For their first date, my sister and her husband went to a bar in South Boston called Sullivan’s Tap. It is not a fancy place, and it seems unlikely that the sweeping “yuppification” of Southie will ever reach as far as Sully’s. People go there to shoot pool and watch the Sox and enjoy the novelty of a bar so long it spans an entire city block and drink beer. Most of the bottles of liquor are dusty.

I do not know many of the details of that first date, but I know that at some point my sister was lobbying for “bar stool Olympics” and had, after a certain number of beers, taken to leaping over her bar stool as though it were a vault and she were a gymnast. I know she ended up on the floor with an injured finger. I also know that the patrons – and her husband – found her amusing, perhaps especially because she didn’t end up in the hospital. (I bring this up for no reason other than possibly embarrassing my sister.)

Healy and Brian eventually got engaged and decided to get a kitten to make their apartment feel more like a home and them more like a family. They wanted to name the kitten something reminiscent of how they got together; they’d first considered calling it Sullivan because they had expected to get a boy. But they ended up getting a girl, and so they named her Tap instead.

It wasn't until about a year later, when they moved into a house, that they discussed getting a dog.

Now, Healy and Samantha and I (as I’ve mentioned) grew up with dogs – especially big dogs – and love them and knew we’d always have homes complete with canine companions. Healy in particular had grand visions of getting an enormous, white English sheepdog and naming him Shakespeare as an homage to both the sheepdogs we’d grown up with and her background in theatre.

So in the fall of 2002, Healy started investigating shelters and rescues (and the internet at large) to try and find anyone who could provide her with an English sheepdog.

For months, she had no luck. Then one day, a woman at a shelter miles away emailed Healy to say they’d just had a rescue returned to them – a dog that looked something like an English sheepdog, although they couldn’t be sure. He’d been found wandering the streets as an older puppy (a year or so, they figured) and was originally placed with a family with young kids. Except the family had him for only two weeks before they returned him. They said he was difficult to handle and was “food possessive” and they feared for their children’s safety.

The woman at the shelter was conflicted. On the one hand, if the dog was really unsafe, he would have to be destroyed. On the other hand, if my sister had really grown up with big (sometimes “difficult”) dogs and knew how to handle them and was willing to give him a try...wouldn’t that be better than giving him no chance?

Healy was a bit concerned, but asked to see a picture (I don’t have a copy of that photo or I’d share it), and that was it. She knew she had to go meet the dog.

And that is when she discovered that he came with a name. It was Sullivan.


Healy figured it had to be fate. (Brian knew there was no way Healy wouldn't bring him home.)

When my sister went and visited him, she found it hard to believe anyone would consider him dangerous. Unruly, untrained, big and formidable? Sure. But dangerous? Seemed unlikely. So Healy set about convincing the woman at the rescue – as well as her husband – that she should be his new mommy.

She was successful.

The first year with Sully was trying to say the least. He was strong and strong-willed and had the poor habits that sheepdogs acquire when they are left without training. He nipped at heels with a jaw bigger than your foot. He would jump up on people to welcome them to his home, which – to the uninitiated – was often harrowing given his size. He would go from one toy to the next, always in motion unless he was passed out dead asleep. A reprimanding “SULLY!” was exclaimed every few minutes so long as he was in the room with someone.

But he had his great qualities, too, and with classes and infinite patience on the parts of Healy and Brian, Sully calmed down a little. He learned that rather than teethe on your forearm, for example, a chewy rope could substitute quite nicely. (So long as you have one handy.)

And sure, he would try and get off his leash (or tie-up outside), but only to visit neighbors who had interesting things to sniff, like kids or other dogs.

He loved Tap (who wanted NOTHING to do with him) and the cat my sister later adopted, Hops. Hops wasn’t even slightly intimidated by the big furry creature 50 times her size, and would crawl all over him or use him as a napping post.

Sully and Hops, resting on the sofa.

Sully would gladly sit on your lap or lay beside you at night if you let him. He seemed genuinely pleased to be part of my sister’s family. He would get jealous of the attention the baby got, but only a little.

Sully and Healy
Sully rests on Healy's pregant tum.

Mostly he seemed hopeful that the baby would somehow get him more food, either by accident (food thrown from the high chair, or licked off Charlie’s face), or by Healy’s giving him a treat to distract him for a few minutes.

Sully meets Charlie

Sully was never aggressive. He was not food possessive. He was not dangerous. He was a big, strong dog who was lucky to find his way into Healy and Brian’s home.

And he was very, very good at burping.

