More than four years ago I thought I wanted a mastiff. I lived in the north west suburbs of Chicago, with my then boyfriend, now husband, Joel. Joel had moved with me to Palatine when I got teaching job there. We lived together for about a year when I sat him down and told him I didn’t think I could live much longer without a dog. We’d lived an in apartment a year before that, and now, a year later, we were in a house. I’d lived with a dog since I was four and it was killing me to be without one. Joel has allergies, but said he would try to get used to a dog for me.

That summer Joel went away to Tennessee for two months to get his Permaculture Design Certificate. He agree while he was gone I could get a dog. I thought at the time I wanted to get a mastiff. I contacted local rescues and got major run around, un-returned calls ect. I found a lady in La Salle with a mastiff and my dad and I drive down to visit. The dog was 300 lbs of untrained. He was sweet, but didn’t know how to walk on a leash, liked to put your arms in his mouth and had been taught to “give hugs.” I  knew I could not bring that dog back with me to the suburbs.

Back at my dad’s condo in Rockford I was mopey. I wanted a dog, dammit! My dad finally said something to me along the lines of, “Maybe a mastiff is just to much dog for you right now. Maybe you should get a boxer.” I started looking on Petfinder right then and as I was scrolling through the profiles a dog named “Sweetie” caught my eye. Her long jowls, and liquid eyes made my heart skip a beat. She felt like my dog already.

Soon after I visited her at the shelter in Chicago Ridge with my friend Julie. At least at the time Chicago Ridge was the biggest dog rescue in the area. Entering the dog room was deafening. We took “Sweetie” out of the cage for a walk outside away from all the chaos. As we walked down the aisle between the rows of cages all the dogs went wild, throwing themselves at the bars and barking their hearts out. “Sweetie” looked straight ahead, she never barked, she never even looked to the side. She walked like a princess. We got outside and it was hot. She had horrible diarrhea and was so skinny her ribs were showing. She had obviously been nursing puppies recently. Her teeth were horrible from chewing on the bars of a cage all day. She was skinny and had been picked up off the street. Something about her would not let me look away. I didn’t look at any other dogs. She needed to be spayed before she could go home so I had to wait a few days before I could take her home.

On June 24nd 2009 “Sweetie” came home with me and became Sansa. The name Sansa is from one of my all time favorite series of books, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. In the books, Sansa is a sweet, gentle girl, naive, who is forced by circumstance to grow up fast. She is from a proud, royal house. Although Sansa isn’t my favorite character in the books, her name seemed to fit my new friend. I thought about the way she held her head up high as she walked down the aisle of frenzied canines, and I knew, she was royalty, she was Sansa.

This is a photo of Sansa from one of the first days I had her. She is staring very intently at a photo collage my mom made for me of our family.

sansa family

In July of 2009 I found the first, of many lumps in Sansa’s mammary glands. We had it removed and it was benign.

I feel head over heels for Sansa. She was the gentlest girl, so obedient and so sweet. Her vets at Banfield called her “the calmest Boxer we have ever seen,” and they used to fight over who got to be her vet. When Joel came home from Tennessee it was a bit of a surprise as I thought he was coming home the next day not at 3am. Sansa was ready to defend me and she took several minutes to calm down. I knew she would do anything to protect me, and I vowed I’d do anything to protect her.

Sansa and I had a good time in the suburbs. We babysat my cousins…

sansa mess

We went Up North as a family…

sansa joel

Sansa made her first dog friend, my dad’s dog, Chani.

sansa and chani

In 2010, I lost my job, we decided the suburbs sucked, and we bought a 40 acre farm in Wisconsin. Sansa didn’t handle the move well, she developed a lot of separation anxiety and twice jumped out a second story window when we left her alone. We worked with her, loved her, and with medication and time, she realized we were not going to abandon her. My wonder dog! She had already dodged the breast cancer bullet, and then she jumped out out of two second story windows and only scratched her chin a tiny bit.

One of the first animals we got were rabbits. Sansa loved to lay by them. Later when we built my colony she would come inside and sniff them. The rabbits never minded her. She always radiated such calm, gentle energy.


In June of 2011 Joel and I got married. Sansa was our flower girl.


She stood right up there with us.

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In July 2011 we added a little Rottweiler puppy, Drogo, to our family. I was worried he might boss her around as he got bigger, but despite being twice her size she kept him in line till the day she died. Sansa and Drogo loved each other, and would love playing tug, or chasing games or just lying together. Sansa loved to steal his bones and toys and mound them up underneath herself like Smog from Lord of the Rings.

