Happy Birthday Dear Sara, Happy Birthday to You!

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In October 2006, I bid my farewells to the dog I loved for thirteen years. Sara was a wonderful Golden Retriever. A sweet dog who became an integral part of my family, she continued a pattern of two-year age differences between the three children. Sara was silly and carefree, and she delighted in eating. She would eat all kibbles that made their way into her dish. If she weren’t so obedient, she would have eaten all chickens that made their way onto the kitchen table, too.



But well-behaved as she was, Sara had a mind of her own. One time when I was younger and small, I commanded Sara to “Come!” When she didn’t listen, I grasped her collar and pulled. I pushed on her body, but it was like she had stepped into wet concrete and it had dried around her paws. I summoned my mother, whose power Sara answered to.

I admired Sara’s strength and her ability to tolerate discomfort without screaming about it. For example, when Dad stepped on her ear, she let out a quiet squeak that he could not even identify as a dog’s cry of pain. Another dog would have shrieked the moment it felt the rubber sole against the furs of its delicate ear.

Sara was a dog with strong character. She was stubborn, sturdy, stoic and sprightly. Even the thirteen-year-old Sara with a whitened schnozzola was mistaken for a puppy. She was adored by all people who crossed paths with her. After meeting my dog, two of my friends with fear of the canine race begged their parents to buy dogs. The reaction to Sara’s death is always the same: “Oh no! Sara was so cute. She was so nice.”


Two weeks into October, Sara stopped eating. Sara had never before refused food. Food was her identity. Within the next week, lymphoma turned the sturdy dog I had always known into a skeleton that could barely hold itself up. I hated to look at her. I hated to see her suffer.

My family and I went to great lengths to make her happy—to make her wag her tail again. We sang her “Happy Birthday to You,” a terribly ironic song to chorus to a dying creature. Yet it lit up her eyes and gave life to her tail.


At the end of the week, I hurried home from school and sat with Sara. In an hour, I would take her to the vet and put her on a table, where she would drift into eternal sleep. I stroked the disheveled creature on her head. My family and I sang to her and reminisced about good and bad times we had with her. Before we left for the vet, I offered her a last spoon of ice cream. She turned her nose from the spoon of her favorite food, the food she only received for her birthdays on August 13th. But I shoved it at her, and, submitting to her notorious character as lover of food, she ate the Haagen-Dazs.


She stretched out on Dr. Weiner’s table while he prepared the euthanasia solution. I squeezed her paw as she rested calm as ever. She wagged her tail and held it in the air. I stepped behind the table to watch liquid seep milliliter by milliliter from a syringe into her bloodstream as Dr. Weiner whispered, “Goodbye, sweetie. Goodbye.” Her tail sank from its perky position, tapping the nearby wall on its way down. Then it lay motionless on the table. Trying not to cry, I held my fist to my mouth. I walked to the door, not patting her on the head because I wanted the last time I touched her to be when she was alive, not looking back because I did not want the image of her lifeless eyes to be seared into my mind. But as I felt myself leaving her behind without saying goodbye, it hit me that I would never see Sara again. The knot in my throat tightened, and my tears flowed. Being careful to block my view of her face with my hand, I turned back to Sara. I went over to her, gave her a final goodbye kiss on her belly, and left her there forever.





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