The Gift that was Sabrina

By jan gentleman-ingersoll

Sabrina & Little Jon ll
Sabrina & Little Jon ll

To My Precious Sabrina;
She taught me so much about love, sacrifice and perseverance.
To my Precious son Jonathan who first taught much about love, sacrifice, perseverance
and for sharing some of the most difficult times of my life!
He served as solace, comfort and source.
To my Precious Husband for indulging my efforts to keep Sabrina alive!
It was very costly – worth every dollar.

Two years and two weeks was all the time she had on this planet. It was all the time she needed to capture my heart and transform my life. Sabrina was born March 7, 2000, a beautiful chocolate lab puppy. She came to live with us in April as a birthday gift for our 14-year-old son. As with many gifts of pets, mom soon became her keeper. And keeper was about all I was willing to be, at least in the beginning.

We only had Sabrina a couple of weeks when we acquired a white lab puppy to be her companion and eventually the sire of many babies we anticipated would be sold to contribute to the financing of her owner’s college expenses. High hopes and big plans we had. The first disappointment came on a hot July Sunday afternoon when we accidentally ran over and killed the white lab. In shock and grief I turned to Sabrina for reconciliation and comfort; she was perfect. Unlike most labs, Sabrina was calm and believed she was to be treated more like a small child than a dog. For example, our other dogs were quite content to ride in the back of the truck and jumped in and out easily. Not Sabrina, Sabrina expected to be lifted in and wrapped her paws across our shoulders and leapt into our arms for close comfort rather than jump to the ground like a dog. My heart was captured the first time she did it and refreshed every time thereafter. Mostly though, our pampered princess rode in the cab with her humans. We indulged her freely in most things except eating. When it came to eating we bought only the best dog food and expected her to eat only her dog food. Miss Pampered Princess appeared perfectly healthy in spite of her finicky eating habits and the vet expressed no concern for her small size. I actually preferred her small because she was an indoor dog and a small stature seemed much safer for my fragile knick-knacks.

The second disappointment came when she was a mere 18 months old. Although an early sonogram indicated she was carrying a “belly full of puppies,” on the afternoon of October 24th she delivered only two precious babies. Four days later they both were dead. Confused, stunned and grieving we set out to identify what went wrong eagerly dismissing Sabrina as a possible cause when our vet x-rayed, examined and sent us home with the belief all was well. She did warn us that Sabrina would likely bleed for a month following the birth and that was normal. I was just grateful that at least we still had our precious Sabrina and loving her through her grief, she became all the more precious and beloved to me.

Throughout Sabrina’s pregnancy her eating habits came to the forefront of my attention. She barely ate and one month into the pregnancy had not gained any weight. I wasn’t worried just cognizant of her body’s need for adequate nutrition. Even when she occasionally vomited, I didn’t get alarmed, after all, I rationalized, when I was pregnant raging hormones kept my stomach in a tizzy, for three month with the first two and the entire pregnancy with my son, Sabrina’s owner. Stubbornly convinced that she must eat only the best dog food on the market, I assumed she simply didn’t like the flavor and attempted to enhance the flavor with milk, eggs and nutritious desirable sensations; it worked to some degree, at least she wasn’t starving! The vet encouraged me to try other dog foods as opposed to stubbornly sticking to what the Pampered Princess refused; I relented and she did eat a little more but I had to change brands and textures frequently to satisfy her finicky palate.

This finicky eating pattern persisted even after she lost her puppies. At first I attributed it to her grief. She very clearly grieved her loss, sneaking away to the dark, solitude of our clothes closet with her babies’ blanket in tow; I found her resting her head on it looking as sad and forlorn as I had ever seen. I knew then that we humans way under scope the feeling nature of our animal. However, even after her spirits recovered her appetite did not and by the end of her month she virtually quit eating. My biggest concern, however, was her energy level. Typically, when I worked at the computer she would lie on the floor next to me, periodically reminding me I loved her as she climbed into my lap or nudged my rapidly typing fingers into petting her wanting head. When the most she could muster was to lie quietly at my feet, I suspected we were in trouble. Alarmed, we returned to the vet once again.

I was so relieved and ashamed to learn she had an extremely horrible ear infection. How could I miss the signs? When her appetite and energy responded almost instantly to the ear medicine I was elated and relieved; I felt certain everything was good again. However, we had made an appointment to return the next morning, a Tuesday, following 12 hours without food and water for blood work. When the vet drew Sabrina’s blood, almost immediately she expressed her surprise to see how thin it was. I calmed my fears believing she must just be anemic from delivering the puppies then losing blood for a month after. The vet didn’t appear as comforted or certain; the specimen would be sent to a lab in Oklahoma with results expected by the following Friday.