She was happy to play tug…


And even happier to win…


Even though she liked to win, Sansa also liked to share.



Everyone loves Sansa, even kitties!


Joel and I joked that Sansa was my familiar, because she was my shadow as well as my protector.If we were outside and Joel was taking the dogs in but I was staying out Sansa would always take forever to go inside. She would stand and stare at me, and finally, slowly, walk inside. If I feel asleep on the couch watching a movie and Joel went to go upstairs (he didn’t wake me up cause I am a jerk when I am woken up) Sansa would refuse to go upstairs with him but instead would stay downstairs with me.

sansa hug

When we walked through an area heavy with thistles, I would tell her, “Sansa, walk behind me.” And she would. When I cried into her soft brown fur when I was sad she always gave me this somber look like she understood.

I’ve never met a sweeter, more gentler soul.

Right where all the lines of her face came together, between her eyes was a little spot I called her “kiss spot.” When I kissed her there the rest of her face cradled mine and It fit like It was made to be there.


Some of Sansa’s favorite things were to roll in grass or snow, get her Jolly, eat home-cooked meals, play tug, steal Drogo’s stuff, and cuddle. She loved to roll on her toys and whenever she got a new toy she would thoroughly roll on it to proclaim it hers. When we got a puppy three months ago I know Sansa had accepted her when she began to roll on her. Sometimes she rolled so vigorously she would roll herself right down a hill. In the winter when she rolled in the snow we said she made “dog angels.”


Most dogs stink, but Sansa never did. She had a sweet smell, and even if it wasn’t entirely accurate Joel and I started to say she smelled like a fresh baked cookie, hot out of the oven. Even though Joel is allergic; Sansa, Joel and I would often cuddle in bed. I told Drogo over and over again as soon as she stopped regularly eating poop, he could join us. He never has.


When Sansa lost some mobility in her back legs she started having trouble with stairs. Joel is notoriously difficult  to wake up but each morning he would jump right out of bed to carry Sansa down the stairs.  Nothing I’ve ever done has got him up so fast. But thats how much we loved Sansa. We fit our lives around her. We changed to make her more comfortable.


On October 1st 2012 Sansa was diagnosed with lymphoma by the University of Wisconsin Medical Teaching Hospital. Joel and I were devastated. The doctor’s explained to us that chemotherapy is often very well tolerated in dogs, as dogs are given a much lower dose than people and the emphasis is always on making their quality of life good. Without chemo they gave her a month to live at most. We decided to do chemo. Every visit required blood work before the chemo. Our visits were usually at least four hours long. We waited together, and I always brought her a blanket to lay on.

It was like a miracle! Sansa did well and seemed like her old self! Sansa finished chemo and had a full remission for three months. She came back for a check up with what we thought was worsening arthritis. Within days it had worsened, and the vets thought the most likely thing was a lymphoma tumor in her spine and one in her brain. They gave her some Elspar, and again, we had a miracle. She did okay with the next round of chemo, but then her liver values spiked, and she developed tremors of unknown origin. It didn’t seem like there was anything else medically to be done for her, and the pain meds no longer seemed to be working well enough. On September 30th 2013 we fed Sansa a lunch of Emancipation Acres pork and said goodbye to her in our home. We buried her outside, in the spot where I have so many pictures of her playing with her Jolly. I wrapped her in the blanket she always slept on in the car, and put her two favorite Jollies in with her.

Losing a pet is kinda like cleaving your heart in two, and being left with the smaller half. I love Sansa, like I’ve never loved a pet before. I love her gentle spirit, her friendship and all the things she taught me about love and being brown. I will miss her to the end of my days. Saying goodbye to her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, or probably ever will do.

I am grateful for all the good times we had together. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I am also deeply grateful for the top notch veterinary care Sansa received.  While at the UW she had a cadre of specialists, kind vet techs and front desk staff. I don’t think she would have lasted so long without their care and expertise. I am also thankful to my friend Amanda Pike, who answered SO SO many veterinary questions, and who was a good friend to Sansa.

joel and sansa

I would have conquered villages for you, Sansa, gone on endless quests, and paid everything I had to the UW if it could have saved you. I love you so much. I miss you so much. My life feels empty and stupid without you. You were the very best friend anyone could have ever asked for. I am so glad I got to meet you, and love you. Thank you for sharing your life with me. You made it better.

family snuggle



30 responses to “Sansa

  1. Been there; know that heart-splitting pain. Would share a box or three of Kleenex with you if I could be there. I’m so sorry….

