This is our dear Sally, the dog that inspired CHASING AUGUSTUS.
A terrible very bad dog!
In 2012, when I finished the final draft of BEHOLDING BEE and began thinking about another book, our dog Sally was getting very old.
She was the dog of our dreams. The kind of dog that became the best friend for our four children, and she followed them everywhere they'd let her go: through the woods, down to the fishing brook, up to the old cow fields and into the piney woods. She slept in their rooms, snoozed quietly while they built Legos for hours, waited patiently for them beneath their treehouse, and was the first to dive into the new plastic toddler pool, shredding it immediately. She never wanted to be separated from her beloved Daniel, Matthew, Kate and Laura.
Anyone who reads my books knows that I love to write about transformation, about characters who face mountains of adversity and because they find grit and determination, are able to push on and become more than they thought they could be.
Well, the same holds true for dogs.
Sally did not start out very well. We already had one very elderly rescue dog on the day that we received a call from a dear friend on the other side of town. She knew our big family well and thought we were the perfect home for an almost-year-old mixed breed golden retriever with an unhappy past.
Our friends knew a great dog when they saw one.This scrawny red dog might not look like much but she is smart with a lot of heart and she could really become a great family dog, they told us.
There was plan in place that included a half dozen people to spirit her away from the house where she had been mistreated. No one wanted Sally to go back to her former owner, so one day our friends scooped Sally up, hid her in their barn, took her to the vet, and called us.
On a very cold winter day with snow on the fields in our town in rural Rhode Island, we piled into our minivan and went and had ourselves a look.
Well, here’s what we found: Already in her short life, Sally had been mistreated, was malnourished and untrained. She was filthy, had been allowed to wander all over the streets of our town, and was extremely strong-willed. Not a good combination. And yet she immediately latched onto our children with a thumping tail and dozens of kisses, and so we brought her home.
Well. It was not all easy street. Sally was used to running off wherever she wanted to go. She didn’t like to be confined inside the house, either. We lived in a 200 year old home with very old windows. If we left Sally in the house when we weren't home, she simply pushed the old windows out onto the ground and jumped out. She ran around the neighborhood, and during one long escape, she got picked up by the dog officer and was taken to the animal shelter and put into what our children called "Doggy Jail." And she barked. A lot. Barking was a sport to Sally.
In essence, Sally was a very bad, no good, pretty terrible dog. More than once, we thought that maybe she was too much for us. But if you know our family, we are no quitters. We’ve survived a house fire and lived for nearly a year in an emergency trailer on our property while a new home was being built, and we know how to push on.
Time passed and we learned how to train our unruly dog. Lots of love, lots of exercise, lots of treats, lots of firm attention, did I say lots of love? Incredible amounts of love. We installed an invisible fence and suddenly Sally had two acres to run around as fast and as often as she wanted and she decided that it was her job to keep our property free of all squirrels, birds, rabbits and anything else that crawled or slithered. With all that exercise and four children to look after and healthy food and lots of love, she quieted down and became an incredibly good dog with a very big heart. She became the dog of our dreams.
Sally died halfway through the writing of Chasing Augustus. It is unbelievably sad to lose a dog you love.
Sally lived the essence of something I try and remind myself of each day: It's not the circumstances of your life that define you. It's the action you take that tells the world who you are.
It turns out that we if we are brave and refuse to quit, we can always write the next chapter of our lives.
And this is true, even for dogs.