We were inseparable for years.
So it was expected that now flying solo I would be asked time and again, "Hey, where's Sabre? Where's your dog?"
"He got old on me. He died. Bad heart," I would reply in rote fashion to stave off the tears.
Baby Sabre on his first day at home.
Sabre was just a baby when I adopted him from the Northern Chautauqua Canine Rescue - an 8-week-old abandoned puppy. In search of an older dog, my eyes somehow riveted on the drop-dead gorgeous shepherd mix pup huddled in the back of his kennel.
I have to have this puppy, I told myself, because if I live to be 100, I'll never find another dog that looks like him.
With his rare brown and cream coloring and "fashion model" green eyes, Sabre the Puppy regularly drew double takes from smiling motorists and passers-by. His striking eyes mesmerized total strangers. As Sabre and I strolled along the dock one afternoon, a fisherman shouted, "Hey, them ain't dog's eyes. Your dog's got human eyes. Anyone in your family with green eyes pass away?"
Surprisingly, shortly after his second birthday, Sabre's eyes changed to amber to complement his coat.
Even before going-home day in July 2001, Sabre had won over the entire Herrington family. It was love at first sight for my 10-year-old daughter Roxie while my husband Frank needed a little nudge before taking on a puppy.
"Let's name him Sabre," I suggested to this diehard Buffalo Sabres fan.
Early on, he would earn the nickname "The Destroyer" as he plowed through the dreadful teething/chewing stage with a vengeance. From the toilet paper roll to Roxie's homework to brand new socks and shoes, anything Baby Sabre could sink his jaws into was fair game, including our legs. I vividly recall taping back together jigsaw style a somewhat shredded $20 bill that had been pilfered off the dresser. "Sabre Buffalo Herrington!" my daughter would scold, hands on hips, after surveying his latest round of mischief. Digging holes and busting out of his crate were among his other puppyhood exploits.
To Roxie's delight, it was non-stop play time for young Sabre as he grew into a beautiful, sleek and agile dog, his long, slender deer-like legs further enhancing his one-of-a-kind look. Bopping balloons, learning tricks, retrieving balls, chasing the dot. A steady diet of happy, carefree days growing up with Roxie as her childhood dog and companion.
That all came to a screeching halt at the tender age of 16 months. Sabre's health began to fail badly. He stopped eating, lost all his energy and curled up into a ball. The local vet could not diagnose the curse of the "Great Pretender." By the grace of God and some eleventh hour heroics by Dr. David Brummer of the Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center, Sabre's crippling illness was unmasked as the insidious Addison's disease -- always fatal if not caught in time. Sabre rallied and after a hospitalization of several days came home, his life spared. But since Addison's is not curable, he would require a monthly injection and daily medication for the rest of his life.
If Sabre was a sick boy, someone forgot to tell him as he embraced life with gusto and vitality. His health would never be compromised by the Addison's, which remained under control to the end. But other dangers loomed ahead for this exquisite animal.
An innocent walk around the block when Sabre was 4 years old ended with his being attacked by two loose pitbulls, both in kill mode. They circled and tore into him repeatedly as I shielded Sabre's throat with my arm and prayed help would arrive in time.
"No, I won't let you have him, you can't take this beautiful young dog that's so much a part of my life away from me," I screamed inside, as I was knocked down, dragged, my left hand chewed up after being sacrificed as a buffer.
When it was all over, Sabre had 17 puncture wounds. The police on scene refused to help me, claiming they couldn't transport a dog - even a badly injured one. Driving one-handed, I took my trembling, traumatized pet to the vet myself before I had my hand stitched up in the Lake Shore Hospital emergency room.
The drama would continue as the following year, Sabre suffered the first of a series of seizures that would plague him for the rest of his life. I watched in horror, through my kitchen window, as he collapsed in the backyard and began to convulse. Rushing to his side, I thought for sure he would die and then wondered if each seizure would be his last. Not to be, as my resilient boy would bounce back to normal each time.
