Joal Derse Dauer was donating blankets at a local no-kill shelter when an injured and despondent dog caught her eye. With three “fur babies” already at home, Joal wasn’t looking to adopt another dog. But there was something special about Sadie . . .
With patience, hope, and plenty of love, Joal saw her canine companion grow in strength and joy. And before long, she discovered that sweet Sadie had transformed her life in ways she never could have imagined.
Joyous and inspiring, Saving Sadie is a triumphant story about the power of unconditional love and second chances—for humans and animals alike.
“A triumphant tale of second chances that shows how patience, hope, compassion and love can truly transform lives.” —Modern Dog
“I fell in love with Sadie as you will, too.”—Fern Michaels
“Saving Sadie will lift your spirit and open your heart. A must-read.”—Jodee Blanco
“What a wonderful book—moving and inspirational, touching and heartwarming.”
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
ELIZABETH RIDLEY is the author of five novels and a two-time writing fellowship recipient. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern and a master’s degree in creative writing from The University of East Anglia in England. She is a proud “cat mom” to Claudius and Calpurnia.
Learn more about Sadie at savingsadie.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Grim Prognosis
Four years earlier: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Having just dropped off my donation of blankets and bedding, I was in a hurry to get back on the road, but suddenly one of the dozens of dogs housed at this no-kill shelter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, caught my eye. I stopped in my tracks as my heart stuttered, my breath caught, and I took another look. I don't think I had ever seen a more pitiful creature, or a dog that had more wrong with it: sad amber eyes, defeated expression, sunken shoulders, withered back legs, wounded forehead, and dull, dirty, matted fur. The dog, along with one of the shelter's volunteers, was sitting outside in the cool, dappled shade beneath a lacy-leaved maple tree. Something in the dog's face reached out to me, drawing me closer, begging me for help. I seemed to understand instinctively that this was no ordinary dog and I needed to find out more. "What is this dog's story?" I asked the volunteer, a friendly-looking woman in her mid-forties with light brown hair.
"Her name is Sadie and she arrived here last night," she replied, then proceeded to tell me the whole story in heartbreaking detail. Sadie had been found in the hardscrabble Appalachian hills of Kentucky some weeks earlier, where, it was surmised, after giving birth to a litter of puppies she was shot between the eyes and in the back and left for dead. The strangers who found her, dazed, dehydrated, and bleeding, took her to a local vet, and when they couldn't help her there, Starfish Animal Rescue, a no-kill rescue organization based in northern Illinois, arranged to transport her to the shelter here.
"Her back legs are paralyzed," the volunteer explained. "She can't stand, she can't walk, and she's urinary and fecally incontinent." The woman shook her head sadly. She didn't have to spell out what this meant, because we both understood: Sadie, whom they estimated to be about four years old, was doomed to live out the rest of her days here, just one of many rejects, strays, and castaways, locked in a cold metal cage, until nature inevitably took its course.
"Has she been evaluated by a vet locally?" I knelt to take a closer look at Sadie. She was so skinny, so filthy and malnourished, it was difficult to make out any distinguishing characteristics, other than floppy ears, a longish snout, and, somewhere beneath the filth, black-and-tan markings. I thought she might be a hunting dog, perhaps an Australian shepherd.
"No, she hasn't seen a vet here yet," the woman replied.
"Would it be all right if I take her to a vet and have her examined?"
The volunteer looked surprised. "I'm not sure," she replied. "But we can find out."
Many times since that day, Tuesday, April 24, 2012, I have asked myself why. Why did I suddenly, out of the blue, volunteer to take Sadie, a dog I had never seen before, to the vet? I had been going to animal shelters for years, donating items and volunteering my time, and I had seen plenty of dogs, cats, and other animals with stories just as tragic as Sadie's, and yet I had never intervened like this before. Maybe it was because Sadie, even in her downcast, diminished state, reminded me of dogs I had loved and lost in the past, especially Marley, a magnificent black-and-brown Rottweiler mix, and Presley, a German shepherd mix who had died about a year earlier. Maybe if Sadie had been a Chihuahua or a pit bull, I would have just walked away, but something about Sadie's sad face, her wounded forehead, her soft, sorrowful eyes, resonated deep inside me. It was like she was trying to speak to me through her expression, as if a soul trapped somewhere deep inside of her was calling out to me for help. I reached toward Sadie and she flinched, then steadied. It was clear she didn't have the strength or the feeling in her legs to even stand up, but she did allow me to stroke her head.
