Sahara. My Beauty Queen
Today, April 30, 2020, Sahara would have celebrated an incredible birthday for a Golden Retriever. She would have turned 16. But, she missed this birthday by 36 days. In that short time, I have been unable to speak about her or tell more than a handful of close friends she was gone. It has been terribly difficult to even think about her. She was so full of life, running around like a puppy, capturing the hearts of all who knew her. Then, she was gone. She died in her sleep, by my side, after a few days of heartbreaking decline. I will never forget hearing her final breaths deep in that Thursday morning. She was my favorite Instagram & Facebook personality, the star of so many videos. My Beauty Queen.
More than that, she was one of my most favorite dogs of all time. She was my girl. The other dogs knew it, our friends knew it, strangers commented on it when we walked down the street. Sixteen years of companionship. I was so looking forward to this birthday. Now, I’m not sure how to approach this day without her.
Sahara was one of nine puppies born to Overlook's Tea on the Savannah, “Safari”. Her sire was Overlook's A Gentleman’s Report, “Squire”. This breeding was the blending of my two original pedigrees. Safari’s dam was my Savannah and Squire’s grandmother was my Skye. Those two girls were where I started in1992. I loved those girls and thought perhaps a merging of the two would create Golden Retrievers that were as structurally sound as their background with temperaments to match. I was right.
As a puppy, there was no question that Sahara was pick of the litter. As they often say, “she picked me.” The litter was lovely in so many respects and Sahara was a standout. She had attitude and great style. She never went through the ‘uglies’ as puppies often do. She was always a beautiful dog. I don’t remember when we started calling her Beauty Queen, but it was early on. The name was perfect and she answered to it as if she knew we couldn’t possibly be talking about anybody else.
We entered the show ring when she was six months. She placed in every show she entered. She matured beautifully and esteemed breeder judges felt the same. Through limited showing, she was Winners Bitch under Connie Miller, Michael Faulkner and Donald Sturz. As a veteran she was awarded a Judges Award of Merit by Kathy Lorentzen and Best Veteran in numerous Specialty shows. I wouldn’t say she loved being a show dog. She hated all the fuss that went into taming her moderately wavy coat. She had to endure a Lycra ‘bathing suit’ over her entire body for hours on end until her coat dried perfectly straight. But, she loved being side by side with me as we moved around the ring. She loved the grooming table because it was just the two of us. She loved trying to give me her paw as both of my hands were busy grooming her ears. Even when her show career was over, I always kept her 'ring-ready' because she was just so beautiful. Sahara was unable to complete her championship due to a closed pyometra infection that nearly cost her life at four years old. One morning she woke up and minutes later collapsed, totally unresponsive. We rushed her to the vet where her prognosis was very poor. Miraculously, she survived but was spayed due to the severity of the infection. This ended her show career until she was able to compete as a veteran. More significantly, it also put an end to any additional opportunities I would have to keep both pedigrees alive. Sahara was the last of Savannah’s descendants that was still intact. The disappointment was great, but Sahara was going to be just fine.
I often thought Sahara had a charmed life. Not only was she beautiful, spoiled and a favorite, but she survived pyometra and two additional brushes with death. When she was 12 years old I was feeding her dinner outside and noticed she wasn't chewing with her regular gusto. I proceeded to feed the others. When I looked back, Sahara hadn’t moved. I quickly realized she had swallowed an entire pig’s foot and it was lodged deep in her throat. I was unable to pull it out. Her tongue was blue and she was completely unresponsive as I struggled to get her into a Heimlich position. She was as limp as a rag doll and I thought I had lost her. After what seemed like forever, I was able to dislodge the pig’s foot to the point that I was able to extract it. Several moments later she began to respond and a half hour later she wondered where her dinner had gone. The same thing happened again about six months later, but I noticed the problem much sooner. A vet check revealed a broken molar that was preventing her from chewing bones without pain. Swallowing them whole was the best option! That was the end of Sahara’s bone meals. As befitting a Beauty Queen, I ordered her special food with crushed bone. I’m not sure if she ever wondered why she finished her dinner while all the others were gnawing on bones for a much longer time. She never complained
Aside from pyometra, Sahara was never sick a day in her life. I could write pages on the joyful things she did and the happiness she to brought to all of us over the years. But, I think the greatest joys in her life were the trips she took to the beaches in East Hampton every Summer. She loved the quiet of the bay and the wide open expanses of the ocean. The waves didn’t frighten her but she would never get more than her feet wet. The first few Summers she went with her best friend, Scout. They were inseparable every day of the year, but I think they especially loved being at the beach. They would roll together, side by side, in the warm sand. It was just the two of them and us. No other dogs grabbing our attention and pocket’s full of treats on every beach run. We would spend the night in the NYC apartment on our way to and from the beach and Sahara loved Central Park. She was captivated by the lights and drama of the city.
When Scout died at nearly 14 years old, Sahara never bonded with another dog. She had lost her best friend. Sahara spent the next few years alternating beach weekends with Sophie and Sunday. Every morning we would grab a cup of coffee and wander down to the beach, a five minute walk. Sahara loved being off leash and running like the wind to reach the beach. She would throw herself down on the sand and roll and roll and roll. Unbridled joy in simple things. I loved taking videos of her at the beach because her happiness was so obvious. As the years started to add, I wondered every Labor Day if she would be back again the following May. We had long conversations on the necessity of her celebrating another birthday and another Summer in East Hampton. I know she was listening because she came back Summer after Summer.
The house is different without Sahara. Caring for a senior dog with hearing loss requires a heightened awareness. It also cradles the thought that this won’t go on forever; that the breed standard is just 11 1/2 years; that she’s defied the odds so many times; that you can’t imagine a day without her. But, the thoughts become greater and clearer as you begin to notice small changes which lead to bigger changes until the last two weeks are consumed by tears and sadness despite the hope that things will change. Despite any measure you will take to keep her with you.
I miss my Sahara, my Beauty Queen. It’s been easier to focus on the other dogs and not let the reality of her absence jumble my thoughts and blur my vision. But, today is her birthday and thoughts of our 16 years together are as vibrant and welcome as the captured moments that flood my social media and line my walls. How I loved my Beauty Queen. How I miss my girl.