In our world, we called her our “canine cousin,” and we and our boys all loved her.
Savannah came to Candy as part of the assistance dog rearing and training program at The Children’s Village, the charity at which Candy worked for many years before her semi-retirement. Savannah brought two litters of gorgeous puppies into the world, 12 bright-eyed puppies destined to help others. The assistance dog training program empowers and enriches disadvantaged and troubled inner city youth by giving them responsibility for raising and training these puppies. The program is designed to train these dogs to help those with physical or emotional disabilities. Savannah’s puppies have gone on to help 12 lucky individuals, including some with autistic spectrum disorders, combat veterans with PTSD, and the physically handicapped.
But just as important as helping the people lucky enough to receive one of these dogs is the life-changing experience for young people in the training program. These kids have had some of the hardest knocks that life can present; but if they can succeed in transforming these dogs into trained service animals, the experience becomes transformative for them as well. Candy is very proud of the many success stories from The Children’s Village in which troubled youth gained a new sense of self-worth, confidence, and character as a result of this program. But one can’t have an assistance dog program without great DOGS! So Savannah did her part by birthing and nurturing these future hero dogs.
That’s why Savannah will and should be remembered with great respect for being a “working Mom with a cause.” To put it in tangible terms, there are a dozen lucky people out there as we speak who are living a better and fuller life by virtue of being blessed with companion or assistance dogs who once suckled on Savannah’s generous teats! Thus, in our grief, we are trying to keep that perspective and celebrate not only Savannah’s life, but honor her for having made many human lives more LIVEABLE for having been here. She did her job and fulfilled God’s role for her magnificently and tirelessly.
For those who haven’t bred dogs, please know that it’s most certainly NOT a walk in the park for doggy moms. There is a physical price to be paid for giving birth to and nursing a brood of puppies; and that price gets a bit higher with each litter. But Savannah handled it like a champ, and when it was decided that she had done enough, she settled in to a long and joyous “retirement” living on beautiful Lake Waccabuc with Candy until they moved to new digs a couple of years ago.
The years that followed were full of joy and excitement, with Savannah joining Candy at work almost every day and being showered with love and affection by kids and grownups alike as a favorite alumna of the Children’s Village program.
But always, at the end of the day, it was HOME with Candy, her doting Mum. They were inseparable and complemented each other beautifully. Both Candy and Savannah loved boating and swimming on the lake, and as recently as this past summer, Candy returned to the lake for a visit and brought Savannah into the lake to swim. Today, she shared that story with us, adding that she was surprised when Savannah took off swimming and hardly glanced back. Candy needed to swim after Savannah and gently turn her around when it became clear that she had NO intention of swimming back to the dock! It was as if she knew this could be her last swim, and she didn’t want it to end, so she just swam towards the horizon, with a knowing part of her spirit being propelled towards the much greater journey to come.
Savannah had reached the point in her later-life trajectory where daunting health challenges faced her each and every day. Rest assured that Candy is a very experienced, loving, and empathetic dog parent, so there was never any of what one would call “suffering.” Instead, what was happening with Savannah was that gradual “winding down” which we who have cared for geriatric dogs know far too well.
Through the sheer power of “active loving,” we align our spirits with those of our animals, and we marshal our psychic, emotional, and financial resources to do whatever we can to help them to fight the forces of nature. And miraculously, for a time, sometimes even for years, we seem to succeed at fighting off the inexorably receding life tide. And why shouldn’t we fight, damn it all! It’s just NOT FAIR that our dogs seem to age so quickly after they reach a certain point. But we can’t stop sand from slipping through the hourglass, any more than we can stop the night from cloaking the day at sunset.
We won’t dwell too much on the health challenges that Savannah faced. Suffice it to say that Candy did what we all do when we truly love an animal. She did the best that she could to make Savannah comfortable, helping her to stay mobile by using a harness to gently ease her up and down for walks, carrying her up and down stairs, and lifting her in and out of the car. None of this was easy with Savannah weighing in at over 65 lbs., but we never heard a peep of complaint from Candy, of course. She also had skin issues, shortness of breath, and was blind in one eye.
But please don’t picture her as frail or “sickly.” Her Golden smile always shone through, and her warmth and affectionate spirit was evident even today as I hugged and stroked her in the car while feeding her an indulgent number of treats. As her “uncle,” it wouldn’t be me seeing her through the rest of this day. That heartwrenching experience would be Candy’s and Savannah’s to face together. But Amanda “represented” our family as she went with Aunt Candy for moral support.
There is so much more to be told; how can one capture an energy, a soul, a LIFE well-lived, in just a few words?
So we’ll just need to consider this a “down payment” towards thousands of beautiful memories to come, recalling funny moments, recounting heartwarming experiences, and years and years of hugs and kisses that will be missed more than words can ever say. So along with the tears, join Candy, Alan, and our entire extended family all in a loud CHEER, toasting to a life well-lived by a beautiful little soul. Au Revoir and Godspeed, Savannah. We know that Carly, Charlie, Isis, Maui, and our dearly departed human family members are all with you now, and you’re “off lead.” We’ll look up at the clouds and see you, I’m sure.