On the other hand, maybe I was so drawn to Sadie not because of her pitiful state but instead because it is my nature to be "a fixer." My first impulse, when I see something broken, is to pick it up, fix it, and make it whole again. And Sadie was just about as broken as a dog could be. Then again, maybe it wasn't Sadie's desperate expression or my "fixer" persona that led me to make that choice that day: maybe it was just the magic of something that is "meant to be," the result of those unseen forces that move within and among and around us, nudging us onto the paths we were always destined to follow.
I spoke to the shelter's on-site manager and asked if I could take Sadie to the vet to see if anything could be done to help her, and in particular to get her walking again. The manager seemed surprised by my request but agreed, on one condition: that I pay the bill for the vet visit. She recommended I take Sadie to Dr. Bohdan Rudawski at the Fox Lake Animal Hospital, over the Wisconsin border in Fox Lake, Illinois. I was actually already familiar with this hospital because, coincidentally, my younger daughter, Jami-Lyn, a vet herself, had worked there with Dr. Rudawski years earlier.
Having secured the manager's permission, the volunteer helped me load Sadie into my SUV. I popped the back hatch with my remote and knelt beside Sadie, who whimpered feebly as I scooped her up in my arms. Her back legs, withered and atrophied, dangled lifelessly behind her while urine dribbled down her leg and onto my own. I also noticed, for the first time, that she had a small scrape or sore on her back paw. Frankly, she smelled terrible, from lack of care and from the mixture of dirt, urine, and feces dried and deeply matted into her fur. What was I getting myself into? And yet, even as I held her trembling body close to my chest, I felt not only her thin ribs, but also the first stirring of something like love firing inside my heart.
You are not going to adopt this dog, I warned myself. You already have three fur babies at home. All you are going to do is find out whether or how Sadie might be "fixed." And in that moment I truly believed that my head might overrule my heart, for once.
I cradled Sadie, her skinny forty-plus pounds weighing more heavily in my arms, as the volunteer smoothed and straightened the blankets that I keep in the back of my SUV for emergencies. Together we laid Sadie on top and helped her settle. I could tell she was scared, but she seemed too weak, too helpless, to offer much complaint; she simply hung her head and stared down at the blanket beneath her.
I climbed into the driver's seat and closed the door. Before I could start the engine, the volunteer motioned for me to put down the window. "Yes?" I said, leaning out on my elbow.
"Are you sure about this?" she asked skeptically, shielding her eyes from the sun.
"I'm not sure about anything," I admitted as I turned the key. "Other than the fact that this dog deserves a chance."
As we pulled out onto the two-lane country highway and past the fallow corn and cabbage fields, past the rough, weather-beaten barns and spiraling silos, I watched Sadie in my rearview mirror. She couldn't stand, but after a brief struggle she was able to sit up, pressing her black nose against the window as if desperate to scent the sweet, fresh air she had been denied so long. That's a good girl, I thought, cheering her in my mind. Let's see a little bit of your fighting spirit.
The long drive into Illinois gave me time to think about what the heck I was doing. I certainly wasn't in a position to adopt another dog, especially one with special needs. Middle-aged and on my own, I was living in Muskego, Wisconsin, a rural suburb about fifteen miles southwest of Milwaukee, and loving my work as a "transitional organization specialist," helping people to downsize, re-arrange their interiors, or prepare their homes for resale. My family included two grown-up daughters, Jo Lenette, nicknamed Joey, and Jami-Lyn, two grandchildren, one dog, and two cats.
I had trained as a dancer and later studied interior design before eventually starting my business as a transitional organization specialist. Through my business I often collected items that my clients no longer wanted or needed and then passed them along to others who could use them. In fact, it was just such a donation that had brought me to the shelter in Kenosha earlier that day. And now, here I was, racing down the I-94 interstate on a sunny spring day, with one very damaged dog huddled in the back of my SUV.