  2. So very sorry for your loss, Erica. I love that I was able to get to know her through all of your words. What a special bond the two of you had! Love and happiness sent your way!!!

  3. A beautiful tribute to a beloved family member, Erica. So sorry, so very sorry, for your profound loss. She was an amazing and loyal friend. Hugs and tears to all of you.

  4. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful girl. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. Sansa will always be your familiar, whether she is here or not. It seems that you gave her a wonderful life while she was here on earth. Every dog deserves parents like you. You and Joel are in my thoughts.

  5. What a wonderful tribute. Thank you so much for sharing


  7. This is very sweet, thank you for writing it! Sorry to hear about Sansa. I am glad you received top notch care, I have worked in the oncology research lab for the last 5 years and the clinicians are really great.

  8. So sorry to hear of your loss.

    I have a livestock guardian dog puppy that has been raised with chickens, sheep, goats and horses if you are looking for another good farm dog. She is still young enough to bond to pigs, turkeys, rabbits, cats and any other manner of livestock that you may have. She is very friendly and calm. She will be a close-guarding dog. I call her Panda. Her sisters were reliably guarding at 6 months old and I expect the same out of her.



  9. The tears are flowing Erica. What a lovely tribute to Sansa. I’m glad you were blessed with such a great dog in your life! I’m sure she felt the same about you since you saved her from her, Saying goodbye is tough, but the tougher it is, the greater the love.
    Hugs to you and Joel.

  10. Wonderfully written and made me cry. We’re so lucky to have dogs like Sansa in our lives and so incredibly unfortunate to have to say goodbye. My mom was asking me about memorials and funerals for dogs. I said we need more because they certainly deserve recognition for how much they give. Cleaving in two… so true.

    • Thanks, Amanda. It is true, I wish we would give more recognition to dogs for their loyalty and love. I am still so sorry about Xena. I like to think if Sansa and Xena would have met they would have been friends.

  11. Erica, What a wonderful tribute to your Sansa. Its so hard to say goodbye. I am thinking of you.

  12. Michelle Craglow

    My face is so wet from crying while reading this. I’m so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful memoir. You and Sansa were a perfect match. I dread the day I lose Henry and know I will feel similarly to how you feel, so if you need anything, let me know.

  13. Michelle Martin

    So sorry for you loss, and crying at the loving memories you posted about Sansa. What a wonderful tribute to a beautiful human/dog relationship. Animals make our lives better.

  14. Our family has had five boxers and I feel your pain completely. They are a very special breed to say the least. They can be difficult and headstrong but loyal and loving like nothing else. Our boxer was put down several years ago due to paralysis in her hind legs which we were told might be degenerative myelopathy. She was eleven years old which is fairly old for a boxer since they typically only live to about eight. I’m sure we will eventually have another one to love and hopefully so will you. Check out a place called Boxer Rebound in Ringwood, IL. They save boxers specifically and are always looking for good homes for them.

    • Thank you Carol. Boxers are great dogs, I’m not sure if I would ever get another one as they can be so health problem prone, but I might. Rescue is such a great option but with all our critters and wide open spaces puppies have worked best for us, as they can be trained a bit easier not to chase. I looked at the rescue you mentioned and almost every listing said doesn’t like cats. So, someday, maybe. I know I will never find another Sansa. As there will never be another Sansa.

  15. Thank you for sharing this beautiful eulogy to a spirit whose world obviously revolved around you. I too, lost my familar, my German Sheppard, Zara, tragically. I feel empty without her presence. As you know, Death is a frequent visitor to farms, but when it takes a spirit that is so closely aligned with us humans, it is especially hard to say goodbye. My heart goes out to you. I’m glad you have Drogo at least. We lost our ancient Choc. Lab about a month before Zara, so I am completely without Canine companionship and it stinks. We also, generally try to take in rescues, thus the search begins. Maybe by Spring, both our farms will have found a new Canine companion or too 🙂

    • Thank you, Renee. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of Zara and your lab. It must be hard to have a house so empty of doggie love. I hope you find a special someone soon that can bring some of that doggie joy back into your life. 🙂

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