That's Sadie on O's June cover, hugging my right shoulder, making her bid for a new life with me. Right before we shot the photo—at PAWS Chicago, the city's largest no-kill humane shelter—she had licked my ear and whispered, "Please take me with you."
Out of all the pups in that picture, Sadie was the one I felt an instant connection with. But just to be sure I wasn't caught up in a moment of overwhelming puppy love, editor at large Gayle King said, "Why don't you wait and see how you feel tomorrow?" So I waited 24 hours. The next day, Chicago had a whiteout blizzard—not a good day to bring a puppy home, I thought. Especially if you live in a high-rise. It's hard to house-train from the 77th floor even when the sun is shining.
Nevertheless, Stedman and I donned our winter gear and used our four-wheel drive to get across town. Just to "have another look." Lots of folk were telling me, "Might as well get two. Just as easy to train." But my heart spoke to Miss Sadie, the runt of the litter.
I love making the underdog a winner.
An hour later we were at Petco, buying a crate and wee-wee pads, collar and leash, puppy food and toys.
The crate started out next to the bed. And still she cried. We moved the crate up onto the bed, right in the center, so she could have a full view of me and not have separation anxiety her first night away from her brothers. More whimpering and whining, then full-blown yelping. So I took her out of the crate and let her sleep on my pillow. I know that's no way to train a dog. But I did it anyway.
And I'm still doing it. Sadie now thinks I'm her littermate. By the time I wake up in the morning, she has nuzzled her way between my neck and shoulder. That's her most comfortable sleeping position.
Five days after bringing her home, I lost track of good sense and let myself get talked into adopting her brother Ivan. For 24 hours, two was indeed better than one. Ivan was Sadie's playmate, and I didn't have to be. (Some relief from games of fetch the ball and rubber squeezy bunnies.)
Ivan had one full day of romping in the sun with Sadie and my two golden retrievers, Luke and Layla. Then he refused dinner. And then the diarrhea started, followed by vomiting and more diarrhea. That was on Saturday. By Monday night, we knew he had the dreaded parvovirus.
I'd been through parvo 13 years before, with my brown cocker, Solomon. It nearly killed him. He stayed in the hospital for 20 days. He was over a year old when he got it. Ivan was only 11 weeks. His young immune system wasn't strong enough to overcome it. Four days after we took Ivan to the emergency clinic, he died. That morning, Sadie refused to eat. Even though she had tested negative before, I knew she had parvo, too.
And unfortunately I was right. So then began the ordeal of trying to save her. Plasma transfusions. Antibiotics. Probiotics. And daily visits. I wish for every citizen of this country the kind of healthcare and treatment this little dog received. The first four days, she got increasingly worse. At one point I told her doctor, "I'm prepared to let her go. She shouldn't have to fight this hard."
But fight she did. By the next day her white blood cell count started to improve, though she was still weak and lethargic and couldn't keep food down. Two days later she was happily eating bits of chicken.
And shortly afterward Sadie came home, skinny and frail but ready to start life anew. She has fully recovered. And is into chewing everything, including the blanket at my feet right now.
During the time she and Ivan spent in the hospital, I was worried and restless and got little sleep—the same as it would have been with any family member. Which is what I know for sure pets represent in our lives: a connection to caring that's unconditional. And reciprocal.
Puppy love. Nothing like it.
See a behind-the-scenes slideshow of our cover shoot