‘A 3-legged dog and a one-armed wife? We even each other out!’ Sandy was always meant to be mine.’: Woman with anxiety disorder, limb difference finds ‘angel’ therapy dog

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“Our dog, Sandy, was a beautiful yellow Labrador who came into our lives on accident. Or was it grand design? Were we just at the right place at the right time?

My husband and I were walking past PetSmart where they were having a pet fair. We stopped and looked at all the dogs. We weren’t looking to get a dog, we were just out shopping that day. When we passed her, I made a joke because I was born without my left arm and Sandy had lost her right leg. I said, ‘Honey, a three-legged dog and a one-armed wife? We even each other out! We should get her.’

My husband laughed and said, ‘Okay.’ We went back and told the lady we wanted to adopt her. It all went really fast and I’m thinking, ‘What are we doing?’ I had never had a dog before. Suddenly, I was kind of scared.

Sandy came to our home, along with the rescue lady, to check it out and see if everything was okay and that we had enough space for her, etc. The foster home that Sandy was in didn’t have stairs. It was a ranch, and we had a two-story home. In order for Sandy to stay, she had to navigate the stairs. ‘Come on, lil girl,’ the lady called to her. She didn’t come. The lady called to her twice, and she still didn’t come. My heart sank.

She had just gotten out of her mouth how sorry she was that it wasn’t going to work out when Sandy came bounding up those stairs faster than anything we’ve ever seen! Not only did she maneuver the stairs, but she jumped up on our king-sized bed and looked right at the lady as if to say, ‘I’m home!’

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

When we settled in with Sandy on our lap, we looked at her paperwork. We got Sandy from a rescue organization called Watermelon Ranch. They are located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before we got Sandy, she had been hit by a car and was left on the road to die. A good Samaritan stopped, picked her up, and took her to the vet. The first day she was at the vet was the first of September, and they soon realized she could not stand on her leg. After doing x-rays, they realized they could not fix her leg or save it so they had to amputate it. They amputated her leg on September 2nd, which is my birthday! Sandy was always meant to be mine. We were soul buddies!

I have suffered from anxiety and depression for a while. I have severe osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel in my wrist, I’m overweight, I have panic and anxiety disorder. The list goes on. Sandy was not a therapy dog. But to me, she was to become my everything.

I was always afraid of the dark, always afraid of staying home by myself due to abuse that I had endured as a child. If somebody came to the door, Sandy would stand her ground! My sweet girl would put herself in between me and the door, would bark as loud as she could to let them know, ‘If you dare come in here and try to hurt my hooman, I’ll bite your butt off!’ She always sat in the doorway of my bedroom at night. I could sleep peacefully knowing nobody was coming through that door. Nobody was getting past her, I could rest! If I was taking a bath, she would sit at the bathroom door right outside, just guarding and watching, always with the biggest smile! ‘I got you, Momma,’ she would say with a beautiful grin. ‘You’re safe!’

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

There was a time I fell into a deep depression. I think I made Sandy depressed too. I was in bed for almost a year, due to not being able to walk from the severe pain and inflammation I had in my joints. I had just given up. I would only get up to feed the animals, let Sandy out a few times, and go right back to bed.

One day, Sandy came and sat by my bed. She was done with my nonsense. I looked at her and I said, ‘What’s up, beautiful?’ Sandy looked right back at me and barked! I said, ‘What do you need baby?’ She barked again! I said, ‘Oh, please leave mom alone. Let me sleep!’ Sandy just kept barking and barking and it got louder and louder. I thought, ‘Is somebody at the door?’ She was trying to tell me something, obviously!

When I sat up on the edge of the bed, she sat down right in front of me and stopped barking. I thought, ‘Okay, cool. This is great. Now I can lay back down.’ As soon as I did, she got up and started barking again! ‘Okay, Sandy, I hear you. I’m up!’ I was kind of mad, but kind of intrigued at the same time. I sat up again, and put my feet on the floor. She sat down and stopped barking.

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

That is the day it all changed! I looked at her and I said, just being silly, ‘Should I get up?’ Sandy got up and started barking like a madwoman. She was doing this little dance, hopping on her front leg. She started backing up and then she moved forward. She would kind of crouch down and do the same thing over and over again until I started to move. When I started to move forward she backed up. If I backed up like I was going back to the bed, she moved forward. It was like we’re playing some kind of chess game! Who was going to win?

I started laughing hysterically and I said, ‘What in the world are you doing, dog?’ She was egging me on to get up–to move. She wouldn’t quit until I walked. Once I took just a few steps, she was okay with that she stopped barking and laid down!

Every day she made me go a little bit farther. She would stop barking and doing her little dance and let me rest.

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

Eventually, I was walking from my bedroom to my kitchen and back. I had not walked more than 50 steps a day in almost a year! I have a pretty decent size house, so for me not really moving for a year–that was a lot!

After we had done this cat and mouse game for about a month, I had worked up enough energy to start walking a little bit every day. She would lay there and act as my coach. I didn’t dare miss a day either she would be right back at my bedside barking like mad!

I would put on a song. She loved The Fighter by Keith Urban, and I would just walk back-and-forth through my house! She loved the music and every time I put it on she started barking. She almost seemed like she was singing along! When I turned off the music she would lay there quietly until I turned it on again. ‘Okay, first you’re a therapy dog, then you’re an exercise coach, now you like country music? What the heck, Sandy!’

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

At this point in my life, when I had to go anywhere, I had to use a wheelchair because I was so heavy and in so much pain from Bone-on-Bone Osteoarthritis. Sandy kept encouraging me to keep getting out of bed, to keep moving forward. She believed in me and I loved her like no other!