When we got to the Fox Lake Animal Hospital, I went inside, signed us in, then went back out for Sadie. When I popped open the back hatch of my SUV I was met with two things — a very guilty-looking dog with her head hung low, and the overwhelming odor of dog mess. "Oh Sadie," I said, reaching in to stroke her. "You poor girl. Don't worry — we're going to get you taken care of." Gingerly avoiding the badly soiled blankets, I once again lifted Sadie in my arms, closed the hatch, and placed Sadie down in the grass beside the parking lot. I hoped she might "do her business" here, but then I realized, to my chagrin, that I hadn't asked the people at the shelter how Sadie relieved herself. Since she couldn't stand, she also couldn't squat as a normal dog would do. If her spine was paralyzed, perhaps that meant she had no control over her bodily functions. In that case, would she spend the rest of her life in doggy diapers? And if so, would her future "forever family" willingly put up with the mess and inconvenience that entailed? I was still thinking in terms of "future" forever family at that point, because I was certain that Sadie's future family did not include me.
While we sat side by side in the grass and waited to be called in to the vet, I stroked Sadie gently, offering soft words of encouragement. I knew she didn't trust me yet, but given everything she had already endured at the hands of humans, I was amazed she let me touch her at all. As I scratched behind her ears and she let out a little low-pitched growl, I looked more closely at the dime-sized hole in her forehead where she'd been shot. The thought alone made me shiver, but I kept on petting Sadie, hoping she might somehow understand that humans could be a source of love as well as pain.
After about forty-five minutes a vet tech, a large man with kind eyes and a dazzling smile, came outside to get us, wheeling a cart. "Come on, Sadie," I coaxed her, "it's show time." The tech lifted Sadie onto the cart and together we rolled her into the bright, busy hospital and from there into an exam room, where the tech lifted Sadie up and helped me position her on the cold metal table. She must have been terrified, but Sadie just went limp, as if in surrender, as we straightened her legs and tried to make her more comfortable.
"Joal! So good to see you again." The vet, Dr. Bohdan Rudawski, already knew me as Jami-Lyn's mom, and as he bustled into the exam room, he greeted me warmly and shook my hand. About six feet tall and middle-aged with a large build, brown hair, a trim beard, and thick Eastern European accent, his whole demeanor inspired confidence.
"And who do we have here?" He gazed down at Sadie and immediately began assessing her with his eyes. I quickly explained that she was not my dog (no, she was definitely not mydog, I kept telling myself), but a badly injured girl that I had "borrowed" from a shelter and brought to him in hopes she could be healed.
He immediately ordered X-rays and then examined her, paying special attention to her back and hindquarters. I tried to read his face and figure out what he was thinking as he expertly moved his hands over her, pulling and prodding, this way and that, but he remained stone-faced, intense and serious. When he finished palpating Sadie's abdomen, he confirmed that she was urinary and fecally incontinent and had significant muscle and nerve damage. Okay, I thought, that's bad, but she might still be fixable.
But then the X-rays came back and the news got worse. As we suspected, a bullet was lodged in the soft tissue of Sadie's skull, between her eyes, and there was another bullet and some shrapnel in her spine, along the top of her back above her pelvis. She also had a large cyst in the middle of her tail, beneath the skin, that was concerning.
"I suspect they shot her in the head first, then shot her in the back as she turned and tried to flee. The second bullet must have stopped her cold," Dr. Rudawski surmised.
I drew a deep breath and nodded, fighting back tears. How could anyone be so cruel to a creature so gentle, so innocent?
Dr. Rudawski patiently explained that, given the extent of her injuries, Sadie would likely never walk or become continent again. She was not completely paralyzed; she had minimal feeling and movement in her back legs, but the damage appeared to be both extensive and permanent.
"What about surgery?" I asked hopefully. "Couldn't you operate to remove the bullets?"
He shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid not, Joal. The bullet and shrapnel in her back are too deeply embedded to even consider surgery."
"So what do you think I should do? I mean, if she were my dog, what would you recommend?" Because Sadie is not my dog ...
"You could get her a cart."
"A cart?" I asked, confused.
"Yes. That way you can pull her around."
"Okay, thanks," I mumbled, too stunned to say more. It felt like someone had kicked me in the gut, but I wasn't ready to give up. I had only known this dog for a couple of hours, but I already suspected that she had something special — that she was something special.
