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  • Writer's pictureRobert Swanson

Saying Good-bye to Safari

Safari, Overlooks Tea on the Savannah, came into this world nearly 15 years ago on May 20, 2000. She was one of three girls in a litter of five. Her Mom was my Savannah (Rizer’s Savannah’s Dream) and her sire was Judy Word’s magnificent Clipper (CH Bravos Old Spice). This was Savannah’s second and last litter and Safari was the girl who captured my heart (and my critical eye) during those first few weeks of life.

Safari was a quiet dog who didn’t enjoy the show ring, despite placing in every puppy class she entered. She was really more “boy-like” in that she was Velcro around humans and thought a perfect day consisted of being anywhere near me and part of my world. How many times did I bring my arm back to make an underhand shot with the tennis ball and smack her in the head? Countless. She would still sit there wagging her tail and closing her eyes as tight as she could in an expression of sheer joy. Safari loved to wrap herself in a ball and do somersaults down the hill. I’d never seen that before and I’ve never seen it since in any of my dogs. She found great joy in everything, no matter how small.

Of course, Safari was a wonderful Mom on her own. She adored her puppies. Three of her puppies in her first litter were born naturally, but Safari developed problems and required an emergency c-section. When she awoke, she was covered by 12 writhing, nursing puppies. The expression on Safari’s face was priceless and I will never forget it. She clearly had no idea what had happened, but instinct kicked in and she went to work.

When Safari was eight, an older couple came to me looking for “anything but a puppy”. I had often thought Safari would be happier in a home where she could be spoiled and adored and not sharing the world with 15 other Golden Retrievers. She really wanted to be the sole object of somebody’s life. Hard as it was, I made the decision to let Safari live about 30 minutes away with Pam and Ed. It was the right decision as evidenced by photos of Safari sleeping in their bed coupled with stories of how much she was loved.

Sadly, Ed died a few years ago and just recently Pam followed. Safari came back to me in October and walked into the house as if she never left. She was a lot grayer in the face and a little stiff when she walked, but she was 14 ½ years old and still Safari. The tail constantly wagged, the eyes would squint shut when she would stare at me and she could smell a treat at 500 yards.

On the day she arrived, I wondered how the others would feel about this ‘newcomer’ to the pack. Usually, visiting dogs will be swarmed by the others with lots of sniffing, some posturing etc. With Safari, I think they all sensed that she was elderly and they approached her with great respect, almost reverence. Even the three-month old puppy (who we named Safari a few months earlier!) approached Safari without any jumping or typical puppy exuberance. Dogs fascinate me at every turn.

Safari fit right in. I changed her diet, worked on her coat and in just a few weeks her stiffness was gone and she was a youngster again. She looked good and her happiness was palpable. So was mine.

Safari and I had a wonderful four months together and I’m so fortunate to have had that time with her once again. She died in her sleep Sunday morning, February 15, 2015. She’d had a series of seizures that began in January and the last one was severe. The day before she died, she seemed to be 100% again. She was eating, rolling in the snow and lounging in the sub-zero weather, her beautiful face turned up to the brilliant blue sunshine.

The next morning, she didn’t want her breakfast and was in a very deep sleep the remainder of the day. It was almost impossible to rouse her and her breathing was labored. Like I had so many nights after a seizure, I would kiss her good-bye and tell her how much I loved her and what joy she had brought to my life. I never knew what the next morning would bring.

Unlike those other nights, this one was different and I went to sleep knowing I had said my final good-bye. The other dogs around her were very quiet that morning and didn’t approach me in their usual “good morning” manner. I think they were as sad as I was.

All dogs are special to us in so many ways. It’s hard to capture Safari in just a few paragraphs. Anyone who has loved and lost a dog will understand. I brought her into this world and was there when she left. Her absence is a gap that cannot be filled by 15 other Golden Retrievers demanding my attention. How I loved her. How I miss her.

Safari and her daughter, 11 year old Sahara. This was taken just two weeks ago.

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