* * * * *

In the weeks after my father passed away, both my sisters, my aunt, and Dad’s fiancĂ©e Jane, had the unenviable task of dealing with, well, everything. While the executor has been handling all the details, they have been left to handle everything else. The big stuff (everything in my dad’s house) and little stuff (what do we do with his wallet?), and all the stuff that I can’t be there to sort out because I up and moved away. It has been heartbreaking. It has also been hard.

Healy has a house with storage (unlike Sam who lives in a tiny apartment and unlike me, who also lives in a smallish apartment 3,000 miles down the road), which means she and Brian end up “getting for now” a lot of the things we can’t put anywhere else.

Healy and Brian both work very hard at full-time, demanding jobs. They have a son who is just over a year old, who is in daycare and (not unrelated-ly) keeps getting sick. And while dealing with their careers and their baby and my father’s death and all the challenges of everyday life, they have also had to spend their weekends traversing to New Hampshire to sort things out and load and unload their car and house on top of their already overloaded lives.

About two months ago, Sully began walking with a limp.

At first, the vet said it was either neurological / nerve-related or hip dysplasia. They decided to treat the hip with medication and hope for improvement, and then if he didn’t get better they would take him to a neurologist. A week later, Sully walked upstairs, lied down in their bedroom, and then could no longer move his body below his neck.

To make what was an agonizing two month-story short, my sister and her husband did everything they could. On top of their jobs and baby and daycare and grieving and traveling and packing and keeping on, they also spent hours driving to specialists. They spent thousands of dollars they didn’t have to spare on treatments and spent hours they didn’t have to spare in physical therapy with Sully.

Every day, they had to manually help Sully with the most basic and unpleasant of physical functions – including hand-feeding him – ever-hopeful that he would recover. If he had had a stroke (which they thought he had), he would be able to survive. Healy and Brian wanted to give him that chance.

Sadly, Sully only got worse. They deduced that it was spinal cancer. And incurable.

Cancer. Again.

My sister and her husband had to put Sully down last weekend, only four years after rescuing him.

There was nothing else for them to do.

They know they did the right thing.

But you know? It is still so hard and sad.

When Healy called me on Saturday afternoon crying, I said everything I could think to say. That Sully was lucky to have found them. That they gave him a better life than probably anyone else would have. That they saved him, and gave him fun and happiness. That he would not want to suffer, and that he could not have understood what was happening to him. That they gave him peace.

“I know,” Healy said. “I just need to hear that it's okay.”

It's all been so much. Too much.

“And it would be nice if everyone could just be healthy for a while.”


Sully Blizzard

Silly boy. Knew he wanted to go out and be part of the Blizzard of '05.
He just didn't quite know what to do once he got there.


  1. Sometimes life just sucks, but this cancer thing it sucks worse, and death sucks worst of all.

    Your sister did to the right thing. It doesn't make it any easier, it doesn't make it any better, but you all have my sympathies. And a LOUD STRONG AMEN to that wish of yours.


  2. What a sweet tribute.

    That is awful about everything that happened, and happened all at once.

    I'm so sorry. Cancer is an awful, insidious disease and I hate it.

  3. I, too, would like to echo your thought: May the happy family health of your childhood revisit you from now until your next life. Hope. It will happen. -Aarwenn (with a Blogger-beta blog that I cannot use as an account on a non-beta Blog account. But it's still me.

  4. Oh, what a heart breaking story....

    Rest in peace sweet sully.

  5. Amen. I hope you and your family stay healthy for a long, long while!

    Sounds like Sully had a wonderful life, as short as it may have been. Both he and your sister's family were blessed to have each other.

  6. I'm so sorry for the loss. Sometimes I think it's even harder to lose a pet. The love is unconditional and the dependence absolute. Yet, we need them as much as they need us. And they can't tell us what's wrong. It's heartbreaking.

    Sully was lucky, indeed, to be cared for by Healy and Brian. They did the right thing.

  7. You should tell your sister to read the book "Marley and Me."

    Although it is a bit cheesy at times, it tells a very accurate and heartwarming tale of a family's love for their pet -- starts at the point of a young couple adopting a puppy, and ends with the family (by this point they've had 3-4 children), having to go through teh process of putting him down.

    I cried my eyes out, but it was so damn good.

  8. Your poor sister. No matter how many people tell you, or that you know you did the best thing for them, you can't help but think,"I signed the papers that killed my dog." It was the hardest thing I'd ever done, and I held Gertie for every second of it and long after she had stopped breathing. Oh yeah, sure, theres the Rainbow Bridge, where she's waiting for me, but I can't help but think I didn't do enough. Tell your sister it will get easier. Cancer is the worst!

