Debra Landwehr Engle, USA

Author of 'Grace from the Garden: Changing the World One Garden at a Time' (Rodale 2003). Debra is co-founder of the 'Tending Your Inner Garden' program for women, and lives in Madison County, Iowa, with her husband Bob and dog Wolf.

(Submitted by the author)

Sabra died on March 11, 2000, one day following her tenth birthday. A full-bred malamute, she pranced down the street, commanding the attention of passers-by. People often stopped their cars, rolled down their windows, and stared at her. “Is that a wolf?” they’d ask. I’d tell them her breed, she’d cock her head and look at them with her brown eyes, and we’d walk on. I didn’t tell them the real answer: she was a gentle soul in a dog suit.

A few weeks before her tenth birthday, Sabra contracted lymphosarcoma, and my veterinarian started her on chemotherapy. The day she died, I was in Louisville, Kentucky, hundreds of miles from home, helping my niece with her wedding plans. I had left Sabra with the vet. When he called, I thought he just had a question.
“Sabra started having a hard time breathing this morning,” he said. “I put her on fluids for a while … and then she died.”

A flash of jubilation
My first reaction, of course, was shock. But just on the heels of that came something completely unexpected. I felt a flash of jubilation, as though I wanted to throw up my arms and yell, “We did it, Sabra, we did it!”

For days, I puzzled over the feeling, because it felt so contrary to my grief. What, after all, did we do? I found the answer when I remembered a simple but profound moment two weeks before she died. On that evening, Sabra lay on the dining room floor and I sat in the living room, reading. Our eyes locked on one another, and I felt an energy between us so real that I almost expected to see it, like a beam of X-ray vision. Pure light, pure devotion.
“Sabra,” I said, feeling a door open in my mind, “This is all there is. What we feel for each other right now, that’s all there is in the entire universe.”

Unconditional love
Just like that, a moment of truth mended past hurts in my soul. What did Sabra and I do? We experienced unconditional love. She fulfilled a need in me to see myself as a loving being, to demonstrate to myself that I could stay with a relationship. Her footsteps on the stairs every morning proved that I wasn’t a quitter, that I was capable of love.

There’s nothing wrong with learning about love from a dog, just as there’s nothing wrong with learning it from an enemy or a rival or a stretch of meadow with wildflowers. Love doesn’t look a certain way. It doesn’t exist just in a husband’s embrace or a child’s kiss. It is everywhere. It’s the stuff we’re made of. The glue that binds the breeze to the clouds and the clouds to the rain and the rain to the trees and the trees to the breeze that rustles their leaves and cools their new roots.
It’s all there is, and I’m grateful to receive and give it wherever I can.
Even to a gentle soul in a dog suit.

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1 comment

Submitted by Claire Terry on Wed, 09/12/2012 - 12:42.

Posted by Constantine Alexander on Facebook, September 12th, 2012: "A very touching and eloquently presented story! Being one who has been touched by the friendship of the Alaskan Malamutes, I truly appreciated and enjoyed reading it! Thank you for sharing it with us Claire!"

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