Sabre the Survivor was destined to live a long life - and a good one. A shadow dog, he would follow me from room to room. Whenever I left the house, without fail he would be in the living room window, a wistful look on his face as he watched me drive away. Upon my return, he would do his happy dance often accompanied by some shepherd talk. From the day my frail mother moved in with us at the age of 91, Sabre's guarding instincts took over as he became her gentle protector.
Of the seven dogs (all males) I have owned, Sabre was the standout. The dog that comes along once in a lifetime. His distinctive beauty was surpassed only by his personality and intelligence, not to mention his quirks - of which he had plenty.
As a tiny puppy, Sabre took on the fireplace tools, narrowly escaping serious injury when he pulled on the brush, causing the whole works to come crashing down. He never forgot that and for all his adult life, they were the enemy. Now towering over them, he would engage in frequent comical battles as he got his revenge. At the advanced age of 9, he developed a mysterious phobia for the school bus, the mere sight of which would cause him to tuck his tail between his legs and head for the hills.
Every dog has a favorite plaything and Sabre's was his squeaker toy. Uncannily, it was sure to make a noisy appearance whenever one of us was engrossed in a favorite TV show. He also liked to trot the toy out just as I was leaving for work, another of his "stall" tactics.
There were times Sabre would appear at my bedside in the middle of the night needing to be let out. Incredibly, so as not to wake my husband, he opted for a subdued grunt in lieu of a bark to arouse me from my slumber.
For 10 years, Sabre ruled the roost alone. Then Misty, a stray cat, waltzed in unexpectedly. Sabre didn't quite know what to make of her, but as laid back as he was, he accepted the pint-sized invader. When the spunky feline would make a beeline for his food bowl and begin helping herself, instead of aggressively ousting her, my big boy would quizzically look to me for help.
Sabre loved his daily walks and enjoyed his adventurous car rides. He had some happy times attempting to out race Dunkirk resident Beth Tofil's retired greyhounds. But most of all, he lived for his visits with his chow-mix girlfriend, Lucky. The best times of his life were spent in the front yard of Richard Van Wey's Franklin Avenue house, as the four of us met regularly for playdates over the years. At first glimpse of Lucky lounging on the lawn, I would unleash Sabre and he would gallop to his lady love. Sadly, Richard died of cancer last July and Lucky, now well up in years and ailing, left to live with his son in another state. Sabre would continue to glance longingly at the empty house each time we passed by.
To everything there is a season ...
A time to be born and a time to die.
The sucker punch landed as I happily anticipated Sabre's 11th birthday in May. I never saw it coming. After aging gracefully for the past several years, he suddenly began coughing and gagging. A trip to the local vet left me reeling with the dire news that my beloved sidekick was suffering from congestive heart failure, an incurable and fatal condition common in older dogs. The prognosis was extremely poor; the end could come at any time.
Seven weeks passed and the month of May was upon us with all forms of life springing anew. But Sabre's health was in a downward spiral as his body and medications could no longer compensate for the heart not doing its job.
I called off work on May 3 to spend all my time with him. I treated him to a steak (his favorite) and took him for a long ride so he could feel the warm breeze on his face. I followed that up with a brief walk in the woods topped off by a visit to Lucky's front yard for old time's sake. As if it were scripted, Roxie showed up from college unannounced and unaware she would be a part of her dog's final hours. Sabre perked up instantly, licking her face and bringing her his squeaker toy, although he was too weak to run after it.
As the night wore on, his breathing became increasingly labored and he grew restless and stressed. We began another trek to the Orchard Park clinic, but this time Sabre didn't make it. Lulled by the motion of the car and the soothing tone of his master's voice, his big gentle heart stopped beating as he drifted into a permanent sleep in the back seat.
And now the time has come to let go.
Goodbye to long walks together; to welcome home kisses; that ever-vigilant face in the window; and endless displays of unconditional love.
Goodbye Sabre, my trusted friend. You will live forever in my heart along with all the priceless memories of our 44 seasons in the sun.
You were simply the best.
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