In June of 1992, I was staying with my folks as I transitioned back to civilian life from my GI Jane days. I got a call from Rich that was a game changer. He had met a girl. She was young, came from an abusive situation and he had decided to take her home. “You'll like her, I know you will,” he said. I was a bit taken aback. I didn't know he had been looking.
Her name was Snake and she was a young German Shepherd/coyote mix he had saved with the help of a local game warden in northern California. She had no fur around her neck, having been chained to a tree by a heavy logging chain her entire life. “It may not grow back,” the vet had said, “and she has never really been socialized to people. She could be a challenge.” I had never met anyone quite like her before and I just didn't realize at the time that she would change not only my life but that she would change me as a person. She was wicked smart and incredibly athletic and completely devoted to our little pack. She was beautiful and graceful and Heaven help the person who got a little too close to either of us without her consent. She looked like a Shepherd but was the size of a coyote and was a wild child in many ways. She loved her Frisbee. She loved to out on the lake in our pontoon boat and jump into the water to retrieve a tennis ball over and over again. She was just a sight to behold.
It was October of 2002 when our vet gave us the bad news. “She's got a degenerating spine condition and she probably has about a good six months left before there will be quality of life issues.” We did what any good animal caregivers would do: we completely overreacted. We were devastated. I could barely look at Snake without bursting into tears. She had been with us around the clock for so many years that she was just part of life, like breathing. Rich made a heavy duty ramp that would hold a half ton person so she would no longer need to use stairs to get in and out of the house. I bought a super ortho bed from Foster & Smith that could have been used for a small child. We limited her impact activity and were careful to keep her from being too sedentary. We worried and we wondered and then one day life just went back to normal and we tried not to look too far into the future.
Snake was with us another three and a half years. In her final months, we knew our time with her was coming to a close. Her vision and hearing were almost gone, she had trouble getting up and down on her own and she had trouble digesting food consistently. Rich began the labor of love that was to become her homemade casket. Much like her bed, it was suitable for a small child. We had talked about what we would bury with her when the time came. Her beloved Frisbee. Her dishes. Her squirrel toy, on which I had performed “surgery” so many times that it was almost as much heavy-duty thread as it was fake fur. Her hand sewn Christmas stocking. I wanted to do something to help and was of no use in Rich's woodworking shop so I came up with a plan. “I'm going to make her some homemade dog biscuits and put them in an air-tight container to go with her,” I told Rich. He smiled, tilted his head to the side a bit and said, quite softly, “shes' not Egyptian, Babe.” I laughed. He laughed. The mood was lightened. And I began making her dog biscuits anyway.
We let her go on Earth Day of 2006: April 22nd. We didn't know at the time that it was Earth Day. We just knew we could not keep her here any longer for ourselves and we had to be selfless for her sake. Our vet came to our house to help her and on that day, our lives were again forever changed. We gave her wings.
I have continued to bake Snakey's favorite treats in her honor. I share them with friends and with people who have helped in my advocacy to which I am devoted in the memory of a beautiful girl who changed my life. And who change me as a person. I became an animal welfare advocate because of her. I miss you, Snakey. I am sure your soul lives on and perhaps we will meet again some fine day.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson