in getting back to his caretakers than me, but he did eventually come over and look me in the eye. And that was it… he was mine.
He would come to be named Sarge. At the time I got him, my eventual Brother in Law was deployed in Iraq. He was a Sergeant, and that’s how he got his name.
Back at the ranch that summer Sarge became my shadow. Partly because he trained me to get what he wanted (there would be no successful crate training, he slept in bed from day one), and partly because I was lucky enough to just bring him around to do absolutely everything with me. He had a pack of farm dogs to teach him how to be a dog, horses and cows that taught him how to get out of the way, and a bunch of young college age cowboys and cowgirls to dote on him (and sneak him a sip of underage cheap beer in the back of a pickup when roping steers).
When summer was over, Sarge spent three more years as a Colorado resident. He would do anything. Except be locked in a small space. Lesson learned from a few doorframes chewed. 3/4 of the year when weather was good he would wait in my truck while I was in class on campus or at the equine center. Friends would know I’d always leave the door unlocked if he was in there and visit him as they went between classes. He and I would then go from school to whatever farm I was at where he would ham it up watching me train and get dumped off of horses in roundpens. Whining when it took me too long to get up. He was a rock star trail dog. Cutting it close jumping rattle snakes, and riding up on the horses when he made me too nervous with the risks he’d take.
As I battled with anxiety and depression through those years and going forward he was, for the longest time, the only one who I would let see me cry. Neither of us understood my bouts of sadness, but he knew when I needed to be snuggled closer, nudged to go outside, or when to push a roommate or friend of mine to come check in on me.
Always leery of men, there were only a few he ever tolerated, he kept trying to tell me what I always knew about myself and my sexuality. And even once I found myself, he was 99% of the time on point with who he let into my life man or woman.
We loved in Colorado, Texas, everywhere in Pennsylvania, and road-trips to many other places. The best silent road trip companion, that made me feel the safest I would ever feel in the skeeviest of truck stops. He would stand over me and growl when someone would knock on my door at night, even if it was my own mother, until he knew it was safe. When I nearly lost my life after a blindsided broken heart pushed my own mental capacities to their brink, he sat by my side in the hospital nearly every day until I could go home.
Recovery for me took longer than two weeks in the hospital. It took over a year. And even then, I was no where near where I wanted to, or had planned for myself to be at that stage in my life. As judged as I felt by so many I knew and didn’t know, his eyes were always free of judgment, encouraging, and gave me reason to get up every morning.
He has been a guide and mentor to many a pup (and kitten), and taught quite a few nieces and nephews how to love and be gentle to animals. He stood up for himself with the grouchiest of horses (and still tries), while knowing how to be quiet around those that may need more time to learn that our four pawed friends are not like those that would prey upon them in the wild.
Although he has slowed down in the last year, up until the last month you’d never know his age unless you saw him wait for me help him into bed or into the truck. He was still chasing squirrels, running around the farm, and watching over it all.
Over the last month some of the most talented, smart, caring, and dedicated people I know came together for Sarge. I cannot be more grateful to them for all of their efforts. Sarge fought harder than anyone thought a dog could. But despite the try in his heart, his body was ailed in ways we could not repair and tonight Sarge crossed the rainbow bridge. He will be greeted by many a lost friend, some he already knows and others I’m sure he will be happy to meet. As many tears are shed, I remember the life of an amazing dog and friend. I had hoped we would get more time. More adventures. More trips to the beach, more shushing to not awake kids, and above all more “every days” many of which I took for granted. Deep in my heart I know he had a life that most of his kind would envy, and I had him for longer than many get to have a best friend. A partner like him was more than I deserved, but I am grateful to have been so lucky.