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.
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 fiancée 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.
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.”
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.
He just didn't quite know what to do once he got there.