We shared amazing times together. She loved our popcorn nights when we would watch movies. She needed to have her own little basket of popcorn and her own little section of the couch. She was more human than any human I’ve ever met.

As the months went by, I could tell that her hearing was going a little bit. I didn’t want her to get scared so I started to teach her sign language. One of the most important things that I signed to her was, ‘I love you!’

I have it recorded on video. I said, ‘I love you,’ and she looked right at me and she barked, then paused, and barked again, and paused, and barked again and paused. I said, ‘Sandy, did you just say ‘I love you?” So I did it again. I signed ‘I love you!’ Three barks each, with pauses in between. Her eyes staring straight at mine! Sandy had a way of communicating what she wanted almost like she was standing on two feet.

Since Sandy started me on my weight loss journey, my journey back to life, I have lost close to 60 pounds now. I no longer have to use a wheelchair as much. She gave me back my confidence. She took away my fear and in return, she let me give her something I so desperately needed: love. Just unconditional love. She never asked for anything more or anything less.

Loving Sandy, though, did come with a price. It cost me a piece of my heart, as I lost my best friend a few days ago. Even in death, she was trying to be brave and still protect me. We didn’t know what was happening until too late. She hid her illness very well.

A few days before Christmas, I could tell that there was something going on, so I had my husband rush her into the vet. The vet said that she had a recurring bout of vestibular disease. If you don’t know what that is, it’s like vertigo. It causes you to get very dizzy and to fall over. It can cause you to lose your appetite, etc. We had been down this route a few months before and nursed her back to health.

It took about two weeks, but my husband lifted that dog in and out of the house to go to the bathroom. He lifted her to her bed. He lifted her in and out of the kitchen so she could watch him cook and be with her daddy. We had to hold up her head so that she could drink water and hand feed her food. But that was nothing compared to what she had given us.

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

Within a few weeks, she returned to normal up, until around Christmas Eve. She was exhibiting the exact same symptoms. We called the vet and he said to bring her in. She didn’t have a temperature, her breathing wasn’t labored, she was responsive at the vets office, she ate, and even tried to stand up for him. We were sent home with medicine and with the assurance that it was just old dog vestibular disease again.

Christmas Eve came and I got very worried about her she was just laying in the hallway, not really wanting to eat or drink. I knew that this was different than the vestibular. We called the vet again. But she was still eating and drinking, so he said it will just take some time. In my heart, I knew something was wrong. My husband assured me that she would be fine.

She wouldn’t come lay on her bed. She wanted to lay in the doorway that night so I put a blanket over her, put her water close by where she could reach it, and went to bed.

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

I got up and greeted her like I always did. ‘Good morning, baby! Merry Christmas!’ She stood up with her tail wagging, her eyes bright. She started barking and walking towards the door like she had to go to the bathroom, and with enough energy that I thought she was a young puppy again.

The night before, I had prayed and I prayed very hard. ‘Please Lord just give me back my dog for one more Christmas! Let her have no pain, no vestibular disease, no sore, achy muscles. Just a day where she can be loved on by her family!’ I needed a miracle.

Well, from the looks of it, I had gotten my miracle. You couldn’t tell there was anything wrong with Sandy. For the entire day, she was responsive and loving. She had her own plate of goodies and had lots of good sniffs. The weather here in the south was around 65 degrees, so we took her outside. Her tail was wagging all day. She was happier than I had seen her in a long time and I had so much hope! It was as if the vestibular disease had passed just like it did before. Thank you, Jesus, thank you!

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

The very next day after Christmas, we started to lose her. My baby, who was responsive and full of life the day before, was now laying there on the floor, not able to move, not wanting food, not wanting water, not responsive to us at all. She would look at me with eyes so sad. I saw it then, what my angel could no longer hide. She was in so much pain.

We were back and forth to the vet the next few days. On December 29th, when I woke up in the morning, I absolutely knew that her beautiful light was beginning to fade. We found out from the vet that Sandy’s kidneys were shutting down. He didn’t know how she was alive her numbers were off the charts. He couldn’t explain it.

But I knew why she was still here, why she wouldn’t let go. Even in the midst of her darkest hour, my beautiful girl she still wanted to be there for me.

Sandy showed me the way to love again to live again. Now it was my time to show her that I was going to be okay and it was all right to let go. We called a wonderful place called Sweet Dreams to come to the house to close her eyes for the very last time.

She laid upon her bed with soft warm blankets, the fireplace going, candles lit, surrounded by the love of my children, my husband, and myself. The vet administered the sedative, and I turned on her favorite song, the one I played for her to calm down whenever she was anxious. The song was Stay Awake by Mary Poppins. If you don’t know the lyrics, you’ll have to listen to them sometime. The lyrics said everything that my heart and my soul couldn’t at that point.

Well, we all lost it at that point. Even the vet and her technician were passing around the Kleenex, while we were laying our loving hands on Sandy, assuring her that it was okay. My husband knelt down and whispered to her. As tears were streaming down his face, he promised to take care of me for her, which was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

Sandy had a special place in the life of every person in my family. Her stories are memories that I will cherish for a lifetime and hold in my heart during this hard time.

Thirteen years with the biggest cheerleader I’ve ever had on the planet. Thirteen years with the most beautiful soul, who gave me unconditional love. Thirteen years of teaching me about myself and others around me and the importance of what really matters in life. How do you thank somebody for that? Sandy was my angel on earth and now is my angel in heaven. I now realize it was no accident that we crossed paths. Love always seeks out love!

Sandy, I will never forget you and I will try to honor the things that you taught me. I will try to go forward without you. You were so brave for me. Now it’s time to show you that all you taught me will not go to waste! I’m so grateful you picked me, Sandy.”

Courtesy of Robin Ranae

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Robin Ranae of Georgia. You can follow her journey on InstagramSubmit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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