  9. Bawling at my desk now. I'm so sorry for your sister and you and your family.

  10. What a hard decision for your sister to make - and of course she did the right thing. What a wonderful life they gave him in those few years. Here's hoping for some healthy vibes for everyone in the future :-)

  11. can we make another tee shirt? it should say "cancer sucks," or "i hate cancer." hopefully not in too poor taste.

    animals understand all kinds of things, but being in pain isn't really one of them. it's the bravest thing a pet's human can do- to decide that it's too much, and make the right choice for the pet. it probably never feels like the right choice for the person. hopefully, your sister will feel better in time, knowing that they did all they could and then didn't let their friend suffer.

  12. I know how bad Healy must feel. I just lost my dog of 18 years a few weeks ago :(

  13. Cancer sucks. And I didn't realize how much until I had it (Lymphoma), my brother died from it (Lymphoma) and my dog died from it (again, Lymphoma) within 18th months of each other. And that doesn't include the 2 friends who died in the same time period as their cancers weren't Lymphoma.

    Amen to good health!

  14. you have any idea what a good writer you are?! This story made me misty-eyed...and I concur--Amen to good health!

  15. i'm hoping sully met my old pooch taz up in doggie heaven. they seem to have similar personalities and i'm sure they'd have a killer time up there peeing on clouds!

  16. Max (my recently departed cat) loved dogs. I'm sure he's snuggling up to Sully seomwhere.

    A good friend of mine (our age) just started treatment for cancer. My other uncle is also battling prostate cancer. Enough is enough.

    Rest in peace Sully.

    - cuznate

  17. oh, its not fair to make people cry at work.
    Poor Healy & Brian. Sully sounds like he was a wonderful dog with such sad circumstances. They probably did much more than most pet-owners would have by taking him to all of those specialists and hopefully Healy can take comfort in that she tried so hard.

    I have a St. Bernard, and couldn't imagine how hard it would be to take care of her if she couldn't walk on her own. Big dogs are so special, aren't they?

  18. It's so hard to say goodbye to a pet. There seems to be a particularly special bond with rescue pets. Our beagle that we had rescued only 2½ years prior had to be put to sleep this year. She had a variety of health problems that we were treating the best we could. As the problems progressed, it eventually became too much for her, and she let us know clearly when it was time to say goodbye. I miss her everyday.

  19. Poor Sully. I'd expected him to die in some dramaticaly preposterous way, more fitting to his character, like trying to drag a whale ashore, or in a tragic misguided attempt at making friends with a moose.

    Or, perhaps, choking to death on my leg...while it was still attached to me.

    He was full of big doggie love more than any dog I've ever met. Even though I had to mop a lot of that love off my shoes and pant legs.

    Goodbye Sully.

  20. Cheers to Sully and his loving family.

    It's extra hard without words to say good bye.

  21. My roommate went through some similar experiences last year. Her mother died after a two-month battle with cancer that left her delusional and psychotic at times, her grandmother died four months later (it was something like her fourth time getting read her last rights and she'd been ready to go for ten years, but still terrible timing) and then the day after her grandmother's wake they found the family cat dead in the backyard. It always seems so unfair how much can happen to the same person at once!

  22. sweet sully-pie! he looks like a PERSON, especially in the blizzard photo.

    he was VERY VERY loved.

  23. happy and sad post. Also damn you for making me cry at work again ;)

  24. Your sister and brother-in-law sound like wonderful people. So many folks would have passed at even adopting Sully.
    They provided him with 4 wonderful years (21 dog years!)

  25. Happy Trails Sully. I love you, and I never even got to know you!!

  26. Your poor sister and husband! Sully looked very loving. I'm sure he's happy at Rainbow Bridge now. That's where I hope my Puck is.

  27. damn you for making me cry before work!

    Beautiful story.

  28. damn you for making me cry AT work.

    but seriously,
    losing a furry member of the family is the same as any other.

    Here's to everyone staying healthy for a long while.

  29. Another one getting weepy at my desk again. Bad things really do happen to good people all the time, another reason I hate it when people say there’s a reason for everything. Some suffering just defies reason, I think this is one of those situations. Sorry about Sully, and everything else.

  30. I don't even know what to say. I hate cancer. Like many others, I have had a similar experience. Some time ago my aunt started to get sick. She died within 2 months from brain cancer. Within weeks, my cat started to lose her energy so I took her to the vet only to be told that she had cancer and it was suffocating her. I had to put her down that day. Now, my father is battling cancer that just won't stop for anything. He has gone through countless chemo sessions and surgeries and it just keeps spreading. It started in his esophogus... now it is in his liver, pancreas, and hip. He just went through surgery to repair a fracture that was caused by the weakening of the hip due to the cancer. I am thankful that he made it this far as I just gave birth to my first child (6 weeks ago-today is my first day back to work-thanks for making me cry!).

    So... cancer sucks.


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