That Friday became one of the worst days in my life, and several even worse soon followed! Through the week Sabrina continued to eat, drink and behave like our pre-pregnancy Sabrina. I was completely convinced the lab results would return with only minor, easily resolved issues that may even already have been resolved. When I didn’t hear anything right away Friday morning, eagerly, I called the vets office and inquired for the results. The receptionist told me they hadn’t come back yet and assured me our vet would call me when she received them. I jumped into the shower and within minutes the phone began to ring. Not expecting that quick of a return call from our vet and expecting nothing else urgent, I continued my shower in leisure. When I got out, I checked the caller id and recognized the vet’s name and number and again, eagerly, confidently pushed redial. The line was busy. When I got through the receptionist explained that she had just hung up from speaking with my husband at work. Then she dropped the bomb. Sabrina was very ill and must come in right away, possibly for surgery, possibly for a blood transfusion the vet was undecided how to approach treating her at the moment. She filled me in on the details of the report and we hung up. My husband had tried to ring in while I spoke to the vet’s office so I hastily returned his call. Panicked, all I could encourage myself with was how healthy and energetic she had been acting through the week since her ears were being treated. How on earth could she possibly be as sick as the lab results indicate? There must be some mistake!

The vet successfully convinced me of the seriousness of Sabrina’s health challenge; then, suggested that I consider putting her to sleep. I was horrified! X-rays revealed what appeared to be a large mass. It was almost Thanksgiving; how could we have Thanksgiving without Sabrina? I asked about our alternatives and was told there was nothing that they could do at our vet’s office, there were however, it was explained to me “specialists” in Dallas but it would be costly. We were willing to do whatever it took to save our Sabrina’s life.

Long story short, we took our Sabrina to Dallas. There she was treated by an Internal Medicine Veterinary Specialist. He, too, gave no hope and encouraged us to put her to sleep. I was adamant that as long as Sabrina could experience a quality of life I would do what I could to make certain her days with us were the best they could possibly be. Fortunately, we learned the mass was a “full bladder” – our Sabrina was modest; she refused to empty her bladder in the presence of humans. Unfortunately, a sonogram revealed kidneys that were pretty much destroyed from what the vet said was likely a congenital kidney disease; hence the small stature and finicky eating habits might have been a clue.

Sadly, Sabrina was dying from birth and we just failed to take the warning signs seriously. Had I known, I would never have bred her; perhaps we could have kept her alive another year. On the other hand, what I learned from the experience of her love and life, I don’t know if I would have learned it any other way. Sabrina opened my heart like no one else has been able; our connection went straight to my soul. I learned connection from Sabrina’s strong willed intention and persistence to connect with me in spite of my busy-ness ! I also learned to let-go. The decision to let Sabrina move on when it was time and to keep all the good memories and the lessons has been priceless – I used to shudder when my husband played Garth Brooks’ song, The Dance, now I understand. Now, I can feel the pain of loss and still be glad for all the good times. Now the difficult times no longer overshadow the good times we shared. Finally, we always hear that dogs teach us unconditional love, Sabrina taught me much more about selfless love and value – value of life, value of love and value of every moment. In retrospect, I learned to live in the moment because that is all we had and each one became special, valuable and important. Isn’t all that love and learning worth respect, compassion and sacrifice on a human owner’s part.

After that fateful Friday, we had four priceless months with Sabrina. We gave her fluids through a port in her back to flush her kidneys; I injected Epogen to build her red blood count, and we cleaned up her messes from a never ending upset stomach. Our family showered her with attention through the holidays. Through it all, Sabrina went everywhere with us. We took her to swim in the Gulf of Mexico, to meet an astronaut in Houston and snowmobiling in New York. Her favorite game, she could not get enough of was fetch, especially fetch that involved water. Little Jon, the gentleman dog, seemed to sense she required special consideration and allowed her to retrieve even when he could have easily wrestled the stick away from her. (Or maybe she had him intimidated from her stronger days.) Regardless, we all together, moved heaven and earth to make her last days as comfortable and full of love.

The time came when I looked into her eyes and saw only pain; I knew the battle had been lost. She quit eating completely, we made a last ditch desperate attempt to bribe her with a steak and liver – no interest. The next morning my son Jonathan and I made the final trip to her vet in Dallas. He told me I was doing the right thing to put her out of her misery; my heart knew he was right but my head wished for something different. The vet and his assistant left us alone in the room with Sabrina on the table as they prepared the injection. Sabrina was weak and did not struggle. Her teeth were falling out. Why, I asked. Why couldn’t she have a kidney transplant? Then, they gave her a shot. In an instant, she went limp and was gone. I could not believe death was so quick and so final.

We took her home with us and laid her body to rest next to her puppies and prayed that her spirit was busy playing fetch in puppy heaven.

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