On March 23rd, 2018, we celebrated Sloane’s 15th birthday. It was a memorable day. Not only were we lucky enough to share a 15th birthday with this wonderful dog, but she was the picture of health and happiness. She had a bit of spinal arthritis that could make getting up difficult. It also resulted in a left leg that wasn’t always steady. But, she was never in pain and was up and about with the crew. She regularly patrolled the six acres that were home and she could still do the ‘old lady run’ across the front yard to meet the visitors she adored. She never missed a meal or a treat and her bark had become deep and husky She was always a beautiful dog, but had become more so with every passing year.
Six days later I woke to find that Sloane had died during the night. There wasn’t any warning, not a moment of ‘is she ok?’ Her last visit to the vet was filled with “is she really 15?” and “I can’t believe a Golden Retriever is this solid and healthy at this age”. But six days later I said “good night”, gave her the evening meds covered in peanut butter and kissed her forehead as I had done every night. Her days of climbing the stairs were behind her and most nights she seemed content to find a bed amongst the youngsters. If she didn’t find an empty bed she would find whatever space she could and move in with the residing dog. She was the dowager queen and reigned over all.
Sloane came to me when she was just a few months old. She was the pick of the litter of an incredible breeding that I was fortunate to be a part of. I was so very excited for this puppy and the opportunities she presented in the world of conformation and my breeding program.
She was a stunning puppy, light in color with a gentle face and strong headpiece. But she was painfully shy and insecure. I had never dealt with a puppy that was terrified of almost everything. She would take forever to warm up to people she didn’t know. Once she knew you, she was your best friend. She never had a fear of dogs. She loved them all. For her entire life she would welcome any strange dog to the property with a sniff and then saunter back to what she was doing.
During our first few months together, we worked hard to socialize Sloane to the world around her. Initially, she wouldn’t venture more than a few feet from the house or her corner of the kitchen. Sloane was always about her ‘place’, the space where she felt safe. Until the last year before she died, her space in the car was in the well behind the driver’s side. She was far too big to fit in that space, but it was her safe place and she nestled in for the ride. Why, at 14 years old, she suddenly decided the back seat was roomier and the windows were fun to look through, I will never know. But we were on our way to the vet when I saw this beautiful face staring at me in the rear view mirror. That was Sloane. She did everything on her own terms.
Sloane’s “space” did increase beyond the perimeter of the house and the corner of the kitchen. She made progress very slowly. It was always a joy to watch her resolve even the smallest fear and expand her world. When she was just a year old we booked a ski vacation to Steamboat Springs, CO. We arrived on the Friday of Spring Break to frantic voice mail messages that Sloane was gone. The dog sitter had Sloane on a Flexi-leash when something scared her. She took off with the Flexi-leash banging behind her and flew over the four-feet fence. She had been missing for hours.
The dog sitter was in no shape to search for Sloane due to her inebriation I called my friends and they began scouring the area around the house. I live on an old farm that is surrounded by densely wooded mountains with all kinds of animals. Watching the coyotes skulk across the perimeter of the property was a common occurrence. We’ve dealt with rabid raccoons and skunks. It is not a place for a terrified, lost puppy. So many things were working against us: Sloane was still frightened of everything outside of her world; she was just a puppy; she had a Flexi-leash scaring her every step of the way that was sure to get tangled in the brush and prevent her from responding to anyone’s calls; it was a bitter cold, snow-covered March; it was Spring weekend and we couldn’t get a flight until Monday.
Living thru Saturday and Sunday and wondering what had become of Sloane was horrible. Posters were hung all over town and friends were looking for hours on end. This was long before the days of local Facebook groups and easy internet connections. We arrived home Monday and began the search ourselves. We knocked on doors many miles away thinking she had gone over the mountain. We were told that she might have been seen crossing the highway on her way down to the Housatonic River. We searched in vain and hated when Monday night turned dark at 5:00. She had been missing for three days.
A few hours later we received a call from a neighbor a 1/2 mile away, there was a dog tangled up in the woods in his backyard. It was our Sloane. Physically, she was no worse for the journey. But, she was covered in all sorts of debris and was absolutely out of her mind with fear.
Sloane recovered, though it did set us back a bit in socializing her to the world. We fired the dog sitter and learned the hard way that Sloane was a fence-climber. In fact, she could scale any fence put in front of her. She had no problem climbing the six foot chain-link fencing around the runs which became a real problem when she was in season. She loved the boys and no fence would keep her from them!
In fact, she made the most wonderful Mom. She was a natural whelper with large litters that she cared for with extreme patience and rapt attention. She loved her puppies and trained them well. She also remained very close to the puppies we kept. She and Sierra were inseparable and had litters side by side. When Sawyer and Skylar came along, they were an unbreakable trio. They were her kids and she was the boss. Skylar and Sawyer adored her and would go to great lengths to engage her in play until she would bark a “stop” or just swat them with her paw. It was so much fun watching them together. I often wonder if they miss her.
Sloane matured to a truly wonderful dog. She still had her ‘isms’, but she was so joyful! She was ball-obsessed and very athletic. She loved playing with the other dogs and would spend countless hours outside in the sun or the freezing cold. She was a big “talker” which could frighten people if they didn’t understand. These crazy guttural sounds always made an appearance when she was at her happiest. I wondered what words she would have used if she had the ability. She was so clearly happy that a simple tail wag wouldn’t do these feelings real justice.
Perhaps her most identifying trait was “show me your teeth”. I don’t remember the first time she did it, but she would pull back her upper and lower lips to bare all of her teeth in the most terrifying grin. Another sign of her overwhelming happiness that we also trained her to do on command. This was another trait she passed on to many of her puppies which often resulted in hysterical phone calls about their “vicious” Golden Retriever puppy.
It’s been nearly a year since Sloane died. I’ve started this remembrance so many times but never got past the first paragraph. So many dogs have come into my life. They’ve each captured a time and place in my life and reside in those memories. I’ve loved them all. But, a few times in this long life there have been dogs who have captured my heart in ways that defy words. Sloane was one of those dogs and I miss her every single day. I will forever wish I was able to tell her good-bye. Perhaps Sloane knew how difficult those two words and that moment would be for me. Perhaps in her own way, she she knew a kiss before bed and a whispered “good night” in her ear would be the easiest way to say good-bye.