I settled my bill at the front desk and again lifted Sadie in my arms, holding her even more tightly as I carried her back to my SUV and placed her inside. I settled her atop the soiled blankets and crawled in to sit beside her. We were both tired, stinky, sweaty messes. As I stroked her head I paused to cup her chin in my hand and lift her face toward mine. "Am I doing the right thing?" I asked aloud, staring into her intelligent, caramel-colored eyes that gazed back at me, fearful but also longing to trust. "Do you even want me to help you? Or am I only making it worse?"
Because her back was so badly injured, she could barely wag her tail, but the low whine in her throat and the quick swipe of her tongue against my palm gave me my answer: "Yes, Joal. I'm in here. Please help me to walk again."
Okay, I reasoned. A dog is no different from a human. What do you do after you visit one doctor? You go and get a second opinion. And I had the perfect second-opinion doctor in mind: my younger daughter, Jami-Lyn. Having previously worked with Dr. Rudawski, at this point Jami-Lyn had been working at an emergency veterinary hospital in Chicago for about five years. I climbed back into the driver's seat of my SUV, pulled out my cell phone, and quickly called Jami-Lyn. I explained where I was and that, perhaps crazily, I had assumed temporary custody of one very damaged dog. "Bring her on down," Jami-Lyn said, sounding intrigued, "and we'll take a look at her here." Even given my nature as a "fixer," it wasn't like me to spontaneously take custody of an abandoned dog and drive it halfway across the Upper Midwest seeking out veterinary advice. So I could tell by Jami-Lyn's tone she was wondering what the heck was going on.
My head was spinning during the hour-and-a-half drive from Fox Lake to Chicago's North Side. I wasn't ready to accept Dr. Rudawski's grim prognosis and still hoped against hope that something could be done to help Sadie walk again. Although I may have been rattled, Sadie seemed calm, mostly withdrawn into herself but occasionally stirring and sitting up, shoulders squared, and watching intently out the window as traffic on I-94 thickened and Chicago's dizzying skyscrapers loomed into view. I was convinced that the "real" Sadie was in there somewhere, a loving, thoughtful soul just waiting for release.
"All right, Sadie baby," I said, glancing over my shoulder as we sped down the expressway toward the Windy City, "let's keep our fingers and paws crossed for better news."
When we reached the veterinary hospital in Chicago, I quickly went in and let them know we were there. They were already waiting for us, so I went back out to the SUV and scooped Sadie up in my arms once more. She felt limp and listless, her body drained of life and hope, but suddenly she tipped her head back and rubbed my chest, then gently nuzzled my shoulder and collarbone.
Buoyed by this signal, I carried Sadie into the exam room where Jami-Lyn was waiting with a colleague, a fellow female vet who was present for the consultation. What pride and confidence I felt, placing Sadie in the capable hands of my smart, focused, gorgeous daughter, a slim, businesslike blonde in her early thirties with a thousand-watt smile.
"All right, let's see what we've got here," she said as she began Sadie's physical exam. When she reached the hindquarters, her forehead furrowed with concern.
"What is it?" I asked.
Excerpted from "Saving Sadie"
Copyright © 2017 Joal Derse Dauer and Elizabeth Ridley.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Praise for Saving Sadie,
PROLOGUE - Sadie Steals the Show,
CHAPTER ONE - A Grim Prognosis,
CHAPTER TWO - A Second Chance for Sadie,
CHAPTER THREE - Project Saving Sadie,
CHAPTER FOUR - Who's Rehabbing Whom?,
CHAPTER FIVE - Sadie Faces Surgery,
CHAPTER SIX - Sadie and Noah — When Kindred Souls Connect,
CHAPTER SEVEN - Acres and Acres of Hope,
CHAPTER EIGHT - The Mothership Connection,
CHAPTER NINE - Sadie Goes to Asia,
CHAPTER TEN - Neurologists Deliver Sad News,
CHAPTER ELEVEN - Going Gaga for GooFurr,
CHAPTER TWELVE - Florida, Here We Come,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - Sadie Rides the Seadog,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - Pure Love and Second Chances,
ABOUT THE AUTHORS,