Sassafras – Sassy – Sass – DogFish, my jet black, rambunctious puppy turned grey-muzzled, arthritic old dog passed away naturally on Monday, 9 December 2013 aged 10 ½. It’s not dramatic to say it was one of the saddest days of my life.
She’d been diagnosed with a malignant tumour in her spleen a month earlier and, given her age, the vet suggested it had more than likely spread to other organs so there was little point in removing it and nothing much they could do for her besides make her comfortable. We’d watched her suffer through internal bleeds, after which she’d seemingly recover, then decline again, then bounce back, but it got to the point where I’d finally made the heart-rending decision to have her put down on Monday when nature thankfully took its course. I managed to avoid the hardest decision I think I’d ever had to make. Watching her trot around sniffing down the back paddock, and come barrelling to me for a lap cuddle while thinking “I have to put you down” is an emotional minefield that played havoc with my heart. I haven’t cried so much since Dad died. And so many of my tears were somehow mixed up in the emotion of Dad passing away too, 10 years later. For me, Sass and Dad were inextricably linked in my head and my heart.
I got Sass in my darkest hour – September 2006. Jeff had left and returned to America leaving me heartbroken. At the same time, Dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was rapidly going downhill. My life had imploded and I was struggling to cope. Mum, concerned about my well-being, had asked my sister Ros what she thought she could do for me. And Ros simply said: “Let her get a dog.” I’d wanted a dog of my own – very specifically, a black female Labrador – for so long but the timing had never been right. I’d moved in with Mum and Dad after Jeff had left so it probably wasn’t right then either with all that was happening in my life…or then again, perhaps it was perfect. Mum and Dad broke the news to me and I joyously went looking for a black Lab puppy.
Of course I fell in love with Sass the moment I laid eyes on her. She was THE most adorable puppy I’d ever seen and it was extremely hard to wait for the requisite 8-9 weeks until I picked her up. I remember that day in vivid detail because Dad came with me. By this time, Dad was very ill and he struggled to cope but he so very much wanted to share it with me. In a way, it was his parting gift to me. He knew how important she was going to be to me and how much I needed her. He sat in the passenger seat of my beat-up little Nissan Pulsar on the way home with this wriggly, biting, little ball of energy on his lap. I remember wanting to cuddle her so much right then but also enjoying watching Dad hold her. I don’t remember him being able to do that again so it’s a special memory.
Sass was my psychologist, my best friend and my dearest companion who rarely left my side in the early years. We were the dynamic duo and I took her everywhere. When my car finally died, I was given the white ute that had been passed around various family members. And so it was me and my dog in the back of a ute. I got into scuba diving and the UWA dive club became my second home. Everyone knew Sass and our beach adventures always featured a black Lab whenever possible. We nicknamed her DogFish for her incredible surfing and swimming abilities. She LOVED the water and nothing made my heart sing more than watching her crash through the waves and body surf at Leighton Beach, run along the shore, tongue lolling, a crazed enjoyment spread wide on her face. There’s just nothing like the beach for a Lab. It was our favourite place and we spent almost every weekend in summer there those first two years. Just her and me, most of the time.
Two years later and Jeff had re-entered my life. Shortly thereafter I bought Zen for Jeff and Sass, unimpressed at first, got a new groupie / lover / son / companion who never left her side. They became inseparable and we were a two dog family.
Sass was not an overly affectionate dog. Nothing like the heart-on-his-sleeve Zen who is so in your face and will do anything for attention and a cuddle. Sass was subtle and the master of pretence. She would sit close but with her back to you, body language saying: “You can cuddle me if you want to but I don’t need it.” At other times, when you sat on the ground, she would do her unannounced signature barrel dive – there’s nothing subtle about nearly 40kg of solid Labrador diving into your lap! She revelled in a good scratch and a cuddle but didn’t want you to know how much she liked it. She was the opposite of a needy dog – independent and, at times, aloof. But for me, she was always incredibly responsive and affectionate, grunting her pleasure at a scratch like a big black pig. I miss her vocal, expressive “yawning” in the morning to tell me it’s breakfast time and I still look for her paws sticking out from under the BBQ cover, her favourite place to lie to get away from the flies.
Now a beautiful, tall Jacaranda tree marks the place where Sass lies. “Sassy’s Tree” will hopefully thrive here at Edgefield and will burst into its magnificent purple flower display to mark this time as each year passes. A fitting tribute to my favourite girl.
RIP Sass, I miss you so much.